Rep. Ted Lieu: Tapes don't lie. Even if the president does.

July 27, 2018
Opinion: Op-Eds
'The payment by American Media Inc. constituted an in-kind contribution that benefited the Trump campaign.'

It wasn’t too long ago when the release of a tape that featured a candidate discussing paying for the silence of a former mistress would be the sort of scandal to end a political career. Instead, we have a president who has so frequently and aggressively breached norms, and potentially laws, that we’re becoming accustomed to the chaos. We can’t let that happen, and we can’t write this off as just another salacious political scandal that Donald Trump can lie his way through.

As a former prosecutor, I want to be clear: We should be outraged that President Donald Trump might have committed a felony by knowingly allowing American Media Inc. to pay $150,000 to silence Karen McDougal. The payment by AMI constituted an in-kind contribution that benefited the Trump campaign. That’s why, in March, Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., and I called on the FBI to investigate these payments.

Campaign-finance laws prohibit a federal campaign from accepting contributions above $2,700 during the general election.

Willfully violating this law, when the contribution exceeds $25,000, is a felony.

In the recently released audio recording, we hear Trump and former personal attorney Michael Cohen allegedly discussing buying the rights to McDougal’s story from AMI. If Trump’s current attorney Rudy Giuliani is to be believed when he said there was no payment ever made by Trump to AMI, the president is in deep trouble. That would mean Trump knowingly accepted an in-kind campaign contribution that is more than 55 times above the federal limit. That is a felony.

 

We’re now seeing a debate about whether Trump suggested paying for the story in cash. That misses the point. The rights for McDougal’s story were never purchased, but Trump and his associates appear to demonstrate in the taped conversation that they believe having it buried by AMI is beneficial to Trump. A story like McDougal’s or Stephanie Clifford’s (Stormy Daniels) becoming public could have swayed the election against Trump’s campaign. It appears Trump and his associates were well aware of that risk.

Though Trump might have committed or conspired to commit a felony, it’s ultimately up to our country’s law enforcement to prosecute. Trump and his associates have repeatedly lied to the American public to defend themselves. Recently, Trump told a room of veterans, "Just remember: What you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening."