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Stormy Daniels beat Trump at his own game

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 pauses in the rain among holiday wreaths on graves at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. during Wreaths Across America Day.
President Trump, second from right, participates in a meeting with governors-elect in the Cabinet Room at White House.
President Trump shakes hands with Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) during a signing ceremony in the Roosevelt Room of the White House for an executive order establishing the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council.
Trump, center right, debates with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), left, and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), right, as Vice President Pence listens during their meeting in the Oval Office.
Trump participates in a signing ceremony for H.R. 390, the “Iraq and Syria genocide relief and accountability act of 2018” in the Oval Office.
Trump tosses the coin before the Army-Navy football game at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
President Trump and first lady Melania Trump greet visitors during a Hanukkah reception in the East Room of the White House.
President Trump and first lady Melania Trump, along with the Obamas, Clintons and Carters, attend the funeral for former president George H.W. Bush at Washington National Cathedral.
The president and the first lady view Bush’s casket in the Capitol Rotunda.
President Trump meets with China’s president, Xi Jinping, at the Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires.
From left, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, President Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sign the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement before the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires.
World leaders gather for a group photo at the start of the G-20 summit at the Costa Salguero Center in Buenos Aires.
Trump and first lady Melania Trump, center left, and White House advisers Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, right, are welcomed by Argentina's president, Mauricio Macri, left, and his wife, Juliana Awada, upon arriving at the Colon Theater for a gala in Buenos Aires.
Trump stops to talk with reporters about his former personal attorney Michael Cohen as he walks to Marine One on the White House South Lawn to depart for the G-20 summit in Argentina.
Trump speaks during an interview with Washington Post reporters in the Oval Office.
During a rally in Biloxi, Miss., Trump encourages voters to support Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) in a runoff race against Democrat Mike Espy.
Trump talks with troops via teleconference from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla.
Trump is presented with a challenge coin as he meets with members of the U.S. Coast Guard stationed at United States Coast Guard Station Lake Worth Inlet in Riviera Beach, Fla.,
Trump and first lady Melania Trump sit with their family as they have Thanksgiving Day dinner at their Mar-a-Lago estate.
President Trump pardons the turkey named Peas in the Rose Garden of the White House.
President Trump and first lady Melania Trump view the arrival of the White House Christmas tree.
President Trump, center, tours the charred wreckage of the Skyway Villa Mobile Home and RV Park in Paradise, Calif., with Governor-elect Gavin Newsom, left, FEMA head William “Brock” Long, third from right, Gov. Jerry Brown and Mayor Jody Jones, right.
President Trump, left, participates in the Diwali ceremonial lighting of the Diya at the White House.
President Trump visits the American Cemetery of Suresnes, outside Paris, as part of Veterans Day and the marking the 100th anniversary of the Nov. 11, 1918, armistice ending World War I.
President Trump shakes hands with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Trump is joining other world leaders at centennial commemorations in Paris to mark the end of World War I.
Trump arrives for a campaign rally at McKenzie Arena in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Trump arrives to attend a campaign rally at Middle Georgia Regional Airport in Macon.
Trump arrives to speak at a campaign rally at Huntington Tri-State Airport in Huntington, W.Va.
Trump discusses at the White House illegal immigration and asylum in the context of a migrant caravan headed toward the southern border.
Ivanka Trump, right, and White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow, center, listen as the president speaks during the “Our Pledge to America’s Workers” event in the State Dining Room of the White House.
Trump and first lady Melania Trump place stones and flowers on a memorial as they pay their respects to the shooting victims at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Trump speaks at the National FFA Organization convention in Indianapolis.
Trump arrives for a rally at Southern Illinois Airport in Murphysboro, Ill.
Trump greets supporters after speaking during the 2018 Young Black Leadership Summit in the East Room of the White House.
Trump and the first lady arrive in the East Room of the White House to speak on the opioid crisis.
Trump and first lady Melania Trump tour damage from Hurricane Michael with Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), right, in Lynn Haven, Fla.
American pastor Andrew Brunson kneels while praying with Trump in the Oval Office. Brunson returned to the United States after he was freed from nearly two years of detention in Turkey.
Trump meets with rapper Kanye West in the Oval Office.
Trump signs the Know the Lowest Price Act and the Patient Right to Know Drug Prices Act in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.
Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, shakes hands with Trump in the Oval Office after she announced she will step down at the end of the year.
Trump addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
Trump, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D), left, and volunteers hand out food for storm victims at Temple Baptist Church in New Bern, N.C.
The Trumps look at the site of a new memorial in Shanksville, Pa., where Flight 93 crashed during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Trump shakes hands with Sheikh Sabah Ahmed al-Sabah, emir of Kuwait, in the Oval Office.
Trump pauses to listen to a question from a reporter regarding the New York Times’ anonymous op-ed after a meeting with sheriffs from across the country in the East Room of the White House.
Trump visits with children at a hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
Trump presents Valerie Nessel, widow of Air Force Technical Sgt. John Chapman, with the posthumous Medal of Honor for her husband during a ceremony at the White House. Chapman died in Afghanistan in March 2002 at the battle of Takur Ghar.
Trump speaks during a rally in Charleston, W.Va.
Trump greets Border Patrol agent Adrian Anzaldua during an event in the East Room of the White House.
Trump stands with members of Bikers for Trump and other supporters after saying the Pledge of Allegiance outside the clubhouse of Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J.
Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands at the beginning of a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki.
Trump and Queen Elizabeth II inspect the Guard of Honor at Windsor Castle in England.
Front, from left: Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Trump, British Prime Minister Theresa May and Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas attend the opening ceremony of the NATO summit.
Trump stands with Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh and his family during a ceremony to announce Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.
Trump listens to victims’ families speak during an immigration event with “angel families” at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
Trump and first lady Melania Trump welcome King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia of Spain at the White House.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, center, French President Emmanuel Macron, third from left, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center right, and other world leaders speak with Trump during the second day of the G-7 summit.
Trump starts a race for children at the White House sports and fitness day event on the South Lawn.
Trump signs a pardon for Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight boxing champion, in the Oval Office.
Trump waves as he arrives with Chuck Canterbury, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, at the 37th annual National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service at the Capitol.
Kim Dong-chul, Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song, Americans who had been detained in North Korea for more than a year, walk with Trump, first lady Melania Trump, Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.
Trump pats Mike Pompeo on the arm after he was sworn in as the new secretary of state as Pompeo’s son Nick, left, and wife, Susan, look on during a ceremony at the State Department.
Trump thanks Capt. Tammie Jo Shults as he welcomes crew members and passengers of Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 that landed in Philadelphia after an engine exploded at 30,000 feet.
Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron, along with first lady Melania Trump and Brigitte Macron, plant a tree on the South Lawn of the White House.
Trump, with first lady Melania Trump and the Easter Bunny by his side, speaks during the 2018 White House Easter Egg Roll.
Trump talks to reporters during a tour of fighter aircraft at the Boeing factory in St. Louis.
Trump speaks in front of a wall prototype as Rodney Scott, a Border Patrol sector chief, listens.
The Houston Astros’ Josh Reddick presents Trump with a jersey during a ceremony honoring the World Series champions 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 listens.
Trump accompanied by first lady Melania Trump and 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 signs trade actions in the Oval Office.
Photo Gallery: A look at the president?s visits, speeches and meetings with dignitaries.

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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