Did the Trumps Pay Hush Money to Avoid Criminal Prosecution?

The line in the New York Times (10/5/17 article about the dropped fraud charges against the Trumps) that caught my eye was this provision in the civil suit settlement agreement with the Trumps: “The buyers also agreed to notify the district attorney’s office that they would not help the investigation.” Mr. Vance said he “called off the investigation in large part because the victims refused to cooperate with prosecutors after they reached a settlement agreement with the Trumps”. This practice of buying off (settling) with possible victims in exchange for their not cooperating or testifying I believe is unethical for the lawyers and possibly criminal for the participants.

This is not a new rant for me. These agreements to conceal corporate or individual criminal conduct or other wrongdoing or defective or dangerous products have to be outlawed. Let’s forget the formal settlement agreement for a moment. Suppose the victim of a robbery (or any other crime) is offered and accepts money in exchange for an agreement not to report it or testify. Is there any question that this would be unlawful---considered bribery? Does it suddenly become lawful if it is part of a civil suit? These settlements are not only payments of hush money, but wrongdoers (or criminals) usually insist upon confidentiality as well. Otherwise put: Not only don’t cooperate with law enforcement or testify in a criminal or civil matter; but don’t tell anyone else!

Mr. Vance may have been perfectly justified in his decision not to pursue criminal action against the Trumps, and they may have been guilty of nothing. But paying off the alleged victims and having them promise to remain silent certainly justifies some suspicion and is a practice that should be prohibited.

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