Melania Trump could be vital to the FBI with their investigation into Michael Cohen and a "hush money" payment made to adult entertainment star Stormy Daniels. How the first lady factors into the probe might play a significant role in how everything shakes out in the end.
How Melania is material to this investigation is outlined by a legal expert who spoke with Business Insider. Paul S. Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation at the watchdog group Common Cause, uses a prior investigation that parallels the one Cohen finds himself in. It boils down to timing and motivation.
Federal agents raided the office of President Donald Trump's longtime personal attorney earlier this week. It's suspected that the $130,000 hush payment made to Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, is a major part of the investigation. The Washington Post reports that investigators are trying to determine whether Cohen committed bank fraud or violated campaign finance law stemming from the payment made to Daniels.
It's also reported that agents were seeking records of payments made to Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Both women allege they had affairs with Trump in 2006 after Melania gave birth to son Barron. Moreover, the New York Times reports that investigators are said to be looking for information on what role the National Enquirer played in keeping McDougal silent. Evidence being scoured are emails, tax documents, and business records that Cohen had in his possession.
Ryan imparts that what makes the payment of interest to investigators is the when and why payment was made. In this regard, he pointed to Melania Trump and how she fits into the scenario.
Melania Trump could end up being a key figure in the case against embattled Trump lawyer Michael Cohen https://t.co/G8bvq2jbVI pic.twitter.com/PiLPb9KX5fThe legal analyst drew comparisons between Cohen's situation and that of former Democratic Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina. Edwards was cheating on his wife with Rielle Hunter and payments were made to her in an agreement to keep the affair quiet. The Justice Department took Edwards' case to trial over payments some supporters made to Hunter as the 2008 election loomed. The report highlights that Edwards was "prosecuted on six counts, one of which he was acquitted on while the jury was hung on the other five, resulting in a mistrial. The case was not brought back forward."
— Business Insider (@businessinsider) April 11, 2018
Business Insider's Josh Burro wrote in an article earlier this year that Edwards wasn't convicted, but the trial was "driven by factual questions" pertaining to the exact purpose of the payments made to Hunter. Did the senator know about the payments, and was the purpose political or meant to protect Edwards' wife?
Michael Cohen paid Stormy Daniels $130,000 a mere days before the 2016 presidential election. Ryan referenced Melania Trump when he described the nature of Edwards' affair and efforts made to protect his wife from the scandal.
There are some notable differences in the John Edwards' affair and alleged Donald Trump affair regarding the payoffs. Since Daniels received payment before the election, it does little to allude that it was meant to protect Melania from the purpose of the payment. It appeared to have more to do with electoral results, Ryan said.
"The payments to Hunter coincided with the affair and the pregnancy. With Stormy, it happened more than a decade after the affair took place. Further investigation may... undercut any argument by Michael Cohen that this payment wasn't about keeping the information from voters but to keep the information from Melania. We'll see about that. It seems unlikely given the decade lapse in time."Ryan predicts that Cohen will argue that the payment was made to Daniels to shield Melania Trump from any potential embarrassment if the affair leaked. If he uses that as a premise for paying off Daniels, it won't hold up the way it did for Edwards due mainly to time correlation.
Trump lawyer Michael Cohen finds finances taken apart by prosecutors https://t.co/JIk1a3AsX1 pic.twitter.com/2gd0m1A6WgThe legal expert continued that if Michael Cohen insists payment made to Stormy Daniels was to protect Melania Trump, she could be a key figure in the investigation.
— Bloomberg (@business) April 12, 2018
"I think to the extent that Cohen argues this was about keeping the information from Melania, then what Melania knew and when she knew it will certainly be relevant."Ryan said he hopes to see Cohen, the president, Daniels, and Melania all be deposed in the FBI's probe.