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Former FEC Chair Criticizes Bragg's Trump Charges as Unfounded

 July 10, 2024

Former Federal Election Commission (FEC) chairman Bradley Smith testified to Congress on Tuesday, challenging the legal basis of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's charges against former President Donald Trump.

Smith argued that hush money payments to Stormy Daniels could not be considered campaign expenditures and thus did not violate campaign finance laws as Bragg claimed, as the Washington Examiner reports.

The former federal official, who was initially expected to testify as a defense witness in Trump’s New York trial, expressed significant concerns about the legal foundations of Bragg’s case. He presented his views in a detailed written statement during his testimony to Congress.

Smith's Testimony and Legal Critique

In his testimony, Smith identified what he perceived as legal errors in Bragg’s case. He argued that the payment made to Daniels, which was handled by Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen, could not be legally classified as a campaign expenditure.

Smith's argument centered on the nature of the payment. He stated that the payment to Daniels, made from Cohen’s personal bank account just days before the 2016 election, did not constitute an attempt to influence the election. Therefore, it could not be considered a violation of campaign finance laws.

He went on to emphasize that the Trump Organization's reimbursement to Cohen in 2017, after Trump took office, did not change the nature of the payment.

Criticism of Felony Charges

Bragg secured felony convictions against Trump by alleging that the Daniels payment was an illegal campaign contribution. Smith, however, argued that this characterization was legally unsound.

Smith stated that the payment was not campaign-related, and no public disclosure was required before the election. He testified that it was impossible to hide the expenditure until after the election due to legal deadlines.

He described Bragg's charges as “simply laughable” and critiqued the prosecution’s theory, highlighting what he saw as significant flaws in the argument.

Smith's Background and Testimony Exclusion

Bradley Smith has an extensive background in election law. He is a professor at Capital University Law School and was appointed to the FEC by former President Bill Clinton. His expertise in the field brought weight to his testimony.

Despite his expertise, Smith was not called to testify at Trump's trial after Judge Juan Merchan limited the scope of his testimony. Smith believed that his insights into FEC deadlines and campaign finance law could have been crucial in the trial and might have contributed to an acquittal for Trump.

Smith's testimony came after similar criticisms from FEC commissioner Trey Trainor, who also questioned Bragg’s application of federal laws in a state prosecution.

Bragg's Legal Strategy

Bragg attached a New York election violation to Trump's falsifying records charges to elevate them to felonies. He provided the jury with three options for unlawful means by which Trump allegedly violated election law.

This strategy was part of Bragg's broader attempt to prosecute Trump for the payments made to Daniels. However, Smith argued that Bragg’s use of federal campaign finance laws was inappropriate for a state-level prosecution.

Smith's critique of Bragg's case was echoed by Trainor, who stated that Bragg had "usurped" federal law in his approach.

Potential Appeal and Future Implications

Trump is expected to appeal his conviction on several grounds, including the incorporation of federal campaign finance laws into a state prosecution. This ongoing legal battle could have significant implications for how campaign finance laws are interpreted and enforced in future cases.

Bragg's office did not respond to requests for comment on Smith’s testimony and the criticisms leveled against the prosecution's case.


Bradley Smith’s testimony to Congress brought significant attention to the legal arguments surrounding District Attorney Alvin Bragg's charges against former President Donald Trump.

Smith's critique, based on his expertise and experience in election law, highlighted perceived flaws in the prosecution's theory. With Trump expected to appeal his conviction, the debate over the application of campaign finance laws in this case continues to unfold.