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Obama Was Accused of Offering Hush Money to Jeremiah Wright... and No One Cared

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.’