Or is this just a tempest in a teapot? Porn star Stormy Daniels went to court to dissolve a non-disclosure agreement that reportedly (cough, cough) has kept her from publicly discussing a sexual affair with Donald Trump. Daniels’ legal team told a court that the NDA was invalid because “David Dennison” never initialed the documents:
Stormy Daniels, the porn star who says she was paid to keep quiet about her alleged affair with Donald Trump, sued the president Tuesday, asking the court to declare that her nondisclosure agreement before the 2016 election is void because Trump did not sign it.
In the lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, Daniels — whose real name is Stephanie Clifford — said she had wanted to go public with the story of her alleged decade-old affair with Trump in the weeks leading up to the election. The lawsuit was first reported by NBC News.
Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, and Daniels’s attorney at the time, Keith Davidson, negotiated what the lawsuit calls a “hush agreement” in which she would be paid $130,000. After delays and even a cancellation of the contract by Daniels on Oct. 17, the payment arrived on Oct. 27, 12 days before the election, according to emails reviewed by The Washington Post. Cohen said recently that he had used his own money to “facilitate” the payment.
Just how damaging would this be, politically speaking? At this point, everyone already knows about the affair between Trump and Daniels, despite the pro forma denials issues over the last few months. Daniels has conduction a national tour of strip clubs on the notoriety, which is a long although largely unknown tradition in Washington politics. Just ask Fanne Foxe, a stripper who changed her stage nickname from “the Argentine Firecracker” to “the Tidal Basin Bombshell” after getting caught in a car with Congressman Wilbur Mills in 1974. She went on to make a couple of films too, before disappearing back into oblivion.
Disclosing the affair now would most likely embarrass some of Trump’s followers more than Trump himself, whose lothario past was well documented long before he took up politics. Perhaps Daniels might want to share some details that Trump would prefer to keep quiet, but even some of those have leaked out through other sources, and there doesn’t appear to be much danger there, either. To a large extent, the “Trump had an affair with a porn star” narrative has already been firmly planted.
However, there’s a legal angle that might still land Trump in trouble, and not just in divorce court:
The lawsuit suggests that Trump was aware of the agreement and that the money was intended to influence the election’s outcome. That intimation bolsters two complaints filed with the Federal Election Commission that say the payment violated election law because it was not reported as an in-kind campaign donation.
Call this the John Edwards angle. In 2008, the Edwards campaign allegedly roped a donor into paying to keep his affair and love child with Rielle Hunter quiet. The Department of Justice put Edwards on trial for campaign-finance violations in 2012 but got acquitted of one count and got a hung jury on others.
Here’s the problem for Trump. If Michael Cohen kicked in $130,000 to silence Daniels in order to help Trump get elected, then it falls squarely within the Edwards precedent with the FEC because a donation that size to Trump would have been illegal. If Trump knew about it, he’s also liable for that violation. If Trump paid the cash, then the FEC issues abate somewhat, since Trump can donate as much as he wants to his own campaign — but he still has to declare it, and clearly Trump didn’t do that at the time. That kind of violation is more likely to be addressed in administrative fines rather than prosecution, but Trump would have to acknowledge the violation and the payment. And who’s to say that this is the only such arrangement Trump made during the campaign?
But hey, Trump can look on the bright side. A jury let Edwards off the hook, right?