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.

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