You knew that Stormygate would end up being folded into Russiagate somehow. And now here we are.
Remember back during the presidential transition when BuzzFeed published the Steele dossier? They were sued for defamation over it just a few months ago by Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who was named in the dossier in connection with alleged dealings with Russia. That’s the same Michael Cohen who made the $130,000 hush-money payment to Daniels in October 2016.
So now BuzzFeed has an idea.
On Tuesday, BuzzFeed’s lawyer wrote to Daniels’ attorney asking that the adult film actress, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, preserve various categories of documents. Such preservation letters are often a prelude to a subpoena. If Daniels’ testimony is formally demanded in a deposition, the nondisclosure agreement would likely be no obstacle, legal experts said.
The letter from BuzzFeed’s attorney, obtained by POLITICO, argues that Cohen’s role in paying Daniels is similar to allegations in the dossier about Cohen. The dossier alleges that Cohen met Russian legal officials and legislators in Prague in August 2016 in a bid to “sweep … under the carpet” details of the relationship between Russia and Trump campaign officials like Paul Manafort and Rick Gates. Cohen has flatly denied the claim.
The idea is to establish that Cohen is Trump’s all-purpose “fixer,” the man responsible for covering up problems whenever one arises. Sometimes that means paying off a porn-star former mistress, sometimes it means meeting with Russians. I don’t see offhand why proving that Cohen paid Daniels would rescue BuzzFeed from a defamation judgment, though. If they published the claim in the dossier about him going to Prague without attempting to verify it, i.e. with reckless disregard for whether it was false, what does it matter what he did with Daniels unbeknownst to BuzzFeed and everyone else at the time? And if they did attempt to verify it, they’ll win the defamation suit regardless of what he and Daniels did.
I think discovery involving Daniels’s NDA is just a hedge by BuzzFeed to wring something of value out of this. In the best-case scenario, the prospect of having to disclose his dealings with Daniels — and potentially many other women — will so spook Cohen that he’ll drop his complaint. In the worst-case scenario, BuzzFeed loses the defamation suit but lands an exclusive account of Daniels’s relationship with the president, told under oath, which they can parlay into ad revenue. (BuzzFeed’s letter to Daniels’s attorney specifically requested that she preserve evidence related not just to her interactions with Cohen but “any and all documents or communications about any relationship and/or sexual encounter(s) Ms. Clifford had and/or was alleged to have had, with President Trump.”) And make no mistake: If this gets as far as her being deposed, it’s A-OK for her to tell all about POTUS notwithstanding the hush-money agreement. If there was any doubt about whether her duty to tell the truth in sworn testimony trumps her duty of confidentiality under her deal with Cohen, the terms of the contract itself remove any last trace of it:
“PP” stands for “Peggy Peterson,” a.k.a. Daniels. “DD” is “David Dennison,” a.k.a. Trump. Figure out a way to put her on the stand and she’s free to sing. You would think superlawyer Michael Cohen might have anticipated that before he went and sued BuzzFeed about a different cover-up allegation involving him and POTUS. But then you also would think he’d be smart enough not to use a Trump Organization lawyer as counsel in the arbitration proceeding against Daniels, knowing that that’s going to point back directly to Trump’s involvement with her. But again, here we are.
Incidentally, Daniels lawyer Michael Avenatti told BuzzFeed that other women have approached him about their own relationships with Trump. Maybe that’s a little white lie he’s telling to pump up the hype surrounding her lawsuit, but probably not. There are at least two other women who are alleged to be under agreements guaranteeing their silence vis-a-vis Trump, Jessica Drake and Karen McDougal (although McDougal’s is with the parent company of the National Enquirer, not with Cohen). If Avenatti frees Daniels from her contract, other women will want the same treatment. That’s why Cohen is battling to keep her quiet, I assume. It’s not that she’s going to damage POTUS if she talks, it’s that the accumulation of women coming out of the woodwork afterward might.