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Trump’s silence on Stormy Daniels is deafening

As Stormy Daniels continues to speak out about her alleged affair with President Trump, he is staying largely silent. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

Despite the hype, Stormy Daniels's big "60 Minutes” interview didn't add much to the conversation. Much of the interview rehashed things she had already disclosed in that 2011 interview with InTouch magazine. The newsiest bits were a couple of times when she claimed to have been threatened by people she couldn't identify.

But now that Daniels is talking publicly about the affair, it reinforces one central and entirely conspicuous fact about this entire situation: Trump isn't. And neither, really, is the White House.

Trump — the man who called his approximately dozen female accusers “liars” during the campaign, the man who can't or won't follow basic talking points while talking to Vladimir Putin — remains completely silent on Daniels. It's now midmorning, and he hasn't responded to Daniels's big public spectacle with his own, despite Daniels having clearly baited him and his ego by saying she wasn't attracted to him.

His White House isn't saying much more — including declining for weeks to say whether Trump was party to that $130,000 hush-money payment Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen made to Daniels on the eve of the 2016 election.

Two White House spokesmen have now been asked about this, and both have offered some version of “Not that I'm aware of” while referring questions to Cohen — who isn't elaborating either. The sum total is that we still have no firm denial that Trump was involved in this payment, which makes the White House's efforts to dismiss this as salacious rumor-mongering much more difficult.

But why? Occam's razor would tell us there's a very good reason for that silence: Because the answer is bad — maybe even illegal. Cohen has denied that the Trump Organization and 2016 campaign were party to the hush-money arrangement, but he's never denied Trump was personally. Why would you deny those first two entities were involved and then not take the extra step to deny Trump was? Since Cohen's statement about the payment, the Wall Street Journal has reported that he groused to others about Trump not reimbursing him quickly. The evidence that Trump was involved is growing, but the defense has been conspicuously silent for weeks.

As for Trump, the fact that he was willing to call all of his female accusers “liars” during the 2016 campaign makes his silence on Daniels especially remarkable. You could make an argument that calling women “liars” has earned Trump a very unhelpful lawsuit from one of those women, Summer Zervos. Or perhaps Trump's lawyers are telling him that the Daniels situation could play into special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's Russia investigation. But when has legal jeopardy ever stopped Trump from doing, well, anything? This is a guy who is staring down the barrel of potential obstruction of justice finding, and yet he still keeps doing things that look pretty obstruction-y.

The Trump team's only comment in the "60 Minutes” interview was a statement from Cohen's lawyer urging the program to post Daniels's initial denial that she and Trump had an affair — a denial that Daniels says was effectively coerced. After the program aired, first lady Melania Trump's spokeswoman released a statement pleading for privacy for the first couple's youngest child.

Both of these comments seem to be attempts to put the focus on the salaciousness of the accusations. But at its core, this is not really about the (alleged) sex. This is about a potentially illegal hush-money payment that Trump and the White House still won't talk about.

This White House has never been a beacon of transparency, but even for it, that silence is pretty deafening. And it suggests that regardless of how accurate Daniels's portrayal of the underlying events is, it's got problems.

Update: Minutes after this post went up, Trump tweeted what seemed to be something of a response to Daniels — though it doesn't name her and doesn't address any particular claims.