Question About Stormy Daniels' NDA

It is alleged that Donald Trump’s lawyer paid $130,000 to Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about their affair and she has allegedly signed an NDA.

According to this Fortune article, a non-partisan watchdog group has

“filed complaints with both the Department of Justice and Federal Election Commission alleging that the reported payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels, who said she once had an affair with President Donald Trump, arguably violates campaign finance laws and should be subject to an investigation.”

Now, suppose they win their case and the payment does break applicable laws. Does this mean if an NDA was signed to not discuss the affair or the $130,000 payment it would mean the NDA is a void contract?

Void contract. A void contract cannot be enforced by law. … For example, a contract between drug dealers and buyers is a void contract simply because the terms of the contract are illegal. In such a case, neither party can go to court to enforce the contract.*

If it was, could Stormy Daniels then ignore the contract and spill the beans?

No idea, but I will note that I thought it strange how she specified that it was a non-domestic magazine releasing the transcripts of her talking about the affair. That’s a very specific and unusual point to make while making a denial.

One suspects that if she does have an NDA, that it is only applicable to when she is in the USA, and she determined that fact to be true before leaking the information.

Not my area of law, but presumably the terms of the NDA itself make no mention of where the $130k would be coming from and therefore “one of the terms of the contract” would not be illegal.

I don’t think infedility is illegal in most states. Useful for the offended party in divorce proceedings, but not illegal. If it was, we could’ve locked up Trumpy long ago.

Bump, because of a new development, but…that’s not what people were talking about. Nobody is saying infidelity is illegal–but paying someone money in an effort to influence an election can be, under certain circumstances.

Which makes me wonder:

  1. Why isn’t this whole thing super-illegal blackmail on Daniels’s part?
  2. IF Trump knew about this whole deal, and approved the payment, and approved hiding the payments from the FEC (all of which looks highly likely), are there criminal statutes which he violated thereby?

The new development, of course, is this:

This seems to connect some of the dots of the story. Cohen’s excuses about how the payment was unrelated to anything are even more absurd than before.

The argument that paying “hush money” to a candidate’s side pieces constitutes a campaign contribution was tried (and failed) against John Edwards.

Deadlocked jury–suggests that it could well succeed in a different case.

He was charged, but the jury was deadlocked and the prosecutor decided not to refile charges.

Just because a court case fails once doesn’t mean it can never be tried again. All court cases fail sometimes.

I stand corrected. I do know that a component of that law is that any violation be “willful”, in other words you not only have to do it, you have to know that you’re breaking the law doing it. Since the Edwards case was the first time that theory of the crime was ever used, he could make a more credible argument that there was no knowing violation that a party making such a payout could today.

Wait, what? My understanding is the exact opposite: ignorance of the law is no excuse. “Willful” means, I believe, that you must intend to do the act, not that you must know you’re breaking the law when you do it. I believe the classic example is that if you fall out of a window and land on someone, killing them, you cannot be charged with murder, because there was no intent behind the act of killing.

Me too. IANAL and this is a WAG.

According to an article at the Smoking Gun, Stormy hired Gina Rodriguez, “…a former porn actress who had transitioned into representing D-list reality TV and tabloid figures looking to monetize their fleeting fame via personal appearances, staged photo shoots, and stories sold to TMZ and other gossip outlets.” I speculate that the way it works is that Rodriguez shops around the story, and the vics themselves intercede with payouts to derail the process. Since Stormy never makes any direct threats herself (nor does Rodriguez)… well, I’m not a lawyer.

There was another wrinkle I heard about, where somebody shopped a story like this one, and the Enquirer bought the exclusive rights and then didn’t publish anything.

Anyway, seems to me if you just let it be known that you intend to say something, and somebody offers you money not to, you’re not blackmailing, in that you did not solicit the payment to keep your fat mouth shut.

Normally that is the case, but it was emphasized during the Edwards trial that you needed to have not merely the intent to do the action that violates the law but the actual intent to violate the law, to do something that you KNEW was illegal. In this case, and in accordance with the law, ignorance of the law is an excuse.

Hmm…I’m not finding evidence of this. Indeed, it’d create some bizarre incentives:

  1. Politicians would be incentivized not to learn what campaign finance laws were, if ignorance were an excuse.
  2. Politicians would be incentivized to break laws in blatant manners, because to do so would be evidence they didn’t know about the law: why would they have been so clumsy if they knew their actions were illegal?

But there’s another principle that might be at play: AIUI, a vague law should be construed in favor of the defense. If you attempt to stay on the right side of a law, but the law is ambiguous, you may not be found guilty of violating it because a different plausible interpretation of the law finds your actions illegal. And I think Trump might be able to use that in a defense.

That said, the fact that he had (presumably was involved in the discussion) his lawyer create a shell corporation to provide the payoff hints pretty strongly that he knew his actions were violative.

I can’t provide a cite on that, but I do remember it being emphasized at the time and thinking, as you did, that’s pretty bizarre.

It looks to me like 52 USC 30109 makes “knowingly and willfully” the threshold required for the FEC to unilaterally impose fines. If the conduct doesn’t rise to “knowingly and willfully,” I see two alternatives: (1) is the more common route of entering into a conciliation agreement with the FEC, which appears to be used as more of an educational than punitive tool in which the FEC can impose fines but which requires the fined party to consent to those fines; or (2) the matter can be tried as a criminal rather than a regulatory proceeding in a normal court, where normal mental state thresholds apply.

An example of “knowingly and willfully” cited by the Bridge Project complaint to the FEC uses a pass-through company to hide the effective flow of cash. IANAL, but it doesn’t look like “knowingly and willingly” is much of a hurdle in this case but rather ascertaining who the actors are (and therefore what their motives were).

Cite? I thought the knowingly as in knowingly and willingly went to one’s intent to perform an action (as contrasted with acting while incapacitated) as opposed to having a full understanding of the law.

Link in my post above.

Note that this is “knowingly and willfully commits a violation,” not “commits a violation if knowingly and willfully does xyz.”

Edit: Of course, I could be referring to something completely different from E-DUB, and if so then I apologize, but this seems to fit with the description provided.

Apologies, I missed the previous response on this question of a cite.

I looked this up and the legal issue did NOT hinge on whether Edwards understood campaign laws, and pleaded ignorance of the law. Edwards claimed that the payoff was a personal gift from the donors, and not a campaign contribution. One of the donors said something to the effect of that the money was provided to cover up the affair from Edwards’ wife. I’ve got to say, that seems like a pretty reasonable defense given the facts as I understand them.

I do not assume that the Daniels payoff would necessarily have the same pattern of facts. To the contrary, the timing of the payoffs seems closely tied to the campaign calendar.

Are you a lawyer? I am not, but I very strongly doubt your reading is correct that ignorance of campaign laws is a defense.