This is similar to Farrow’s blockbuster on Harvey Weinstein last fall in one sense, namely that the bones of the story had already been reported by the time his piece appeared. The NYT beat him to the punch by a few days on Weinstein; his new piece, describing Playboy centerfold Karen McDougal’s saga with Trump and his cronies at the Enquirer, was actually first reported out by the Wall Street Journal four days before the 2016 election. The value of Farrow’s stories in both cases was in putting meat on those bones. The Times’s initial reporting on Weinstein demonstrated that he was bad but Farrow’s reporting illuminated the depth of his evil degeneracy. The Journal’s reporting on McDougal and Trump provided the basics — she sold her story to the Enquirer for $150,000 in a “catch and kill” operation designed by editors to silence her on Trump’s behalf — but Farrow’s reporting attempts to fill in the blanks on how her relationship with Trump developed.
There are various coincidences here too with Stormy Daniels’s account of her own affair with Trump, starting with the fact that both allege that they slept with Trump at the same golf weekend event in Lake Tahoe in July 2006. Trump was already married at the time to Melania, who was pregnant with their son Barron.
As the pool party at the Playboy Mansion came to an end, Trump asked for McDougal’s telephone number. For McDougal, who grew up in a small town in Michigan and worked as a preschool teacher before beginning her modelling career, such advances were not unusual. John Crawford, McDougal’s friend, who also helped broker her deal with A.M.I., said that Trump was “another powerful guy hitting on her, a gal who’s paid to be at work.” Trump and McDougal began talking frequently on the phone, and soon had what McDougal described as their first date: dinner in a private bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel. McDougal wrote that Trump impressed her. “I was so nervous! I was into his intelligence + charm. Such a polite man,” she wrote. “We talked for a couple hours – then, it was “ON”! We got naked + had sex.” As McDougal was getting dressed to leave, Trump did something that surprised her. “He offered me money,” she wrote. “I looked at him (+ felt sad) + said, ‘No thanks – I’m not ‘that girl.’ I slept w/you because I like you – NOT for money’ – He told me ‘you are special.’ ”
Afterward, McDougal wrote, she “went to see him every time he was in LA (which was a lot).” Trump, she said, always stayed in the same bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel and ordered the same meal—steak and mashed potatoes—and never drank. McDougal’s account is consistent with other descriptions of Trump’s behavior. Last month, In Touch Weekly published an interview conducted in 2011 with Stephanie Clifford in which she revealed that during a relationship with Trump she met him for dinner at a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where Trump insisted they watch “Shark Week” on the Discovery Channel. Summer Zervos, a former contestant on “The Apprentice,” alleged that Trump assaulted her at a private dinner meeting, in December of 2007, at a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Trump, Zervos has claimed, kissed her, groped her breast, and suggested that they lie down to “watch some telly-telly.” After Zervos rebuffed Trump’s advances, she said that he “began thrusting his genitals” against her. (Zervos recently sued Trump for defamation after he denied her account.) All three women say that they were escorted to a bungalow at the hotel by a Trump bodyguard, whom two of the women have identified as Keith Schiller. After Trump was elected, Schiller was appointed director of Oval Office Operations and deputy assistant to the President. Last September, John Kelly, acting as the new chief of staff, removed Schiller from the White House posts. (Schiller did not respond to a request for comment.)
The Beverly Hills bungalow features in Daniels’s, McDougal’s, *and* Zervos’s accounts of their experiences with Trump. The first two acknowledge that everything was consensual but the third does not. If you’re looking for evidence that Trump had sexual designs on Zervos, the fact that he took her to his bungalow “bachelor pad” is one piece circumstantial piece. Imagine the drama if her defamation suit ever makes it to court and Keith Schiller ends up on the stand, under cross-examination.
Both Daniels and McDougal claim that Trump liked showing off his cover photo on a money magazine, both claim that he offered to put them up in an apartment, both attended the launch party for his vodka brand in L.A. in early 2007. The affair wore on for nine months until McDougal began feeling guilty, she says. This didn’t help either:
On the night of the Miss Universe pageant McDougal attended, McDougal and a friend rode with Trump in his limousine and the friend mentioned a relationship she had had with an African-American man. According to multiple sources, Trump remarked that the friend liked “the big black dick” and began commenting on her attractiveness and breast size. The interactions angered the friend and deeply offended McDougal.
Surely our very dignified president wouldn’t use language like that. AMI, the Enquirer’s parent group, eventually came knocking in summer 2016 when word got around that McDougal was looking to capitalize on Trump’s nomination by selling her story. They allegedly bought the rights for $150K — nearly half of which went to her managers — and a promise to promote her projects, like a skin-care line, a film about a medical issue she’s interested in, and a series of columns on “aging and wellness.” Surprise: The skin-care line and documentary never happened and only a few columns have run. To all appearances, having purchased McDougal’s silence in the name of protecting Trump, AMI more or less ignored her in the expectation that she wouldn’t dare break their contract by blabbing about her affair to any other media. That would be an expensive lawsuit for her to fight. “Catch and kill” depends on a power imbalance between the publisher and the subject.
The obvious question, then: If McDougal has been hushed up, how did Farrow get all of these details? Funny thing. At some point in the past, and Farrow is cagey about exactly when, McDougal handwrote an eight-page account of her affair with Trump and handed it off to a friend, John Crawford. Somehow that document ended up in Farrow’s hands, with McDougal later confirming to him that the handwriting was hers. Hmmmm! What are the odds that Karen McDougal, annoyed at the contract she signed with AMI and wanting to tell her story at last, wrote down the details of her affair and gave it to Crawford only very recently, with she and Crawford resolved to lie and say that she wrote it years ago if AMI complains? Remember, Stormy Daniels told her own story to In Touch in 2011, long before she signed an NDA for Trump’s lawyer, which apparently left little legal recourse to Team Trump. You can silence someone going forward with an NDA but you can’t build a time machine and silence them retroactively. Now suddenly here’s a detailed account by McDougal that would be difficult to date, which she could plausibly claim was provided to Crawford long before she signed her contract with AMI in 2016. How many other Trump mistresses under NDAs might suddenly end up leaking “old” handwritten accounts of their affairs, allegedly produced before they accepted their hush money?
Oh well. If evangelicals could give Trump one mulligan for Daniels, they can give him another one for McDougal. And another 30-40 if need be. Three points in closing. One: As various reporters have noted, even the White House has given up on strongly denying allegations like this. When Farrow asked for comment, a spokesman said, “This is an old story that is just more fake news. The President says he never had a relationship with McDougal.” Normally a flack wouldn’t say “the president says,” he or she would simply say “it didn’t happen.” That tells you how confident they are in Trump’s own denials.
Two: AMI told Farrow that it didn’t publish McDougal’s story in 2016 because it didn’t find the story credible. (They never say why not.) Julian Sanchez asks a good question in response, though. If she’s not credible, why the hell would they have agreed to work with her on other projects, like an “aging and wellness” column? For that matter, if they’ve now judged her story as unbelievable, why not let her out of her NDA?
Three: Lefty Jonathan Chait makes a good point. Since we now have two credible accounts of hush money being paid to alleged Trump mistresses, it’s fair to ask just how vulnerable the president is to blackmail. People like to joke that Trump is extortion-proof since he has no reputation left to defend. People already believe the worst about him and his fans believe all negative coverage is fake news, so he has no incentive to buy anyone’s silence. But the facts say otherwise; Trump’s own cronies, Michael Cohen and the Enquirer, have “facilitated” payments to his alleged mistresses to keep them quiet and Trump himself has denied the affairs whenever he’s asked. If he can be squeezed for valuable consideration in exchange for dirt this slight, how else might he be squeezed by foreign powers that have no doubt done their homework on secret scandals waiting to be exposed?