NPR Speaks to Matthew Sanderson: Campaign Finance Law and the Stormy Daniels Scandal
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Now to the deepening confusion over payments made to the adult film actress Stormy Daniels by - well, was it Donald Trump, his presidential campaign, his lawyer Mr. Trump says is really a businessman? And did that $130,000 payout violate campaign finance laws? Matthew Sanderson is an attorney for Caplin and Drysdale. He minded those campaign finance regulations for John McCain's presidential campaign. Mr. Sanderson, thanks so much for being with us.
MATTHEW SANDERSON: Thanks for having me.
SIMON: What's the essential detail here - when the payments were made, who made them or why? And can you ever really determine why?
SANDERSON: Yeah. So this comes down to two things. One is - and this is the most important - what was the intent behind the payment? Was it related to the election? The second is what the source - what was the source of money? And I think what's interesting about the last 48 hours is that there's been - the waters have been muddied considerably. So there was an existing narrative about why the payments were made, about the source of the money. And now...
SIMON: That Michael Cohen had made them and the president knew nothing about it, right?
SANDERSON: Correct. And...
SANDERSON: ...That it was not related to the election - that it was purely to help him personally and to save his marriage, et cetera. But now with the entrance of Rudy Giuliani and his appearances in media, I think that that narrative is now much less clear than it was previously.
SIMON: Well, let me ask you about precedents. And a lot of people have referred to the John Edwards defense. This, of course, former Democratic presidential candidate who was acquitted by a jury and convinced them that he had made payments. Gosh, I'm trying to remember. It involved the birth of a child to a campaign aide who decided that he would identify himself as the father. And he said, look, that wasn't to save my campaign. It was to save my marriage and the mortal embarrassment of my wife, Elizabeth Edwards, who was, then, mortally ill.
SANDERSON: Yeah. So there have been a number of commentators that have drawn comparisons with that case. I think the differences are that this - the circumstantial evidence - the timing of the payment, most notably - seems to be much more related to the election. Michael Cohen had an opportunity. When Stormy Daniels was originally making noise about their affair several years ago, he could've made a payment back then. He chose not to. They sent just a letter. But shortly before the election, Michael Cohen did make that payment, apparently.
And so the - just the circumstances are much different than the Edwards case. They couldn't ever tie it directly to the election. And there was really no smoking gun. We have - it remains to be seen now in this case whether there is a smoking gun. But certainly, the circumstances surrounding the payment would back up the fact that this was related to the election.
SIMON: In the under a minute we have left, ethics and morality aside, if I might make that a parenthetical, how big a legal problem would this be for President Trump?
SANDERSON: Well, it is a - fundamentally, a reporting problem. And the whole reason we have these reporting obligations for candidates is that voters are supposed to be able to look at the finance reports and base their votes on information. That's a potential problem for him, that the report - this payment was never reported. If it was related to the election, it should've been disclosed to the American people in advance of their vote.
SIMON: Matthew Sanderson, who advised the McCain-Palin campaign on campaign finances, thanks so much for being with us.
SANDERSON: Thank you for having me.