Trump’s Longtime Lawyer Admits Paying Off Porn Star Alleged To Have Affair With Trump

Over the past month or so, a story has been circulating alleging that President Trump had an affair with a porn star who professionally goes by the name Stormy Daniels while his wife Melania was pregnant with Trump’s third son Barron Trump. The story originated in a London tabloid but quickly spread into the mainstream media for rather obvious reasons. The story received wider attention when an American supermarket tabloid printed an interview with Daniels that it had spiked back in 2011. (You can read that report at the link if you like.) That report included the allegation that Daniels was paid roughly $130,000 in October 2016 to keep silent about the matter. While neither party would initially confirm these reports about a payment, Daniels proceeded to go on a publicity tour that included appearances on late night television where she basically refused to answer questions but left viewers with the impression that there was at least some truth to the story. Based on Daniels’ lack of commentary, many people speculated that she was at least confirming that there had been a payment and that she was prohibited from commenting publicly due to the terms of a settlement agreement of some kind that included a non-disclosure agreement. Amid all of this, there were reports of tension in the White House between Trump and his wife that took on a new life when Mrs. Trump decided, apparently at the last minute, to skip a trip she was supposed to take with Trump to the World Economic Forum in Switzerland,

While the salacious side of the story no doubt was responsible for much of the interest on the part of the media and the public, the potentially more consequential issue revolves around the payment that was made. Initial reporting by CNN and other outlets revealed that the alleged payment to Daniels was made through a shell company that was set up in Delaware in October 2016, giving a mailing address that is apparently a nondescript office building there, and which apparently has never conducted business of any kind. The only reason to do something like this, of course, is to hide the true source of any money that might pass through the business entity. Now, Trump’s long-time personal lawyer is claiming that the payment to Daniels came from him:

Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, said on Tuesday that he had paid $130,000 out of his own pocket to a pornographic-film actress who had once claimed to have had an affair with Mr. Trump.

In the most detailed explanation of the 2016 payment made to the actress, Stephanie Clifford, Mr. Cohen, who worked as a counsel to the Trump Organization for more than a decade, said he was not reimbursed for the payment.

“Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly,” Mr. Cohen said in a statement to The New York Times. “The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful, and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone.”

He declined to answer several follow-up questions, including whether Mr. Trump had been aware that Mr. Cohen made the payment, why he made the payment or whether he had made similar payments to other people over the years.

Mr. Cohen has previously said that Mr. Trump has denied an affair with Ms. Clifford, whose stage name is Stormy Daniels. She has said the affair took place soon after Mr. Trump’s wife, Melania, gave birth to the couple’s son, Barron.

Mr. Cohen’s statement about what he called “a private transaction” was the first time that he had acknowledged a role in the payment, which was first reported in January by The Wall Street Journal.

Mr. Cohen said that he had given a similar statement to the Federal Election Commission in response to a complaint filed by the government watchdog group Common Cause, which contended that the payment, made through a limited liability company that Mr. Cohen established, was an in-kind contribution to the Trump campaign.

Officials with Common Cause also sought to determine whether the payment was made by the Trump Organization or another person.

“The complaint alleges that I somehow violated campaign finance laws by facilitating an excess, in-kind contribution,” Mr. Cohen said in his statement. “The allegations in the complaint are factually unsupported and without legal merit, and my counsel has submitted a response to the F.E.C.”

He said he would not make any additional comments about the commission complaint “or regarding Ms. Clifford.”

Mr. Cohen was among Mr. Trump’s fiercest defenders during his time at the Trump Organization, often telling reporters during the 2016 presidential campaign that even false information about Mr. Trump could be damaging if printed. Ms. Clifford had told her story to the magazine In Touch in 2011, as well as the gossip website TheDirty.com. Both accounts were published last month after the report of the 2016 payment.

Back in January, CNN’s Chris Cillizza argued that the Daniels story should be a bigger deal, and his observations only take on more importance with this revelation by Cohen:

I think this story merits more than that. After all, the Journal is not exactly a fly-by-night media company prone to blowing things out of proportion. And its reporting makes very clear that a) Cohen formed this shell company and b) the company made a payment of $130,000 to Daniels just before the election.

Unless I’ve missed it, Cohen hasn’t denied either of those two facts. (Denying Trump and Daniels had a relationship is not the same thing.) So, if Cohen is on the record saying the Trump-Daniels relationship is a myth, it seems to me he still owes an explanation of why he formed the company, why he did so in Delaware (a state renowned for its loose laws on corporate transparency) and, most importantly, why a $130,000 payment was made to Daniels.

Whether you like Trump or hate him, it’s hard to argue that an unexplained six-figure payment from his personal lawyer to a porn star in the runup to the election doesn’t warrant more attention — and more answers — than we are currently getting.

As I said, it was the salacious side of the story that has been responsible for much of the attention the story has gotten, but there could be some serious questions involved here based solely on the payment alone, and Cohen’s admission that a payment was made only raises further questions. Before this, all we had was innuendo and unconfirmed rumors. To no small degree, it’s the kind of story that would have been ignored and left to the tabloid pages had the issue of a last-minute payment a month before Election Day in 2016. As it stands, Cohen’s claim that he used personal funds to pay Daniels off for her silence and that neither Trump, his campaign, nor The Trump Organization was aware of what was happening. To be frank about it, that story just doesn’t sound plausible. No matter how close the relationship between Trump and Cohen might be, the idea that Cohen was giving money to a woman that had been rumored to have had an affair with his long-time client who was also running for President of the United States doesn’t really make much sense. Even if Daniels had gone public in the month before the election, for example, it doesn’t seem like the story would have had much of an impact. Everyone already knew about the affairs that Trump had in the past, including the one in the 80s with Marla Maples that ended his first marriage and resulted in his second, for example, and there had been rumors about others for years. Additionally, it’s worth noting that the payment appears to have been made around the same time that we learned about the Access Hollywood tape and the claims of nineteen women who alleged they had been harassed and even apparently assaulted by Trump in the past. While Trump took a temporary hit in the polls when those stories came out, he still ended up winning the election. Given that, the revelation that he’d apparently had a consensual affair with a porn star likely would not have harmed his campaign at all.

Taking all that into account, the relevant questions regarding the whole Michael Cohen/Stormy Daniels thing are these:

  • (1) Was Cohen reimbursed for paying Daniels for her silence, either directly or indirectly?
  • (2) How did Cohen document the payment?
  • (3) What were the terms of the Settlement Agreement?
  • (4) Did Daniels report the payment on her taxes as income? If so, how?
  • (5) What were the terms of any Settlement Agreement that Daniels may have signed?
  • (6) What did the President know and when did he know it?

Depending on the answers to these questions, there could be issues here regarding whether the payment was an unreported “in kind” donation to the Trump campaign, whether there was tax fraud, and whether or not this constitutes money laundering. Even before this latest report, for example, the watchdog group Common Cause had already filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging that the payment to Daniels was an illegal “in-kind” contribution intended to influence the outcome of the election. Additionally, the circumstances surrounding the payment could end up being problematic for Cohen from an ethical point of view even if there was no criminal violation due to the fact that his conduct here appears as if it could have violated one or more of the disciplinary rules governing attorney conduct in the State of New York. Specifically, Rule 1:8(e) provides that “a lawyer shall not advance or guarantee financial assistance to the client” while representing a client in connection with contemplated or pending litigation. There are exceptions to the rule, but they clearly would not apply in this situation. In addition to this, there are other disciplinary rules that Cohen may have violated in connection with the manner in which the payment was made, including but not limited to the question of whether he is improperly revealing information protected by whatever attorney/client privilege exists between Cohen and Trump. Finally, Cohen’s actions may have opened his client up to potential criminal charges.  In the end, then, whether or not Trump actually had an affair with Daniels is irrelevant. What’s important are the facts and circumstances surrounding the payoff that Cohen now admits took place.

Update: A representative for Daniels is now saying that Cohen going public means that she is free to share her story:

NEW YORK (AP) — Stormy Daniels, the pornography star whom President Donald Trump’s personal attorney acknowledged paying $130,000 just before Election Day, believes she is now free to discuss her alleged sexual encounter with Trump, her manager told The Associated Press Wednesday.

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, believes that Trump attorney Michael Cohen invalidated a non-disclosure agreement after two news stories were published Tuesday: One, in which Cohen told The New York Times that he made the six-figure payment with his personal funds, and another in the Daily Beast, which reported that Cohen was shopping a book proposal that would touch on Daniels’ story, said the manager, Gina Rodriguez.

“Everything is off now, and Stormy is going to tell her story,” Rodriguez said.

Without knowing the terms of the agreement, it is generally the case that the terms of a non-disclosure agreement are vitiated when one of the parties violates the terms of that agreement, so Daniels may indeed be free to discuss her alleged relationship with Trump.

Photo via Fox News

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Donald Trump, Doug Mataconis, Politicians, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    I have read that Cohen is shopping around a book proposal in which he explains that Trump didn’t have an affair with Daniels, but that Cohen paid her off to keep her from claiming she did.

    Yeah, yeah, I know.

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  2. Tony W says:

    Unfortunately, I feel like a salacious story like this is far more likely to get Trump impeached than his treasonous partnership with an enemy state to partner on election tampering. It’s just easier for the average American to digest.

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  3. Michael Bailey says:

    That was fantastically informative. Also, your list of questions is really helpful.

    But beyond all that, congratulations for writing the most singularly unerotic column that has been, or ever will be, written about this scandal. (insert smiley face emoticon here.)

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  4. gVOR08 says:

    In his statement, Cohen says,

    I used my own funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000 to Ms. Stephanie Clifford.

    IANAL but that sure sounds like lawyer speak for ‘OK, it was my money for a couple days.’

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  5. Hal_10000 says:

    @gVOR08:

    Agree. Eugene Volokh noticed that phrasing too. This sounds way more like the lawyer arranged for her to be paid than paid her himself.

    This shouldn’t be a big deal. I mean, who among us hasn’t paid a six-figure sum to cover up an affair we had months after our wife had a baby?

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  6. pylon says:

    Cohen’s weasely statement has a ton of holes in it. All one can say for sure is that the “Trump Organization” (which is not really a legal entity and means very little) and the Trump Campaign (which excludes PACs I assume) didn’t make the payment. Assuming that the Trump Organization means Trump’s various companies, Trump could have reimbursed Cohen personally. Or he could have gotten the money from Kushner, or Wynn, or Bannon, or Theil, or Mnuchin, or Mercer, or Adelson.

    One thing is for sure – Trump knew. He had to, unless Cohen acted without authority, which is almost impossible to imagine.

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  7. pylon says:

    There’s a suggestion out there that, as Cohen has now openly discussed the settlement, Daniels is free from her non-disclosure obligations.

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  8. @Michael Bailey:

    It wasn’t easy to resist making the obvious jokes and double entendre, I will admit.

    Also, Googling for a photo of Stormy Daniels produced some NSFW results before I found something appropriate for OTB. 🙂

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  9. @pylon:

    Yea, that may be the case.

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  10. pylon says:

    One caveat by Josh Marshall: He doesn’t think Cohen is actually Trump’s lawyer (or anyone’s):

    https://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/who-will-rid-me-of-this-meddlesome-stormy-the-michael-cohen-story

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  11. @pylon:

    The Trump Organization is the name of the holding company that Trump operates his other companies through. I am unsure if it is an LLC, Limited Partnership, General Partnership, or simly a trade name.

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  12. MarkedMan says:

    @pylon: I think it borders on journalistic malpractice to simply call Cohen “Trump’s personal lawyer”. Permanently attached to the name should be “Longtime Trump business associate with deep and long standing connections with Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs “

    Amazing. Yet another Trump business partners with ties to the Russian mob? Small world in’nt It?

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  13. Joe says:

    Daniels/Clifford has probably not filed her relevant tax return yet.

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  14. michael reynolds says:

    I used to work for a big DC law firm. Later I worked for two smaller law firms in SF. I have hired several lawyers down through the years, from criminal to intellectual property. Here is what I can say with, I believe, some authority: no lawyer spends his own money. Lawyers have a sacred mantra, that goes like this: billable hours, ooooom…… billable hours, oooom. . . . Spend 130K out of pocket, no fekkin way.

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  15. Get the popcorn ready folks, a spokesperson for Daniels says that now that Cohen has gone public she is free to discuss her relationship with Trump.

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  16. @michael reynolds:

    Exactly.

    Although it’s worth noting that Cohen doesn’t work for a law firm he is, or at least was, employed by the Trump Organization.

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  17. Gobsmacked says:

    Is this the first time a lawyer has ever paid for something out of his own pocket?

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  18. Blue Galangal says:

    It’s been a while, so my memory may be faulty, but wasn’t this what John Edwards (or, to be more specific, his lawyer) was indicted for?

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  19. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    now that Cohen has gone public

    Is anyone in this administration the least bit competent? Ms. Daniels is going to get a yuuuge payday from someone that wants to run this story.
    And FLOTUS, if she has any self-pride, will divorce the comb-over.

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  20. michael reynolds says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:
    Right now Stormy is fielding calls from every news organization, gossip sheet and book publisher in the known universe. The National Enquirer is no doubt throwing money at her to kill the story. Will she take a second round of hush money? Will she go on CNN or Maddow and tell all for the fame and notoriety? Will she sign a book deal and crank something out with a good ghostwriter? Inquiring minds want to know.

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  21. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:
  22. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    You are correct. Aside from it being an enormous ethics violation, I’m not a client’s mother either. Attorney / client relationships result in the client paying me, not the other way around.

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  23. Kathy says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl: You know, when I see the women Trump has had allegedly consensual relationships with, I can’t help but think “What the hell is wrong with them?”

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  24. PJ says:

    How about Trump paying for her to have an abortion? Though I would assume that she would have gotten a lot more to keep that private than just $130,000…

    But it would be interesting to see how the “Christian” right would react to that.

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  25. Sleeping Dog says:

    @PJ: They’d claim it was fake news and any they’ve absolved him of his sins. Even though he’s never confessed or asked redemption.

    @Kathy: A fair question than indicates that you are not a gold digger.

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  26. michael reynolds says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Damn, I’m sorry to have you confirm that. I was just getting ready to call my IP lawyer up and see if he’d buy me a car.

    On second thought he’s a bit old and I worry the laughing fit might kill him.

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  27. CSK says:

    @Kathy:

    Ages ago I read an interview with a very successful Manhattan call girl. The interviewer asked her how she could stomach sexually servicing some of the toads who were her clients. Her reply: “You close your eyes and never stop thinking about what you’re getting paid. It’s the money.”

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  28. pylon says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Well you hope they pay you. I’ve made more than a couple errors in obtaining and calculating a correct retainer amount in my time.

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  29. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @pylon:

    I was speaking generally about that, tbh. I’m an equity partner in a white shoe.

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  30. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Yes, this has all taken a very odd turn.

    But, turning to Ocam’s razor…

    If Donald has a “type”, and history shows he does, then Stormy does fit the profile. She is just one more in a long list of tall blonds with curves and a big smile.

    He just bought Melania because money alone was not enought to entice hotter blonde women, and a man of his caliber would never allow himself to apprear alone.

    I hope I live long enough for historians to write the real details of the worst president ever in Office.

    Why he still continues when all intelligence agencies state that he is there due to Russian meddling…

    I could just spit.

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  31. JohnMcC says:

    The word to describe Mr Cohen, Esq, is ‘consigliere’, I think.

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  32. Pylon says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Yeah, me too. To the extent we have those in smaller Canadian cities ;). But I practice insolvency law and sometimes the retainer is underestimated. If you do that, and a few deemed trusts step ahead, you are left holding the bag a little bit. Rarely, if you estimate properly up front.

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  33. Scott O says:

    @Blue Galangal:
    Yes, that was mentioned on NPR today.

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  34. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Pylon:

    Understood. Bankruptcy / restructuring is an area that we’ve only recently waded back into after (like most firms on the street) essentially abandoning the field in the 1930’s. Negotiating the fee structure for those deals, especially debtor side engagements, can be dicey, agreed.

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  35. RoyMill says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Mr Cohen’s explanation is not believable. When have you ever heard of a lawyer paying for anything ?

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  36. Mr. Prosser says:

    @JohnMcC: Obviously not a wartime consigliere.

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  37. pylon says:

    @RoyMill:
    #triggered

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  38. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @PJ: No, trust me, it wouldn’t be interesting to see how the Christian Right would react to the news of Trump having paid for an abortion any more than it has been interesting to see them shame their faith at any other step so far. When it comes to politics and power, the Bible is just a book that has nothing to say on the subject.

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  39. grumpy realist says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker: I suspect they’d just mutter something about him “getting a mulligan”.

    After all, if they haven’t booted desJardines (or whatever his name is) out of office as a “God-fearing family man” in spite of his involvement in two abortions, (one actual and one proposed, IIRC), why should they worry about Trump?

    They’ll find some excuse for Cadet Bone Spurs.

    They always do.

    (P.S. Looks like Trump was fooling around with a Playboy model as well at the same time. I suspect more squawks of “fake news!”)

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  40. Grewgills says:

    Mueller has indicted 13 Russians for interfering in the 2016 elections in support of Trump against Clinton. There is no collusion aspect in this part of the campaign. More to come, I’m sure.

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