September 16, 2019, 21:01

Donald Trump’s alleged porn star affair and hush money scandal, explained

Donald Trump’s alleged porn star affair and hush money scandal, explained

In July 2006, Donald Trump allegedly had a “sexual encounter” with adult film star Stormy Daniels following a celebrity golf tournament at Lake Tahoe, and, the month before the 2016 presidential election, reportedly sent her a $130,000 payment through his lawyer as hush money to keep the matter private.

That claim, first reported on January 12, 2018, by the Wall Street Journal, is explosive enough to conceivably topple just about any other politician. Infidelity, and attempts to cover up infidelity, ended the careers or forced the resignations of former Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards, former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, Republican Sen. John Ensign, and Republican Gov. Robert Bentley of Alabama, just to name a few from the past decade.

But this is Donald Trump we’re talking about. When the Journal blockbuster landed, it was competing for space with Trump’s labeling of Haiti, El Salvador, and seemingly all countries of Africa as “shithole” countries, ongoing congressional negotiations around the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration program, and the Journal’s own bizarre interview with Trump and his subsequent claims that the Journal mis-transcribed his statements about North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un. By the following week, Trump’s physical health exam was dominating political news.

If anyone is capable of somehow making an affair with a porn star into a non-story, it’s Donald Trump.

The Stormy Daniels scandal, however, continues to mount. On Wednesday, the celebrity news magazine In Touch published an interview with Daniels conducted in 2011 where she says she had an affair with Trump, including sex after that golf event. Reports have suggested that multiple news outlets, including Fox News and Slate, had the story before the 2016 election and didn’t report or publish it. And Daniels might not be the only woman Trump silenced with an NDA.

Here’s what we know about Trump’s alleged sexual conduct, with adult entertainers, the media’s failure to report on them, and what they could mean for his presidency.

The (alleged) Stormy Daniels affair

Daniels — 38, real name Stephanie Clifford — has worked in the adult industry since 2000 (a long time in an industry that prizes youth heavily) and was inducted into the Adult Video News (AVN) Hall of Fame in 2014. While she still performs, she’s become a prolific director in recent years too, with eight credits in 2017 alone.

This scandal isn’t her first brush with politics. Following revelations that Louisiana Sen. David Vitter hired sex workers, Daniels, a Louisiana native, in 2009 formed an exploratory committee to run against him the following year. She declared herself a Republican, and made the FairTax, a proposal to replace most federal taxes with a 30 percent national sales tax, the centerpiece of the campaign. But in June 2010 she dropped out of the race, saying, “like Gov. Palin, I have become a target of the cynical stalwarts of the status quo.”

Daniels’s affair with Trump has been covered in multiple on-the-record interviews. In Touch magazine corroborated her statements in 2011 by speaking with a friend of hers and her ex-husband. For what little it’s worth, Daniels also passed a polygraph for the magazine. She says the events took place less than four months after Trump’s wife Melania gave birth to her and Donald’s son, Barron.

Her description of the affair to In Touch is highly detailed, and worth excerpting at length:

Remember the fact that the bodyguard, Keith, was present, and that Trump was wearing pajama pants. That will become important in a bit.

In a portion of the interview included in the print magazine but not online, Daniels recalls Trump telling her she was “beautiful, smart, just like his daughter,” presumably referring to Ivanka. (Tiffany was then only 11.)

Daniels’s friend and fellow adult performer Alana Evans, who was at the same golf tournament, also said Trump and Daniels had an affair in an interview with the Today show’s Megyn Kelly. She said that Daniels invited her to “hang out” in a hotel room with her and Trump; she declined, thinking that the invitation was for a threesome. (“If you’re inviting me to a hotel room to hang out with another man and a girlfriend of mine, it’s very easy for you to believe there’s going to be more going on than playing cards or Scrabble.”) But the next day Daniels told her, “Picture this: Donald Trump chasing me around the bedroom in his tighty whities isn’t something that you ever forget.”

In Touch and Evans aren’t the only sources who have claimed there was an affair. Jacob Weisberg, who is editor-in-chief of the Slate Group (which owns Slate and Foreign Policy magazines), interviewed Daniels in August and October 2016, got her to confirm both the affair and the $130,000 hush money payment on the record, and then didn’t run with the story, in part because Daniels wanted to be paid to talk.

Here is how Weisberg characterizes his conversations with Daniels. Unlike In Touch, he says that the affair between Daniels and Trump continued for almost a year, rather than ending after the Lake Tahoe tryst:

The New York Post famously reported in 1990 that Trump’s then-girlfriend and future wife Marla Maples said he was the “best sex I’ve ever had”; Trump was still married to his first wife Ivana Trump at the time.

Weisberg attempted to corroborate the story, and while Daniels did not share the contact information of some relevant witnesses (to wit, “Trump’s longtime personal assistant Rhona Graff and his bodyguard Keith Schiller”), he was able to speak with three friends who backed her up.

So why didn’t he report the story then, in October 2016, before Trump was elected? “Given what was going on in the final weeks of the campaign, during which Trump was facing a torrent of accusations of sexual abuse, I didn’t think an extramarital affair would be a highly significant story,” Weisberg writes. “What interested me more was Daniels’ allegation that Trump had negotiated to buy her silence. Daniels said that, through intermediaries, she and Trump had worked out an agreement for the presidential candidate to pay her a six-figure sum to keep quiet.”

Daniels even texted Weisberg an unsigned version of the non

By the time he would published, Weisberg says, Daniels had been demanding payment for her story, and eventually stopped responding to his emails and texts. He heard from a friend of hers that she had taken Trump’s money instead and signed an NDA.

“If I [reported the story], she would presumably disavow what she had told me, and the only people I had corroborating her story were sources Daniels herself had pointed me to,” Weisberg explains. He also claims he lacked independent corroboration that she was paid off, despite her having texted him the NDA itself.

In Weisberg’s defense, when the Wall Street Journal eventually broke the story, Trump’s lawyer sent a statement to the Journal in which Daniels appeared to deny the affair; Daniels never confirmed to the Journal that she actually wrote that statement, but it confirms Weisberg’s suspicion that she would attempt to deny its veracity.

Slate wasn’t the only news outlet to sit on the story. Fox News reporter Diana Falzone filed a story about Daniels and Trump’s affair in October 2016, with an on-the-record comment from Daniels’s then-manager confirming the affair. But, according to CNN’s Oliver Darcy, Fox News killed the story.

Daniels is not the only woman Trump is alleged to have paid off

In Michael Wolff’s explosive book on the Trump White House, Fire and Fury, former campaign chair-turned-White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is quoted as saying of Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, “Kasowitz on the campaign — what did we have, a hundred women? Kasowitz took care of all of them.”

We don’t have 100 names of women Trump allegedly paid off, either to hide an affair or much worse misconduct (recall that Trump faces at least 15 allegations of sexual assault). But we have names of at least two, in addition to Daniels. The evidence for pay-offs is less overwhelming than in Daniels’s case, but the evidence that Trump either sexually assaulted or had consensual extramarital sex with them is strong.

During the presidential campaign, adult performer jessica drake (who prefers that her name be lowercase) accused Trump of kissing and groping her without consent and offering her $10,000 for sex in 2006, at the very same Lake Tahoe golf tournament where Trump’s affair with Daniels allegedly began.

drake’s publicist told the Daily Beast that drake is unable to say more because of a non

Regardless, drake’s account of being assaulted by Trump matches some of Daniels’ details, as told to In Touch.

“Later that evening, he invited me to his room. I said I didn’t feel right going alone, so two other women came with me,” drake told reporters at a press conference in October 2016, accompanied by Allred. “When we entered the room, he grabbed each of us tightly in a hug and kissed each one of us without asking permission. He was wearing pajamas. A bodyguard was also present.” Recall that Daniels also reported that Trump was wearing pajamas and kept a bodyguard around during their sexual encounter.

The other woman Trump allegedly paid off is former Playboy Playmate of the Year for 1998 Karen McDougal. In November 2016, before the election, the Wall Street Journal reported that the National Enquirer sat on a story about Trump having an affair with McDougal in 2006, despite the Enquirer paying McDougal $150,000 for it. The Enquirer is famously pro-Trump, providing a possible motive for burying the story.

Unlike the drake case, there’s no allegation that the relationship with McDougal was coercive or nonconsensual.

How important is this scandal, really?

Whenever a scandal involving President Trump emerges, it is natural for political observers to wonder if this is the one that will finally finish him off. And it’s certainly the case that other politicians’ affairs have been enough to destroy their careers. There are the cases of Edwards, Spitzer, Ensign, and Bentley, not to mention the impeachment and attempted removal of President Bill Clinton and Sen. Vitter’s belated punishment when he lost the 2015 governor’s race in Louisiana in an unexpected landslide, largely because his opponent made hay of his relationships with sex workers. Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC) also resigned in 2009 after his affair came to light.

But Gov. Sanford is now Congress member Sanford, and his district appears to have no problem with his past for the moment. Vitter was reelected to the Senate despite his scandal. Clinton was not forced to leave office. And in each of the four other cases mentioned, there were criminal charges at issue. Ensign allegedly committed obstruction of justice, Bentley was arrested for improper use of campaign funds, Spitzer structured his wire transfers to evade federal scrutiny, and Edwards was indicted for improperly using campaign donations to hide his affair. (The case was later dropped after he was acquitted on one count, and the jury split on the others.)

Moreover, the presidency is not the Senate or a governorship. And Trump is not an ordinary president. Fundamentally, politicians who have been felled by adultery scandal have been felled because they chose to resign or were forced out by indictments.

By contrast, it’s not clear that Trump did anything illegal here. Immoral, sure, but being a bad husband is not a crime. Adultery is not illegal in Nevada, where the American Century golf tournament is held. It’s a misdemeanor in New York, but that law is almost certainly unconstitutional after the Supreme Court limited states’ ability to ban consensual sexual conduct in Lawrence v. Texas.

Ultimately, whether this story damages Trump depends on (a) whether Trump is duly shamed and compelled to resign or apologize, both of which seem unlikely; (b) whether Republicans in charge of Congress view it as a serious matter and launch an investigation and (c) if the media constantly pursues it as the main political story in the country, which is both unlikely and arguably irresponsible when the military is moving ships, troops, and planes to prepare for a possible war with North Korea. However important you think the Stormy Daniels story is, that one is definitely more important.

There’s also a question as to whether the news that Trump was unfaithful to his wife is much of a revelation at all. Marla Maples was Trump’s extramarital partner before she became his wife; there is audio of him bragging to a reporter about cheating on Ivana. If you went into the 2016 election unsure if Trump was a faithful husband and partner, you weren’t paying much attention.

In other words, the voters who elected Trump knew that this was who he was when they voted for him. Why should the latest news change their minds, or anyone else’s?

Source: vox.com

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