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What is the definition of hush money and why is it illegal?

Former President Donald Trump has been indicted for his alleged hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels. What are they and why are they illegal?

Why hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels have Trump facing criminal charges

The first of the criminal probes into Donald Trump that has resulted in charges is stem from his alleged $130,000 payment of hush money to Stormy Daniels. As the name suggests, “hush” you want somebody to be quiet, and paying someone to do that doesn’t necessarily have to be illegal.

Unfortunately, in order to truly keep something that is so important out of the public knowledge that it necessitates giving them money typically requires that you cover-up the payments as well. And that is what will get you into hot water with the authorities.

In Trump’s case, 34 felony counts of falsifying business records as each transaction is a separate crime. In order for the Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg to turn what is normally just a misdemeanor for bookkeeping fraud into a felony, he must show that there was the intention of committing, aiding or concealing a second crime.

What is the definition of hush money and why is it illegal?

According to the Meriam-Webster dictionary the noun ‘hush money’ is “money paid so that someone will keep information secret : money that a person pays someone to hush something up.” This type of arrangement can take many forms like giving your kid an ice cream so that they don’t tell your spouse you made some foolish error. Or the kind that makes the news, even though the payer laid out cash in order to avoid that happening, in the form of non-disclosure agreements. The latter can be breached under court order, the former, well, just hope the kid’s got tight lips.

However, if you pay someone to keep mum about something even when under oath, that crosses the line into illegal territory. Specifically obstruction of justice, and for the person not telling the truth, perjury.

In the event that you don’t want anybody to know about an affair, which is the alleged reason for the payments that were made to Stormy Daniels, the legality of it depends. In the case of Vince McMahon, a pal of Trump, he retired as leader of World Wrestling Entertainment after it came out that he paid $12 million to four women to keep quiet allegations of sexual misconduct and infidelity, but no criminal charges were brought agaisnt him. However, the Stormy Daniels payments became illegal for Michael Cohen. He pleaded guilty in 2018 to making the payments, which he claims he did at Trump’s behest, as they were illegal campaign contributions. He spent five months in prison.

No charges brought against Trump by federal prosecutors despite evidence

The payments were made during the 2016 presidential election campaign to keep the alleged affair from a decade earlier under wraps so the news wouldn’t hurt Trump’s chances of winner the presidency. Cohen has repeatedly stated that Trump reimbursed him for the payments.

An investigation into Trump’s hand in the matter was conducted by prosecutors from the Southern District of New York. Substantial evidence was collected to justify charges against Trump according to some prosecutors.

However, no federal charges were ever brought against the former president despite him being central to the scheme. Firstly, because at the time of the investigation Trump was president and longstanding Justice Department guidance says that a sitting president cannot be indicted. Secondly, when he left office the other scandals surrounding Trump, including the January 6 insurrection, “made the campaign finance violations seem somehow trivial and outdated by comparison” according to Elie Honig, who spoke with prosecutors, in her book “Untouchable”.


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