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FEC drops Stormy Daniels hush-money case against Trump

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The Federal Election Commission announced Thursday that it would not proceed with a case investigating whether former President Donald Trump made an alleged "hush money" payment to porn star Stormy Daniels through his ex-attorney Michael Cohen.

In a statement, the FEC said it had "failed by a vote of 2-2" to "find reason to believe that Donald J. Trump knowingly and willfully" violated federal election law.

The question was whether Trump had broken the law by allegedly ordering Cohen to pay Daniels $130,000 in the weeks leading up to the 2016 presidential election to keep her quiet about an affair they had years earlier.

Cohen, who was sentenced to three years in prison for breaking campaign finance laws by making the payment, tax evasion, and lying to Congress, had claimed that Trump ordered him to make hush-money payments to two women during the election.

"It was my own weakness and a blind loyalty to this man that led me to choose a path of darkness over light," Cohen said in 2018.

In a statement to the New York Times, Cohen repeated his claims against the former president.

"The hush money payment was done at the direction of and for the benefit of Donald J. Trump," he said. "Like me, Trump should have been found guilty. How the F.E.C. committee could rule any other way is confounding."

Trump reacted to the FEC decision on his personal website, thanking the Commission.

"The Federal Election Commission in Washington, D.C., has totally dropped the phony case against me concerning payments to women relative to the 2016 Presidential Election. It was a case built on lies from Michael Cohen, a corrupt and convicted lawyer, a lawyer in fact who was so corrupt he was sentenced to three years in jail for lying to Congress and many other things having nothing to do with me," Trump said.

"I thank the Commission for their decision, ending this chapter of Fake News. Between two sleazebag lawyers, Michael Avenatti and Michael Cohen, we were all able to witness law and justice in our Country at its lowest!"

The Times reports that the FEC in December 2020 issued an internal report from its Office of General Counsel stating that it had "reason to believe" Trump "knowingly and willfully" broke the law.

However, in a split decision on party lines last February the Commission declined to move forward with the case against Trump. Two Republican commissioners voted to dismiss the case, two Democrats voted to continue with it, the third Democrat was absent and one Republican was recused.

FEC Chairwoman Shana Broussard and Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, both Democrats, raised complaints over the decision.

"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 wrote in a letter.

The two Republican commissioners who voted to dismiss the case wrote in a letter that pursuing the investigation is "not the best use of agency resources."

"We voted to dismiss these matters as an exercise of our prosecutorial discretion," said Commissioners Trey Trainor and Sean Cooksey.

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