Thursday, August 30, 2018

The kind of campaign payments that are biting Donald Trump on the ass, thanks to Michael Cohen, could wind up haunting U.S. Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL)

Michael Cohen
Thanks to Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's former personal attorney, Americans now know a political candidate can step in deep doo-doo if he directs payments to someone for "the principal purpose of influencing an election." That, analysts say, is a violation of campaign-finance law -- a federal crime both for the one who made the payment and the candidate who ordered it.

The law bit Trump on the fanny last week when Cohen reached a plea agreement in which he admitted to discussing or making hush payments to two women who alleged they had extramarital affairs with candidate Trump. In the process, Cohen implicated Trump in a criminal conspiracy, and that raises all kinds of troubling questions for the White House.

What if Donald Trump isn't the only office holder who could be facing such questions? What if they might apply to a prominent politico from Alabama? If payments intended to cover up sexual misconduct constitute a crime, what about payments intended to uncover alleged sexual misconduct against an opponent?

That last question could apply to U.S. Doug Jones (D-AL), who pulled off one of the biggest political upsets in the modern era, mainly because multiple women came forward to claim his opponent, Roy Moore, had acted in an improper manner with them over the years, mostly while they were under-age.

Roy Moore has been running for public office since 1982, but female accusers did not come forward until 2017 -- a span of 35 years. Why did they come forward when Moore ran against Doug Jones? Were financial incentives involved?

A D.C.-based watchdog group already has filed a complaint that Jones violated campaign-finance laws. That complaint focuses on the Highway 31 super PAC, which allegedly failed to disclose its donors before the 2017 special election. From a report here at Legal Schnauzer:

The Campaign Legal Center is accusing the Highway 31 super PAC of engaging in a "secrecy scheme to spend $4.2 million in the race" to aid Jones, a spokesman for the center told

Highway 31's sole report to the Federal Election Commission before the election said it spent $1.15 million but raised no money. The group, headquarted in Birmingham, claimed its vendors lent them the money on credit.

Moore has filed a lawsuit that could take the issue in a different direction, especially if it unearths information that the female accusers were paid "to influence the outcome of the election." From our report in May about the lawsuit:

Roy Moore's lawsuit, against three women who accused him of sexual misconduct before Alabama's 2017 U.S. Senate special election, has been treated as pretty much a joke in several corners of the media world. Moore's complaint contains little of substance and is filled with the "craziness" for which "Ten Commandments Roy" has become known, says one columnist. The complaint sets out no facts to prove a conspiracy, makes Moore look like a "sore loser" (to Democrat Doug Jones) -- and, hey, the defendants are mostly fictitious -- writes another.

Doug Jones
Moore's complaint is a nothing-burger that makes him look like a crybaby, the two analysts essentially conclude. I'm one of the last people on earth who ever will be accused of defending Roy Moore -- and I don't intend to do that here; his brand of right-wing, pseudo-religious political zealotry leaves me stone cold, and I believe the Alabama Supreme Court and Alabama State Bar were hideously corrupt on his watch as chief justice.

But I disagree with the analysts above about Moore's lawsuit. I believe it does have substance, it provides more than enough information to get past the Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss stage (which is all a complaint really is designed to do), and it could pose a serious threat to major political players -- including Doug Jones; his right-wing compadre Rob Riley; Bush family associates (including perhaps Karl Rove?) -- if it's proven they cooked up false stories about Roy Moore to turn the election.

Moore's complaint does not name Doug Jones as a defendant, but it does list 19 "fictitious defendants," which means room is left to add defendants, as discovery allows:

Moore probably knows his accusers did not cook up a scheme to cost him the election on their own. And even if they did, they probably do not have the power and deep pockets that could make this a national story. By naming 19 fictitious defendants, Moore's lawyer essentially is leaving space for the names of those who really did concoct a scheme to spread false and defamatory stories about Roy Moore -- if, in fact, such a scheme existed. It might be difficult to prove the stories are false, but it could be easy to prove a conspiracy -- by using discovery to seek emails, text messages, memos, phone records, etc. If such discovery points to names like Doug Jones, Rob Riley, Karl Rove, the Bush family (Jeff Sessions, Richard Shelby?) -- well, copious amounts of feces could start hitting the political fan.

We raised the issue of possible illegal payments in the Jones-Moore race back in May, months before the Michael Cohen plea-deal came out:

I don't pretend to be an expert on all the possibilities here, but discovery in the Moore lawsuit certainly could unearth evidence of election fraud and (if the accusers were paid or compensated in some fashion) campaign finance violations. Could that cause some corrupt low-life types to wind up in federal prison? I would not rule it out.

As with most lawsuits, it all will come down to discovery -- or the fear of discovery, by one side or the other. If the case lands with a judge who allows thorough and wide-ranging discovery, certain "fictitious defendants" might become very nervous.


Anonymous said...

It is odd that Roy Moore ran for public office for 35 years, without a peep from anyone, but he runs against Doug Jones and women start coming out of the woodwork.

Anonymous said...

Isn't Roy's lawsuit mostly about defamation, that the women's stories aren't true?

legalschnauzer said...

@8:53 --

Yes, that's my understanding. But based on the Trump-Cohen matter, I think the issue of possible payments could wind up being the more important part of the lawsuit.

Anonymous said...

I've always been 50-50 on whether the stories about Roy Moore are true. But LS, it sounds like you are saying it doesn't matter, that under campaign finance law it matters if the women were paid to influence the election.

legalschnauzer said...

@8:57 --

Right, and I'm basing that on research related to Trump-Cohen story. I don't claim to be an expert on campaign-finance law, which is a pretty complex topic. But I see possible parallels between the Trump-Cohen payments, and the Jones-Moore race.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if there were payments, but those stories about Roy Moore undoubtedly influenced the election. No way Doug Jones wins without Roy being portrayed as, more or less, a perv.

Anonymous said...

Hope Roy has the deep pockets and the legal support to fight this. That election has always smelled to me.

Anonymous said...

Aren't these various Roy Moore lawsuits going to have to be consolidated, with a determination about where they are going to be heard?

legalschnauzer said...

@11:57 --

Yes, I believe that's correct, since they were filed in different jurisdictions.

Anonymous said...

Joey Kennedy, of Alabama Political Reporter, has an interesting piece about Doug Jones today:

legalschnauzer said...

@12:09 --

Thanks for sharing. Joey Kennedy wants Doug Jones to take over for John McCain as a "maverick" in the sentence. It's an interesting idea, but I don't think it will happen. Jones has neither the courage, the heft, or the scruples to pull it off. Joey's thoughts about the Moore-Jones race jumped out at me:

So the Senate needs another “maverick.” It needs somebody, either a Democrat or Republican, who can at least try to do big things, regardless of what the party might want or the party leadership demands.

Why can’t Democratic U.S. Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama be that person?

Jones really has nothing to lose. He’s finishing the term of Jeff Sessions, so he has to run again in 2020.

Jones won, barely, in a special election against the most disastrous Republican in the state, disgraced former Chief Justice Roy Moore. And if the Washington Post had not exposed Moore as a child predator and molester a month before the election, Jones likely wouldn’t have won that election, regardless of Moore’s other extensive baggage outside his perverted penchant for preying on teenaged girls.

If African-American voters, and especially African-American women voters, hadn’t turned out in strong numbers for Jones, he still would have lost. To a Republican sexual predator.

Jones was given a gift. Maybe he can give us one in return.

legalschnauzer said...

Here's more interesting stuff from Joey Kennedy:

While I believe Jones has done an OK job representing Alabama in the U.S. Senate, he’s pretty much staying between the lines. Jones needs to step out and go big.

Many of the programs that McCain pushed never came to fruition, including comprehensive immigration reform and extensive campaign finance reform. But McCain bolstered his reputation for trying.

There’s nothing at all wrong with Jones reaching across the aisle to work with Republicans, as long as he’s reaching for programs that will help Alabama and the nation, regardless of what Alabama and the nation think about it.

What Jones should do, though, is get out front on some really big-ticket items: Yes, immigration reform and proposals like Medicare for All (universal health insurance). He should make himself a vocal and visual champion of bills to protect women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and civil rights.

Be the maverick, Sen. Jones. The maverick from Alabama.