Does Stormy Daniels Have “Images” of Donald Trump?

Isobel Thompson
Vanity Fair
The president once again proves himself susceptible to blackmail.

Does Stormy Daniels Have “Images” of Donald Trump?

The president once again proves himself susceptible to blackmail.

To date, the most remarkable aspect of the Stormy Daniels story is that when it does bob to the surface—as it has, off and on, for months—it seems to leave Donald Trump relatively unscathed. Though Melania Trump may have taken the narrative to heart, the political world seems largely ready to accept that the president (allegedly) initiated an affair with a porn star just months after the birth of his youngest child. If anyone has been damaged by the Stormy news cycle it has been Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime family lawyer, who created an entire shell company to transfer $130,000 of his own money to Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, shortly before the election—and who told my colleague Emily Jane Fox, he would “do it again for him tomorrow.”

Stormy, meanwhile, isn’t going away. On Tuesday, Clifford’s lawyer filed a civil suit in Los Angeles arguing that, because Trump did not personally sign the non-disclosure agreement she was presented with in 2016 at the time of payment, their hush agreement is null and void. And though the suit ostensibly takes aim at Trump, with Clifford threatening to tell all, it’s Cohen, yet again, who is caught in the crossfire. Among other things, the suit claims that Cohen used “intimidation and coercive” tactics to force Clifford to sign a statement denying she had an affair with the president when the story broke in January. According to the suit, a month later Cohen issued a public statement denying the existence of a hush agreement without Daniels’s consent, which her lawyers argue broke the terms of the agreement, anyway.

In the suit, Clifford alleges that Cohen has continued to attempt to keep her quiet, and claims that as recently as February 27, he filed a “bogus arbitration proceeding” against her, without providing her with notice of the proceeding, or “basic due process.” Later, it notes that Trump had to know what was going on—if not, Cohen had “flagrantly violated his ethical obligations and most basic rules governing his license to practice law.”

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White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders offered an odd non-denial Wednesday, claiming both that she doesn’t know anything about the $130,000 payment but also that the case “has already been won in arbitration”—two statements that seem to be in conflict. She reiterated that “the president has denied the allegations against him,” another curious turn of phrase.

Cohen, who has previously declined to comment on the Daniels saga, except to acknowledge that the payment was made, to deny that Trump had an affair, and to assert that he did “absolutely nothing wrong,” directed The Hive to a new statement Wednesday from his own personal lawyer: “The Settlement Agreement contained an arbitration clause that permitted EC, LLC. to seek an injunction in the event of a breach or threatened breach of the agreement,” writes Lawrence Rosen, referring to the shell company Cohen reportedly created to pay Daniels. “The designated judge from the arbitration tribunal found that Ms. Clifford had violated the agreement and enjoined her from, among other things, filing this lawsuit. We intend to pursue our recourse in the context of the arbitration as agreed to by the parties and continue to categorically refute the claims alleged by Ms. Clifford and her counsel.”

The suit also creates other legal headaches for Cohen. According to Clifford’s version of events, she began shopping her story to various media outlets shortly after the Access Hollywood tape was leaked; Trump and Cohen subsequently “aggressively sought to silence Ms. Clifford as part of an effort to avoid her telling the truth, thus helping to ensure he won the presidential election.” If the payment was, in fact, related to Trump’s presidential campaign, it could constitute a violation of campaign finance law. While the Federal Election Commission would be unlikely to charge Cohen, the $130,000 payment could constitute an in-kind campaign contribution well beyond the individual contribution limit, which was then $2,700. Cohen has said he was not reimbursed by the Trump campaign or the Trump Organization, but has not publicly mentioned Trump himself. According to The Wall Street Journal, Cohen missed two payments to pay Daniels because he could not get in contact with Trump, and later complained to friends that he had not been reimbursed, presumably as promised. (Cohen responded that the report was “Fake News.”)

More bombshells may yet to be revealed. Language in the lawsuit refers to a clause focused on “certain still images and/or text messages which were authored by or related to” Trump, who is referred to as DD throughout the filings, short for David Dennison. (Clifford is Peggy Peterson, or PP). PP, according to the agreement, had allegedly threatened Trump with “selling, transferring, licensing, publicly disseminating and/or exploiting the Images and/or Property and/or other Confidential Information,” and was therefore required to hand over any of DD’s “tangible property” and “permanently delete any electronic copies that cannot be transferred.” Each time Clifford breached this term, the agreement said, she would be liable for $1 million, a measure presumably designed to ensure that she’d be disinclined to circulate any documentation of the alleged affair.

It’s not clear whether any such documentation—X-rated or otherwise—exists, or if this is merely boilerplate language. The suit, for instance, also refers to Trump’s right to create “derivative works” from the material Daniels turned over. It’s hard to imagine that language was written specifically for this case, as opposed to copied and pasted from a template. Either way, it suggests once again that the president of the United States is uniquely susceptible to blackmail. The seediest, unverified allegations in the Steele dossier refer to evidence of sexual trysts in Moscow that the Russian government may be using as leverage over Trump. The Stormy Daniels saga suggests that the dirt on Trump may be closer to home.

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