Democracy Dies in Darkness

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Stormy Daniels beat Trump at his own game

By Eugene Robinson

March 8, 2018 at 7:52 PM

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Here's how President Trump became embroiled in allegations that he had a sexual encounter with adult-film actress Stormy Daniels. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

The president who boasted of treating women like sex objects is being outplayed at his own tabloid-warfare game by a porn star. Maybe there’s justice in the world after all.

You might have missed it in the ceaseless fusillade of news, but on Wednesday the White House all but confirmed the story that actress and director Stormy Daniels is dying to tell: Shortly before the election she was paid $130,000 in hush money to keep quiet about an “intimate relationship” she had with Donald Trump in 2006, soon after Melania Trump gave birth to the couple’s son, Barron.

Daniels filed a lawsuit Tuesday arguing that she should be free to speak about the affair, since a nondisclosure agreement laying out the terms of the payment was never actually signed by Trump. Asked about the payment at a White House briefing, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Trump denies the allegations and that, in any event, “this case has already been won in arbitration.” She later added that “the arbitration was won in the president’s favor.”

Trump was reportedly “very unhappy” with Sanders’s performance, but come on, give her a break. How is she supposed to keep all the lies straight as they multiply, overlap and at times contradict? She’s good at it, but every once in a while, a little truth is bound to slip out.

What she inconveniently seemed to confirm is that Trump is a party to arbitration proceedings regarding a nondisclosure agreement involving Daniels. Obviously, there would be no such agreement unless there were something Trump wanted to hide. And if Daniels’s silence was worth $130,000, it must have been something Trump really wanted to hide.

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Washington has a long history of messy lawsuits. Stormy Daniels has every right to be part of the saga, say Post opinion writers Molly Roberts, Megan McArdle, Ruth Marcus and Charles Lane on the weekly Opinions roundtable "It's Only Thursday." (The Washington Post)

The Daniels affair is of more than just prurient interest: It would appear that Trump may have violated federal campaign law by failing to disclose the payment on his reporting forms.

Any attempt by Trump to stick to his blanket denial — he claims all the women who say he harassed them, assaulted them or had affairs with them are lying — is now moot in the Daniels case, because in an appendix to her lawsuit she included the entire nondisclosure agreement. The filings offer a glimpse of how Trump is accustomed to operating — and suggest why special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has reportedly taken an interest in Trump’s attorney, Michael Cohen.

The agreement — in which Trump and Daniels are identified by pseudonyms, “David Dennison” and “Peggy Peterson” — was negotiated at the end of October 2016, days before the election, when Trump’s campaign was reeling from the impact of the “Access Hollywood” tape. The $130,000 payment, which Cohen has said he “facilitated” with personal funds, was not reported as a campaign donation or expenditure.

Daniels says in her suit that in January of this year, when reports of the hush-money payment surfaced, Cohen used “intimidation and coercive tactics” to force her to sign a “false statement” denying any relationship with Trump. In the past week, according to the suit, Cohen has used “an improper and procedurally defective arbitration proceeding hidden from public view” in an attempt to keep her silent — an apparent reference to the arbitration that Sanders claimed had been “won in the president’s favor.”

The agreement, as appended to the lawsuit, shows that Cohen formed a company, Essential Consultants LLC, to make the payment to Daniels. It provides for arbitration in the case of disputes, and it requires Daniels to pay “David Dennison” $1 million per instance if she breaches the contract. It is signed by Daniels, using her legal name, Stephanie Clifford; and by Cohen, for Essential Consultants. The line for “David Dennison” to sign is indeed left blank.

Thanks to Daniels, her lawyer and an unforced error by Sanders, the story Trump has tried so hard to squelch is out. Take a minute and think about it.

The personal lawyer of Donald Trump, days before the election, paid $130,000 to apparently buy the silence of a porn star. Said porn star credibly describes an affair she had with the president and the ham-fisted attempts by his lawyer to keep her from talking about it. All of this unquestionably speaks volumes about the president’s character and morals.

President Trump speaks during a visit to San Diego to review border wall prototypes.
Trump speaks during a tour of border wall prototypes.
Trump speaks in front of a prototype as Rodney Scott, a Border Patrol sector chief, listens.
Trump speaks to military personnel at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego.
Trump gestures after speaking at the Marine Corps installation.
Trump speaks to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House as he walks to board Marine One for California.
The Houston Astros’ Josh Reddick presents Trump with a jersey during a ceremony honoring the World Series champions at the White House.
Trump waves as he boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews to travel to Pennsylvania for a campaign event for Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone.
Trump speaks at a campaign rally at Atlantic Aviation in Moon Township, Pa.
Trump talks with Republican Rick Saccone during a campaign rally in Moon Township, Pa. Saccone is running against Democrat Conor Lamb in a special election for the Pennsylvania 18th Congressional District vacated by Republican Tim Murphy.
President Trump, flanked by Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, left, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, speaks during a Cabinet meeting at the White House.
Trump speaks during a Cabinet meeting at the White House.
Trump speaks before signing the Section 232 proclamations on steel and aluminum importsas with Vice President Mike Pence, center, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin look on.
Trump signs the proclamations on steel and aluminum imports during a ceremony at the White House.
Trump listens during a news conference with Swedish Prime Minister Lofven in the East Room of the White House.
Trump and first lady Melania Trump welcome Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara Netanyahu, at the White House.
Trump addresses attendees during an opioid summit at the White House.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), left, speaks about gun control as Trump meets with members of Congress, including Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), in the Cabinet Room of the White House.
Trump speaks as he meets with members of Congress to discuss gun control and school and community safety at the White House.
Trump makes an announcement about an initiative for historically black colleges and universities in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.
Trump arrives to speak during a meeting with the members of the National Governors Association in the State Dining Room of the White House.
Trump addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md.
Trump speaks with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull as his wife Lucy Turnbull, right, speaks with first lady Melania Trump while walking to the Oval Office.
Turnbull and Trump participate in a joint news conference at the White House.
Trump talks with state and local officials on school safety during a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.
Trump greets Samuel Zeif, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, before delivering remarks during a listening session with high school students and teachers in the State Dining Room of the White House.
Trump holds his prepared questions during a listening session at the White House.
Samuel Zeif, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, left, weeps after recounting his story of the shooting incident at his high school as other students, teachers and Trump listen.
Trump delivers remarks regarding “bump stocks” before taking part in the Public Safety Medal of Valor awards ceremony in the East Room of the White House.
Trump presents Lt. William Buchanan, of the Avery County (N.C.) Sheriff's Office, with a Medal of Valor during the awards ceremony. Buchanan was off-duty when he helped pull a man from a burning car.
Trump accompanied by first lady Melania Trump and Dr. Igor Nichiporenko, waves to reporters while visiting with medical staff at Broward Health North in Pompano Beach, Fla. following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Trump speaks with Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, left, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) while visiting first responders at Broward County sheriff's office in Pompano Beach, Fla.
Trump departs after speaking at the White House on the mass shooting at a Florida high school.
Trump speaks at the White House on the Feb. 14 mass shooting at a Florida high school.
Trump, flanked by Rockwall County, Tex., Sheriff Harold Eavenson, left, and St. Charles Parish, La., Sheriff Greg Champagne, speaks during a roundtable discussion with members the National Sheriffs’ Association and others at the White House.
Trump shakes hands with Surgeon General Jerome Adams as first lady Melania Trump looks on during a Black History Month reception in the White House’s East Room.
Trump talks about infrastructure during a meeting with state and local officials at the White House.
Trump shakes hands with campaign volunteer and supporter Shane Bouvet during a meeting in the Oval Office.
Trump speaks during a White House meeting with law enforcement officials about the street gang MS-13 and border security.
Trump discusses tax policy during a visit to Sheffer Corporation in Blue Ash, Ohio.
Trump and first lady Melania Trump walk from the Oval Office to their helicopter as they depart from the South Lawn of the White House.
Trump speaks during a meeting with North Korean defectors in the Oval Office.
Trump is reflected on a tabletop in the Oval Office as he listens during a meeting with North Korean defectors.
Trump walks from the Oval Office to board Marine One.
Trump, accompanied by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, left, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection acting commissioner Kevin McAleenan, right, speaks at the Customs and Border Protection National Targeting Center in Reston, Va.
Trump walks to board Marine One as he travels to the House and Senate Republicans’ annual legislative planning conference in West Virginia.
Trump takes the stage to address the Republican congressional retreat at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.
Trump speaks during a lunch at the Republican congressional retreat House in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.
Trump speaks during a meeting with workers in the Oval Office about the impact of the new tax bill.
Trump, joined by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, and Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, speaks during a lunch with the U.N. Security Council in the State Dining Room at the White House.
Trump waves before boarding Air Force One at Zurich Airport after attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Trump and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders converse aboard Marine One as it lands on the South Lawn of the White House.
Trump holds up a copy of the Swiss newspaper Blick as he arrives at the last day of the 48th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Trump looks on as the Landwehr Fribourg band leaves the stage during the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Trump addresses a plenary session at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Trump disembarks from Marine One in Davos.
Trump arrives at the Congress Center with Klaus Schwab, right, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, for the annual meeting in Davos.
Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, third from left, listen to a question from a reporter during a meeting at the World Economic Forum.
Trump shakes hands with British Prime Minister Theresa May during the World Economic Forum.
Trump speaks to a group of mayors in the East Room of the White House.
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 23: President Donald Trump signs Section 201 actions in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Trump delivers a video message to the March for Life participants from the Rose Garden at the White House.
Trump waves as he walks back to the Oval Office after speaking to the March for Life participants from the White House.
Trump, joined by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, left, Vice President Pence, center, and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, right, speaks to the media as he arrives at the Pentagon.
Trump welcomes employee Ken Wilson while promoting his tax and economic plan at H&K Equipment Co. in Coraopolis, Pa.
Trump shakes hands with Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Abishuly Nazarbayev in the Oval Office.
Trump greets Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, center, and counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway before speaking at the “Women of America” panel in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington.
Photo Gallery: The president embarks on year 2 in the White House.

Republicans who regarded Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky as the end of civilization as we know it are serenely untroubled. Evangelical Christians who rail against sin and cloak themselves in piety offer nothing but a worldly, almost Gallic shrug. Daniels has taught us much about their character and morals, too.

Read more from Eugene Robinson’s archive, follow him on Twitter or subscribe to his updates on Facebook. You can also join him Tuesdays at 1 p.m. for a live Q&A.

Read more here:

The Post’s View: It’s time to clear the air about the Stormy Daniels hush money

Dana Milbank: There’s an easy way for Trump to end all this unpleasantness

Paul Waldman: Trump’s lawyer just made the Stormy Daniels affair much more interesting

Quinta Jurecic: Trump should face harassment allegations under oath

Dana Milbank: Women are ready to rain down fire and fury on Trump


Eugene Robinson writes a twice-a-week column on politics and culture and hosts a weekly online chat with readers. In a three-decade career at The Washington Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper’s Style section.

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Opinions

Stormy Daniels beat Trump at his own game

By Eugene Robinson

March 8, 2018 at 7:52 PM

Watch more!
Here's how President Trump became embroiled in allegations that he had a sexual encounter with adult-film actress Stormy Daniels. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

The president who boasted of treating women like sex objects is being outplayed at his own tabloid-warfare game by a porn star. Maybe there’s justice in the world after all.

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