Yesterday’s news that President Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty in federal court and accused Trump of committing a federal crime by directing him to pay hush money to two women “for the principal purpose of influencing the election” was definitely shocking. According to Cohen and his attorney, Trump violated campaign finance laws by allegedly directing Cohen to make these hush money payments. This point had me confused.
For the moment, let’s put aside the obvious problems with Cohen’s credibility and assume he’s telling the truth. According to a Reuters article about the Cohen pleas:
Under U.S. election law, campaign contributions, defined as things of value given to a campaign to influence an election, must be disclosed. A payment intended to silence allegations of an affair just before an election could constitute a campaign contribution, which is limited to $2,700 per person per election, some experts said.
So, let’s review… A payment to silence someone from making potentially damaging statements “could constitute” a campaign contribution according to “some” experts? There’s clearly a significant amount of subjectivity here. But, here’s the thing: if everything went down as Cohen says it did, then why wasn’t Obama held to the same standard?
That’s right, Barack Obama also offered an individual hush money “for the principal purpose of influencing the election,” but you probably never heard about it. It wasn’t to silence a mistress though, it was to silence his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. Wright’s inflammatory, anti-American rhetoric caused Obama significant headaches during his first presidential campaign, and he tried to contain the damage to protect his chances of winning the White House.
Edward Klein broke the story in the New York Post on May 13, 2012—the same year Obama was reelected—that Obama’s team tried to buy Wright’s silence during the 2008 campaign. According to Wright, he was offered $150,000 through an Obama intermediary (one of Obama’s closest friends), and Obama himself tried to persuade him to keep quiet.
“Did Obama himself ever make an effort to see you?”
“Yes,” Wright said. “Barack said he wanted to meet me in secret, in a secure place. And I said, ‘You’re used to coming to my home, you’ve been here countless times, so what’s wrong with coming to my home?’ So we met in the living room of the parsonage of Trinity United Church of Christ, at South Pleasant Avenue right off 95th Street, just Barack and me. I don’t know if he had a wire on him. His security was outside somewhere.
“And one of the first things Barack said was, ‘I really wish you wouldn’t do any more public speaking until after the November election.’ He knew I had some speaking engagements lined up, and he said, ‘I wish you wouldn’t speak. It’s gonna hurt the campaign if you do that.’
So, here we have Barack Obama wanting to meet in a “secret” and “secure” location, and then urging Wright to keep quiet for the sake of his presidential campaign, and an offer of $150,000 in hush money from a close Obama friend, and likely a campaign donor as well. Wright didn’t accept the hush money, but by his account, Obama is guilty of everything Trump is being accused of.
And yet no one cared. Outside of conservative media and blogs, the story was dismissed or downplayed by those who deigned to cover it. This was during an election year, no less. The allegations against Trump by his former lawyer are as serious as the allegations made against Obama by his former pastor. If Obama’s actions weren’t worthy of a federal investigation, then neither are Trump’s. Either both men violated the law, or both men didn’t. Which is it? If the former, Obama should be investigated—better late than never, after all.
It never ceases to amaze me how serious accusations against Barack Obama often failed to spark much controversy because the media either refused to cover it or pushed the Obama White House talking points on the matter. Sadly, Obama offering hush money to Wright is probably the least serious thing he did to “influence an election.” There are many examples of obstruction of justice, manipulating intelligence, and outright lying to the American public with the sole purpose of protecting Obama’s chances of reelection 2012, or to influence the 2014 midterms. When the Obama campaign was fined $375,000 by the FEC for concealing donations, no one called for impeachment.
There shouldn’t be one set of rules for Republicans and another set of rules for Democrats. Cohen may just be trying to score a big payday by going after Trump, but I’m tired of the double standards and hypocrisy of Trump’s enemies.
Matt Margolis is the author of the book, The Scandalous Presidency of Barack Obama and the bestselling book The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis