The Federal Election Commission on Thursday dropped the case examining whether former President Trump violated election law with the $130,000 payment made by his ex-attorney Michael Cohen to adult film star Stormy Daniels in the weeks leading up to the 2016 presidential election.
The FEC, in its announcement, said Thursday it “failed by a vote of 2-2 to… find reason to believe that Donald J. Trump knowingly and willfully violated” federal election law.
According to The New York Times, the FEC’s decision came after the Office of General Counsel in December issued an internal report saying it found “reason to believe” violations of campaign law were made “knowingly and willfully” by the Trump campaign, but during a closed-door meeting in February, the commission, split between three Republicans and three Democrats, declined to continue its probe.
Two Republican commissioners voted to dismiss the case, while two Democrats voted to proceed. There was one absence, according to the Times, and one recusal from a Republican.
Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison in December 2018, for a range of crimes including tax evasion, campaign-finance violations and lying to Congress. He implicated then-President Trump in the hush-money payments by saying they were made at Trump’s direction.
Cohen’s sentencing came as part of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York’s criminal investigation into Cohen, as well as Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe with which Cohen cooperated.
Cohen took responsibility for making a $130,000 hush money payment to Daniels in the weeks leading up to the 2016 presidential election in exchange for silence about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump.
But in a statement to Fox News Friday, Cohen slammed the FEC’s decision.
“The facts are well known to all,” Cohen said. “The hush money payment was done at the direction of and for the benefit of Donald J. Trump.”
“Like me, Trump should have been found guilty,” Cohen continued. “How the FEC committee could rule any other way is confounding.”
The two Democrat-leaning FEC commissioners who voted to proceed with the investigation also released a statement, blasting their Republican colleagues’ decision, by saying “there is ample evidence in the record to support the finding that Trump and the committee knew of, and nonetheless accepted, the illegal contributions at issue here.”
“To conclude that a payment, made 13 days before Election Day to hush up a suddenly newsworthy 10- year-old story, was not campaign-related, without so much as conducting an investigation, defies reality,” they added.
But the Republicans defended their decision, calling the dismissal of the case a matter of “prosecutorial discretion,” adding that the “public record is complete” and that “Cohen has been punished by the government of the United States for the conduct at issue in these matters.”
“Thus, we concluded that pursuing these matters further was not the best use of agency resources,” they continued. “The Commission regularly dismisses matters where other government agencies have already adequately enforced and vindicated the Commission’s interests.”
Trump has repeatedly denied wrongdoing with regard to the payments made to Stormy Daniels, telling Fox News in 2018 that he “never directed [Cohen] to do anything wrong.”
“Whatever he did, he did on his own,” Trump said, again insisting that the payments were “not a campaign finance violation,” and previously tweeted that, instead, they were a “simple private transaction.”
“What he did was all unrelated to me except for the two campaign finance charges that are not criminal and shouldn’t have been on there,” Trump said. “They put that on to embarrass me.”