Not Real News

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in support of the campaign of Ohio Senate candidate JD Vance at Wright Bros. Aero Inc. at Dayton International Airport, Nov. 7, 2022, in Vandalia, Ohio. On Friday, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly claiming it is a double standard that Trump may be indicted over alleged hush money payments to women who accused him of sexual encounters, while former President Bill Clinton faced no criminal charges for paying a sexual harassment accuser $850,000. 

CLAIM: It is a double standard that former President Donald Trump may be indicted over alleged hush money payments to a woman who accused him of sexual encounters, while former President Bill Clinton faced no criminal charges for paying a sexual harassment accuser $850,000.

THE FACTS: Clinton and Trump’s cases have key differences, according to experts. Clinton's payment was public and legal. The payment in Trump’s case was through a shell company and reimbursed by Trump, whose company logged the reimbursements as legal expenses in the final weeks of his 2016 presidential campaign. Social media users are spreading the inaccurate comparisons of Trump’s case and one involving Clinton as a Manhattan grand jury weighs whether to indict Trump over hush money payments made on his behalf.

“Bill Clinton paid Paula Jones $850K to go away, I don’t remember the FBI raiding his lawyer’s office,” reads the text on a post being shared widely across social media. Similar claims were also posted to Twitter by a Republican congressman.

“There is no comparison between these two payments from a legal point of view,” said Kathleen Clark, a law professor specializing in legal and government ethics at Washington University in St. Louis. “The 1998 Clinton-Jones settlement was a settlement of a civil lawsuit. And the settlement was public and was filed in court. In contrast, this payment from Trump to Stormy Daniels was secret.”

She added that another difference is that Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, pled guilty to violating federal campaign finance laws in connection to the payment. Cohen, now a key prosecution witness, has said Trump was involved as well. Trump faces a possible indictment over his alleged involvement in the $130,000 payment made in 2016 to the porn actor Stormy Daniels to keep her from going public about a sexual encounter. Trump denies the encounter and any wrongdoing.

Cohen paid Daniels through a shell company before being reimbursed by Trump, whose company, the Trump Organization, logged the reimbursements as legal expenses, the AP has reported. During Cohen's trial, federal prosecutors said the payments amounted to illegal, unreported assistance to Trump’s campaign. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s team appears to be looking at whether Trump or anyone committed crimes in New York state in arranging the payments, or in the way they accounted for them at the Trump Organization, according to AP reporting.

Nan Hunter, a professor of law emerita at Georgetown University’s law school, said Bragg could potentially charge Trump with falsifying a business record because he has claimed that the money paid to Daniels was a legitimate business expense incurred by the Trump corporation.

“This charge is grounded in usage of corporate funds for a purpose unrelated to legitimate corporate activities, since the underlying issue was not conduct engaged in by the business but the personal actions of Mr. Trump,” Hunter wrote in an email. “In addition, there may be a charge that the purpose of the payment was to affect the outcome of an election through a secret payment in violation of election laws.”

Clinton, meanwhile, agreed to pay his accuser, Jones, $850,000 to drop a sexual harassment lawsuit. He settled out of court in November 1998, about halfway through his second term as president. As part of the settlement, he acknowledged no wrongdoing. Jones alleged that Clinton, as Arkansas governor in 1991, made a crude advance when she was a clerk for the state government. Her lawsuit was later dismissed by a federal judge. Hunter and Clark both said Clinton’s payment was legally sound. Clinton agreed to settle the case because Jones could have appealed the dismissal. Under the terms of the settlement, Jones agreed not to appeal the judgment against her, Hunter said. “There is nothing shady or illegal about two parties settling a case,” Hunter said, adding, “there was nothing secret about the payment and there were never any criminal charges.”

— Associated Press writer Sophia Tulp in New York contributed this report.