For years Stormy Daniels has been one of the biggest names in adult entertainment, having scored herself a slew of acting and directing accolades since she landed her first lead role in 2002. But this year, the 39-year-old has found herself a player in a vastly different scene: US politics.
After going public in January with claims of a 2006 sexual affair with President Donald Trump, the pornographic film star has become somewhat of a household name. Because after hundreds of headlines, countless hours of commentary, and Monday night’s highly anticipated interview on US 60 Minutes, she has been pegged as one of the biggest threats to his presidency.
So how did the bizarre saga unfold?
We debrief on the three women currently suing Trump. (Post continues below.)
The alleged affair.
According to Daniels, she and Donald Trump first met during a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe in July 2006. In her 60 Minutes interview, she recounted that after she was introduced to then-60-year-old Apprentice host at the event, he invited her to dinner in his hotel suite and proposed that she become a contestant on the reality TV program.
“He was like, ‘Wow, you, you are special. You remind me of my daughter.’ He was like, ‘You’re smart and beautiful, and a woman to be reckoned with, and I like you. I like you,'” Daniels told the CBS program.
Daniels claimed she had sex with Trump that evening, though not before she raised the fact that his wife, Melania, had only recently given birth to their son Baron.
“He brushed it aside, said, ‘Oh yeah, yeah, you know, don’t worry about that. We don’t even… we have separate rooms and stuff,'” Daniels said.
Her role on Celebrity Apprentice never eventuated.
The hush money.
In May 2011, Daniels agreed to disclose the affair to an American magazine for US$15,000 dollars, though according to CBS, the story was dropped following threats of legal action made by Trump’s attorney, Michael Cohen.
But it was a personal threat that most rattled Daniels. During her 60 Minutes interview, the mother of one claimed that she was approached in a Las Vegas car park a few weeks later by an unknown man.
“A guy walked up on me and said to me, ‘Leave Trump alone. Forget the story.’ And then he leaned around and looked at my daughter and said, ‘That’s a beautiful little girl. It’d be a shame if something happened to her mum.’ And then he was gone,” Daniels told 60 Minutes.
Fast-forward to January 2018, and news breaks via The Wall St Journal that in October 2016, less than two weeks out from the US presidential election, Stormy Daniels (real name Stephanie Clifford) was paid US$130,000 to stay quiet about claims she a sexual encounter with Trump.
While Michael Cohen has denied there is any truth to Daniels’ claims about an affair, he confirmed the payment was made to her. In a statement to The New York Times in February, Cohen said that he paid the money out of his own pocket in a “private transaction”: “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.”
So, why is this a threat to Donald Trump’s presidency?
Given Trump’s history with personal/political scandal (pussy grabbing, anyone?), an extramarital affair with an adult film star might seem like just another dent in his seemingly impenetrable armour. But it’s about more than morality here – it’s about the law.
The US Federal Election Commission is reviewing complaints that the $130,000 hush payment – which was made just 11 days before the US presidential election – violated campaign-finance law. The argument is that the money qualified as an in-kind contribution – ie. one intended to benefit the Trump campaign – and was therefore illegal in size (it’s 48 times larger than the maximum donation individuals are permitted to make) and the fact that it was not disclosed.
However, arguably the bigger threat from a potential campaign-finance law breach is that it could become part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s wide-reaching investigation into Russia’s role in Trump’s 2016 election victory.
Some commentators have flagged that Mueller may use the possibility that Cohen could be prosecuted over the Stormy Daniels payment as leverage to secure his cooperation with the probe. As a member of Trump’s inner circle, Cohen could be a very valuable source of information.
Why is Daniels speaking out now?
In short, to defend herself. She claims not to be the source of the January Wall St Journal piece exposing the payment, but once it broke she wasn’t prepared to sit back and let the story unfold around her.
“I was perfectly fine saying nothing at all [about the affair], but I’m not okay with being made out to be a liar, or people thinking that I did this for money,” she told the CBS program.
“I turned down a large payday multiple times because, [for] one, I didn’t wanna kiss and tell and be labelled all the things that I’m being labelled now. I didn’t wanna take away from the legitimate and legal, I’d like to point out, career that I’ve worked very hard to establish. And most importantly, I did not want my family and my child exposed to all the things that she’s being exposed to right now.”
As for the non-disclosure agreement, Daniels reportedly stands to be fined millions for breaching it, though her lawyers in March filed a lawsuit claiming it was invalid because it lacked Trump’s signature. Regardless of the outcome of the suit, Daniels is prepared to risk speaking out.
Asked on 60 Minutes what she’d say to the President, she replied simply, “He knows I’m telling the truth.”