Former President Donald Trump's defense in the investigation into a hush money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels may not be as strong as his lawyers think it is, legal experts say.
Prosecutors in the Manhattan district attorney's office are nearing a potential indictment of the former president in connection with the 2016 payment, which may have run afoul of state campaign finance laws. Trump attorney Joe Tacopina on Monday argued that "there was no campaign law violation at all" because Trump is an "extortion victim in the case."
"By the way, it is regardless of whether he did or didn't [have an affair], he said he didn't and I believe him, and the evidence I think is very powerful that he never had an affair with her," Tacopina told Fox News host Sean Hannity. "But more importantly, he is a victim of extortion because she came out right before the election and said, unless you pay me, I am going to make a public story about something he says is completely untrue."
Tacopina argued that the payment was intended to "prevent personal embarrassment and prevent embarrassment to his family."
"That takes it out of the realm of exclusively campaign finance," Tacopina said. "This is not a campaign finance law case at all."
But the explanation still does "not constitute a defense," argued conservative attorney George Conway, a frequent Trump critic.
"Even if you assume (ridiculously) that he paid $130K to a porn star who extorted (but didn't screw) him, the 'extortion' payment would still have been an illegal, undisclosed campaign contribution under federal (and maybe state) law and still have been unlawfully recorded as a legal fee in the books and records of Trump's business in violation of state law," he wrote on Twitter.
Former federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, who served on special counsel Bob Mueller's team and led the successful prosecution of Paul Manafort, agreed that Trump's defense is actually an "admission" that he paid the money, which he previously denied, and that it was not for legal fees, as was his "cover story."
Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.
"Because the NY criminal case reportedly focuses on the crime of making false business records -- his 'defense' is [a] confession," Weissmann tweeted.
Weissmann later discussed Trump's propensity to incriminate himself, recalling his brags that he could commit murder and sexual assault and get away with it during an interview with MSNBC.
"Let's just remember, for Donald Trump, there haven't been consequences," he said. "There have been civil lawsuits and so far no criminal consequences. So, for somebody who is at that age, who realized that he can say whatever he wants and there are no consequences. I think that's what we get. We get these things that, obviously, from a prosecutor's perspective, are potentially very incriminating. I totally agree with the take on his statements that they can be used against him, in the same way he is now embracing the idea that he was an extortion victim and thinks that's going to be a defense in a Manhattan criminal case when it's actually an admission."
about the Stormy Daniels case
- Stormy Daniels thanks Trump for "admitting that I was telling the truth" in Truth Social rant
- Former prosecutor explains why Trump "indictment is coming" — and it's "coming soon"
- "Sleeper case": Experts say Trump indictment in Manhattan is "imminent" — and it's "pardon-proof"
- "Florida man sounds mad": Trump has extended Truth Social meltdown over Manhattan indictment threat