The president who boasted of treating women like sex objects is being outplayed at his own tabloid-warfare game by a porn star. Maybe there’s justice in the world after all.
You might have missed it in the ceaseless fusillade of news, but on Wednesday the White House all but confirmed the story that actress and director Stormy Daniels is dying to tell: Shortly before the election she was paid $130,000 in hush money to keep quiet about an “intimate relationship” she had with Donald Trump in 2006, soon after Melania Trump had given birth to the couple’s son, Barron.
Daniels filed a lawsuit Tuesday arguing that she should be free to speak about the affair, since a nondisclosure agreement laying out the terms of the payment was never actually signed by Trump. Asked about the payment at a White House briefing, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Trump denies the allegations and that, in any event, “this case has already been won in arbitration.” She later added that “the arbitration was won in the president’s favor.”
Trump was reportedly “very unhappy” with Sanders’ performance, but come on, give her a break. How is she supposed to keep all the lies straight as they multiply, overlap and at times contradict? She’s good at it, but every once in a while, a little truth is bound to slip out.
What she inconveniently seemed to confirm is that Trump is a party to arbitration proceedings regarding a nondisclosure agreement involving Daniels. Obviously, there would be no such agreement unless there were something Trump wanted to hide. And if Daniels’ silence was worth $130,000, it must have been something Trump really wanted to hide.
The Daniels affair is of more than just prurient interest: It would appear that Trump may have violated federal campaign law by failing to disclose the payment on his reporting forms.
Any attempt by Trump to stick to his blanket denial – he claims all the women who say he harassed them, assaulted them or had affairs with them are lying – is now moot in the Daniels case, because in an appendix to her lawsuit she included the entire nondisclosure agreement. The filings offer a glimpse of how Trump is accustomed to operating – and suggest why special counsel Robert Mueller has reportedly taken an interest in Trump’s attorney, Michael Cohen.
The agreement – in which Trump and Daniels are identified by pseudonyms, “David Dennison” and “Peggy Peterson” – was negotiated at the end of October 2016, days before the election, when Trump’s campaign was reeling from the impact of the “Access Hollywood” tape. The $130,000 payment, which Cohen has said he “facilitated” with personal funds, was not reported as a campaign donation or expenditure.
Daniels says in her suit that in January of this year, when reports of the hush-money payment surfaced, Cohen used “intimidation and coercive tactics” to force her to sign a “false statement” denying any relationship with Trump. In the past week, according to the suit, Cohen has used “an improper and procedurally defective arbitration proceeding hidden from public view” in an attempt to keep her silent – an apparent reference to the arbitration that Sanders claimed had been “won in the president’s favor.”
The agreement, as appended to the lawsuit, shows that Cohen formed a company, Essential Consultants LLC, to make the payment to Daniels. It provides for arbitration in the case of disputes, and it requires Daniels to pay “David Dennison” $1 million per instance if she breaches the contract. It is signed by Daniels, using her legal name, Stephanie Clifford; and by Cohen, for Essential Consultants. The line for “David Dennison” to sign is indeed left blank.
Thanks to Daniels, her lawyer and an unforced error by Sanders, the story Trump has tried so hard to squelch is out. Take a minute and think about it.
The personal lawyer of the president of the United States, days before the election, paid $130,000 to apparently buy the silence of a porn star. Said porn star credibly describes an affair she had with the president and the ham-fisted attempts by his lawyer to keep her from talking about it. All of this unquestionably speaks volumes about the president’s character and morals.
Republicans who regarded Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky as the end of civilization as we know it are serenely untroubled. Evangelicals who rail against sin and cloak themselves in piety offer nothing but a worldly, almost Gallic shrug. Daniels has taught us much about their character and morals, too.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.