Sworn statements by President Trump dating back several decades indicate he has a deep understanding of campaign-finance laws, legal experts say, which could be critical if investigators ever pursue a case against him over his alleged direction of hush-money payments in the 2016 campaign.
Mr. Trump’s statements were made as part of a 2000 regulatory investigation into his casino company and in 1988 testimony for a government-integrity commission. They contrast with the portrayal by some of the president’s allies that he is a political novice with little understanding of campaign-finance laws and therefore couldn’t be charged with violating them.
In 2000, the Federal Election Commission investigated allegations that Trump Hotels & Casinos violated the law related to a fundraising event for a Senate candidate. Mr. Trump’s sworn affidavit “indicates that Trump had a very thorough understanding of federal campaign finance law, especially regarding what he could and could not legally do when raising money for a federal candidate,” said Brett Kappel, an election-law lawyer at Akerman LLP.
In the four-page affidavit that Mr. Trump signed, he stressed he had a particular familiarity with laws governing corporate contributions to candidates. Mr. Trump said he was acting in his “individual,” not corporate, capacity when he hosted the event; that he had paid for the reception costs “from my personal funds”; that he “took no action, of any nature, kind or description, to compel or pressure” any employee to donate to the campaign ahead of the event; and that he wasn’t reimbursed for any of the costs.
The FEC decided to take no action against the company.
In December, federal prosecutors in New York directly implicated the president in campaign-finance violations to which his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, has pleaded guilty, confirming earlier reporting by The Wall Street Journal. During the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump directed Mr. Cohen to arrange hush-money payments for two women who alleged having sexual affairs with Mr. Trump, prosecutors said.
To obtain a conviction of violating campaign-finance law, prosecutors would have to prove Mr. Trump knew the rules and violated them willfully. Allies of Mr. Trump have contended that wasn’t the case.