Karen McDougal, Playboy Playmate of the Year 1998.
The federal electoral commission will allow former President Donald Trump to avoid punishment for directing hush money payments to his alleged ex-lover, Karen McDougal – but the editor of The National Enquirer has agreed to pay more than $ 187,500 for his role to pay in the scandal, as recorded on Tuesday showed.
The FEC also recently disapproved of a recommendation from employees to sanction Trump for making a $ 130,000 hush payment to former pornstar Stormy Daniels, who said she was having sex years ago, according to advocacy group Common Cause had with him.
This group had filed FEC complaints related to payments to both women.
Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen admitted paying out Daniels at Trump’s behest just before the 2016 presidential election.
In McDougal’s case, American Media – then-editor of the tabloid Enquirer and its boss David Pecker – paid former Playboy model McDougal $ 150,000 to keep quiet about her allegations of an affair with Trump ahead of the same election.
Cohen pleaded guilty to federal election funding violations related to facilitating payouts to women and other crimes in 2018 and served more than a year in prison.
AMI signed a non-prosecution agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice in which it admitted making the payment to McDougal to keep her from going public about her alleged affair and affecting the 2016 elections.
The company’s payment to the FEC came in response to a Commission finding that AMI and Pecker had knowingly and willfully violated campaign finance law by making “prohibited corporate donations” to Trump’s campaign in paying McDougal.
Federal prosecutors have stated, without naming Trump, that he directed Cohen to facilitate payments to both women. Trump was never prosecuted in the case.
“Trump orchestrated this whole thing, and so far he’s gone,” said Paul Ryan, Common Cause’s vice president of policy and litigation.
“Everyone who did their dirty work here, Cohen and AMI, paid fines and was in jail.”
“It is good news that the federal electoral commission is holding the AMI tabloids accountable for its illegal actions in the 2016 election,” added Ryan. “But it scratches the head that the mastermind of this criminal enterprise, Donald Trump, has still not been held accountable.”
Trump has denied having sex with McDougal or Daniels. But he and his company refunded Cohen his payment to Daniels.
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Common Cause provided CNBC with copies of FEC records it received Tuesday in connection with the case.
In a letter to Ryan, acting FEC General Counsel Lisa Stevenson wrote: “The Commission found reason to believe that Defendants David J. Pecker and American Media, Inc. knowingly and willfully violated 52 USC § 30118 (a). “
“On May 17, 2021, an arbitration agreement signed by A360 Media, LLC as successor in title to American Media, Inc. was accepted by the Commission and the Commission has said the file regarding Pecker and American Media, Inc Brief.
The letter goes on to say: “There were not enough votes to assume that the other respondents violated the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971.”
Ryan said the other respondents were Trump and his election committee.
AMI merged with the wholesale distribution and logistics company Accelerate360 with the merged company A360Media last year. According to press reports, Pecker stepped down as CEO and became an executive advisor.
Ryan said he suspects two FEC Republican commissioners who voted against sanctioning Trump for Daniels’ hush money payments also voted against punishing the McDougal payments. Two Democratic commissioners voted to continue the investigation.
The Washington Post reported last month that these two GOP commissioners, Sean Cooksey and Trey Trainor, “said they would dismiss the case because it was” compromised by the statute of limitations “and that further prosecution would be a poor use of the agency’s resources. “
The Post also noted, “They argued that an FEC case was redundant as there had been other federal investigations into the incident – namely, the Justice Department investigation that led to Cohen’s indictment.”
Ryan said the votes will eventually be made public by the FEC.
An FEC spokeswoman declined to comment, saying the records on the case had not yet been released through the agency’s public release.
CNBC has asked for comment from A360 and a Trump representative.