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Trump's election-law witness Bradley Smith is getting $1,200 an hour to testify — and spin reporters

Natalie Musumeci,Laura Italiano   

Trump's election-law witness Bradley Smith is getting $1,200 an hour to testify — and spin reporters
  • Donald Trump's defense team is expected to call an ex-FEC commissioner as a witness in his hush-money trial.
  • Bradley Smith, a Republican election-law expert, is being paid $1,200 an hour.

As Donald Trump's criminal hush-money trial nears the end, the former president's defense team plans to call at least one witness — an ex-commissioner of the Federal Election Commission who's getting a whopping $1,200 an hour.

Bradley Smith — a Republican campaign-finance-law expert who has served on the FEC as commissioner, vice chairman and chairman between 2000 and 2005 — is expected to testify in Trump's historic Manhattan trial on Monday.

Manhattan prosecutors fought hard to keep Smith off the stand. Smith has twice been barred by federal judges from testifying as a defense expert, prosecutors noted in February — including in a 2014 case where he'd hoped to tell a jury that an average person may not know that "straw man" donations are illegal.

Trump retained Smith, known for his opposition to campaign finance regulations, to provide expert testimony, advise the defense, and "engage in commentary with media organizations covering the matter," according to court documents.

Trump may not get his money's worth, though.

New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan, the judge presiding over the trial, dealt a blow to the defense on Monday when he greatly limited the scope of any testimony by Smith.

As a result of Merchan's order, Smith, who was appointed to the FEC by former President Bill Clinton, is essentially only allowed to explain to Trump's hush-money jury what the FEC is, what it does, and what the standard definitions are for such terms as "campaign expenditure" and "campaign contribution."

Smith told Business Insider Monday that Trump's team has not asked him to engage with the media on this case, despite it being among the services he was hired to do.

"That's just a catch-all because sometimes attorneys want me to comment to press, and that takes time so it's part of the agreement," he said. "I have not been asked to do any media work whatsoever, in any form."

Smith does not appear to be quoted in media coverage of Trump's hush-money case.

In fighting to keep Smith from testifying for Trump, prosecutors noted in February that he had been barred from testifying for the defense in two unrelated federal cases in Manhattan.

The judges in both cases found that the defense improperly wanted Smith to interpret campaign finance law to the jury.

One of those cases was the fraud trial of fallen cryptocurrency mogul Sam Bankman-Fried.

The other case where Smith was barred from testifying was United States v. Suarez.

In that case, Smith would have testified that "people often misunderstand the campaign laws" and that "it is reasonable for individuals to believe that the law allows 'straw man' donations," prosecutors in Trump's case complained in court documents filed earlier this year.

Trump — and his Save America PAC — were charged well over $2 million on expert testimony for last year's Manhattan civil fraud trial — including $1,350 an hour for New York University professor Eli Bartov, who testified he worked 650 hours and pocketed at least $877,500.

Bartov "lost all credibility" on the stand, state Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron wrote in December. "All that his testimony proves is that for a million or so dollars, some experts will say whatever you want them to say," Engoron wrote.

Trump has been standing trial since mid-April on criminal charges related to a $130,000 hush-money payment made to porn star Stormy Daniels.

The Manhattan District Attorney's Office has charged the former president with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.

Prosecutors allege Trump illegally falsified invoices, checks, and other records throughout 2017, to disguise a year's worth of monthly reimbursement checks to his then attorney, Michael Cohen.

Once Trump's "fixer," Cohen had made the initial outlay of a $130,0000 hush-money payment that silenced Daniels just 11 days before the 2016 election. Daniels had threatened to go public with a story of a sexual encounter she says she had with Trump in 2006 when his son with Melania Trump was only four months old.

Trump has denied having sex with Daniels.

Falsifying business records is a misdemeanor, but the charge becomes a felony — punishable by up to four years in prison — if the records were falsified with the intent to commit or hide some other underlying crime.

Prosecutors have argued Trump orchestrated the payment to Daniels as part of a conspiracy to influence the 2016 election in violation of state and federal election laws.

In putting Smith on the stand, Trump's defense team hopes to challenge the prosecution's argument that the hush-money payment breached those laws.

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