Lawyers often pay a form of "hush money" customarily referred to as "settlement proceeds" to resolve legal disputes. The "hush" part of the transaction is assured by confidentiality and nondisclosure agreements, sealing the lips of all parties to the transaction. Such agreements are particularly popular when high-profile corporate executives and politicians are accused of sexual harassment, sexual abuse or other kinds of embarrassing conduct (like adultery with a porn star, for instance).
What's unusual here is that the beneficiary of Stormy Daniels' $130,000 confidentiality agreement is not Mr. Cohen, the man footing the bill, but Donald Trump. Since assuming the role of "personal counsel," Cohen has been described as one of Trump's "pit bulls" -- the result of his tendency to threaten and file lawsuits whenever he, the Trump Organization or Mr. Trump himself are seriously attacked or maligned.
The wording of the implausible story Cohen offered in his statement leaves him a couple of escape hatches from the sticky situation of being the uncompensated money man. Denying reimbursement from the "Trump Organization" or the "Trump campaign" still leaves open the possibility of reimbursement, now or in the future, from President Trump personally or from Trump's family, friends or supporters.
Should those other forms of reimbursement occur, this could create a legal problem for Cohen -- if he told federal investigators that no such promise of recompense had been made. Assuming, for the time being, that the Cohen payment to Ms. Clifford was entirely personal, made gratuitously in honor of his idol Mr. Trump, then the payment is probably perfectly legal.
Lying to federal investigators, however, could lead to serious criminal charges under federal law, such as making false statements or even perjury. On the other hand, lying to the press is not only perfectly legal, but lately has risen to an art form in American presidential politics. The John Edwards case established the precedent that personal gifts and payments motivated by friendship rather than an attempt to assure a candidate's election need not be reported.
If Cohen wishes to transform himself from pit bull to sugar daddy, the law will permit it, technically speaking. He should remember, though, that even the generosity of Bebe Rebozo never saved Richard Nixon from resignation and disgrace. And John Edwards' presidential campaign crashed and burned. Cohen's purchase of Stormy Daniels' silence will not erase the public's already ingrained perception of the President's alleged liaison with her. Hush money can purchase silence but, regardless of who pays it, it does not erase anyone's memory.