How Michael Cohen violated campaign finance law

Wednesday, December 12, 2018


Directions: Read the summary, watch the video and then answer the discussion questions. Your students may find it helpful to follow along using the transcript.

Summary: Last week’s court filings by federal prosecutors and Special Counsel Robert Mueller have shifted attention to the hush money payments made on President Donald Trump’s behalf during his 2016 presidential campaign to two women with whom he had allegedly had affairs. Prosecutors’ filings added more detail to their case against Michael Cohen, President Trump’s longtime lawyer and fixer, who they say violated federal election law. Prosecutors say “Cohen sought to influence the election from the shadows” and intentionally trying to subvert the 2016 presidential election. Trump originally said he did not know anything about the payments and that he has nothing to do with them. Cohen had already pleaded guilty to other charges of campaign finance violations in August.


Discussion questions: 

1) What do you know about the Mueller investigation? Who is Michael Cohen? What actions has Cohen allegedly carried out that may put him in further criminal violation of campaign finance laws? You may want to use this breakdown by the BBC to help you.

2) Why does the U.S. have campaign finance laws? Do you think such laws are important? Explain your response.

3) It is easy to get lost in the complicated language and layers involved in campaign election law. What could you do if you had questions or wanted to learn more about the Mueller investigation?

4) Why has it long been the case that sitting presidents cannot be indicted, or brought up on criminal charges? Do you agree with the idea that presidents should be treated differently even if they may have committed a felony? Why or why not?

5) Media literacy question: Rick Hasen is an election and campaign finance law scholar at UC Irvine School of Law. How could you find out more about Hasen’s background and expertise on election law? How do you think this interview may have gone differently if PBS had interviewed a member of the Trump administration or campaign and a member of the Clinton campaign?

Extension activity:

In the NewsHour article, “Mueller’s Russia report should be made public, new poll,” by Laura Sanatham, “Seventy-six percent of Americans said the final report from the special counsel probe should be released in full to the public.” Do you agree? Why or why not?


Visit PBS NewsHour Extra for more education resources designed to help teachers and students identify the who, what, where and why-it-matters of the major national and international news stories. You can read the original story here@NewsHourExtra