05/28/2024

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‘Illegal activity carried out by Donald Trump’s campaign’: Federal complaint says MAGA PAC, lawyer and GOP firm violated campaign finance laws to secretly settle lawsuit

FILE — Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump attends a campaign rally in Waterford Township, Mich., Feb. 17, 2024. Trump is holding events Tuesday, April 2, in Grand Rapids, Mich. and Green Bay, Wis., as he pressures President Joe Biden on immigration. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

Former President Donald Trump’s primary leadership PAC violated federal campaign finance law in a way “not unfamiliar” to the ex-president and now-presumptive GOP presidential nominee, according to a complaint filed by a nonpartisan public interest watchdog.

On Friday, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington submitted a hard-charging nine-page complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) alleging the Make America Great Again PAC tried to hide settlement payments in a sexual harassment, gender and pregnancy discrimination lawsuit by routing those payments through a third party or parties in violation of mandatory disclosure laws.

The complaint specifically likens the alleged “use of pass-throughs to hide the true purpose of payments” to the ongoing criminal woes Trump is facing on a personal level in New York City. Trump is currently on trial in Manhattan over hush money his longtime fixer Michael Cohen paid adult content creator Stormy Daniels in October 2016.

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    According to the complaint, Arlene J. “AJ” Delgado, a former Trump 2016 campaign and White House transition staffer, is the source of the claim — which technically was made against Trump’s former presidential campaign arms. Those campaign arms later legally shifted to becoming the presently constituted leadership PAC.

    Delgado “recently confirmed the offer to utilize such a scheme to evade reporting” by way of a “declaration made under oath in connection with her pregnancy discrimination lawsuit,” the filing says.

    “Make America Great Again PAC falsely attributed payments to conduits utilized solely to prevent disclosure of the true recipient and purpose of its disbursements,” the filing reads. “In particular example, a recent sworn statement indicates Respondent unlawfully hid the source of funds used to pay settlements and related expenses to plaintiffs alleging, for example, pregnancy discrimination, by falsely reporting on statements filed with the FEC that conduit entities were the ultimate recipient of the funds.”

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    The specific allegations include the claim that in 2017, a Trump campaign lawyer told her that her settlement would not be made public. Instead, Delgado recently testified, the lawyer said “the payment would be routed through a middleman,” in order “to hide the fact that the Campaign had settled, from the public and the FEC.”

    The complaint claims “about $4.5 million” in such payments have been received by the lawyer’s firm from the PAC.

    The filing offers the following estimation of the alleged scheme:

    Specifically, she states that in the course of discussing a potential settlement of her claims, “it was expressed that ‘Trump’ is known for ‘not settling’ and that Trump and the Campaign would need to keep this confidential.” She states that when her lawyer expressed this would not be possible due to federal reporting requirements, the lawyer representing Respondent “dismissed the concerns easily, stating words to the effect of, ‘That is not a problem at all. What we would do is the Campaign pays me and then I cut a check to you guys.’”

    “The recent declaration of a former employee of Respondent gives rise to a reason to believe Respondent was and is using intermediaries, potentially including law firms and its compliance firm, as ‘merely a conduit for the intended recipient of funds’ and improperly reporting the conduit as the ultimate recipient of the payments, in violation of federal law,” the complaint reads. “Accordingly, based on both the former employee’s statements of an offer to pay her through an intermediary and the evidence of broader use of that practice, there is reason to believe Respondent has failed to truthfully report the name and address of each person to whom a disbursement is made, and the purpose of that disbursement.”

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    “The allegations made in AJ Delgado’s declaration paint a deeply troubling picture of potentially illegal activity carried out by Donald Trump’s campaign,” CREW President Noah Bookbinder said in a statement. “The FEC must conduct an investigation to determine the validity of these claims and establish the degree to which any wrongdoing occurred.”

    Delgado, in her recent testimony, went on to implicate GOP consulting, accounting and compliance firm Red Curve Solutions as one of the pass-through entities that received payments from the Trump campaign that “reflect legal services related to, and monetary settlements paid to, women who raised complaints of gender discrimination, pregnancy discrimination, and sexual harassment.”

    The complaint further alleges Red Curve “does not appear to be a law firm or otherwise capable of providing legal services.”

    In April, a 30-page FEC complaint filed by the Campaign Legal Center alleged similar reporting obligations were flouted by “five political committees authorized by or affiliated with” Trump. That earlier FEC filing also alleged Red Curve facilitated such would-be violations.

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    The CREW filing goes on to cite the Cohen “catch and kill” scandal — while alleging that Trump himself was the person pulling the strings behind the 2016 Daniels payoff scheme. Trump’s culpability, or lack thereof, is the decision New York City jurors are being asked to make

    CREW further needles Trump over those allegations:

    Regardless of what Mr. Trump may have experienced in the business world, federal law does not permit a political committee to report any expense routed through an attorney or any other intermediary as a payment to the intermediary for “legal expenses” or otherwise. Rather, federal law requires political committees provide detailed and truthful information about who they are paying and why they are paying them, even if doing so would reveal facts embarrassing to the campaign such as the settlement of legal claims.

    “The American people need to know what campaigns are spending money for, and schemes to hide that information undercut Americans’ faith in our political system,” Bookbinder added. “Donald Trump’s own admission of using pass-through payments to hide their purpose and protect his political prospects makes it even more important that the FEC investigate. No candidate or campaign is above the law, not even Trump.”

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    The post ‘Illegal activity carried out by Donald Trump’s campaign’: Federal complaint says MAGA PAC, lawyer and GOP firm violated campaign finance laws to secretly settle lawsuit first appeared on Law & Crime.