For a week, the world has waited: When would “60 Minutes” air its interview with porn star Stormy Daniels alleging an affair with President Trump? CBS has been silent. Now there is a planned date, March 25, according to two people familiar with the timing.
Daniels’s attorney, Michael Avenatti, heightened the suspense. After Daniels sat for an interview with news anchor Anderson Cooper, the lawyer tweeted a photo of the three of them, along with the Twitter handle @60Minutes — teasing a tell-all from the woman who has been silenced for more than a year by Trump attorney Michael Cohen.
But the airing date remained vague, leading to speculation that CBS was embroiled in a legal battle before it could move forward with the salacious segment, expected to reveal details of the alleged affair that Daniels says began at a celebrity golf tournament in 2006.
Interviews such as this — promising insights into an alleged affair between a future president and a porn star, set against the roiling #MeToo movement — are ratings gold. Networks go to great lengths to secure them and promote them heavily. Today, though, armed with social media, Avenatti has been driving the media narrative. Since filing suit on Daniels’s behalf, seeking to release her from her confidentiality agreement, he has become a regular presence on the air, using Twitter to promote nuggets of information he releases incrementally — a step ahead of his chosen news outlets.
Over the weekend, Avenatti added to speculation that Trump’s attorneys might be delaying the interview, by tweeting a BuzzFeed report quoting an anonymous source saying they “are preparing to file for a legal injunction to prevent it from airing.”
And on Wednesday, hours before he appeared with Cooper on CNN to reveal a document showing that a Trump Organization attorney played a recent role in securing Daniels’s ongoing silence, Avenatti teased the revelation on Twitter.
“Be sure to watch @AC360 tonight for new developments in the Clifford v. Trump matter. #factsarestubbornthings #basta,” he wrote. (Daniels’s real name is Stephanie Clifford.)
Avenatti did not respond to a question about the interview’s timing.
On Thursday evening Avenatti was back on CNN, suggesting that six women have come forward with stories similar to his client’s, even as he stressed that they had not yet been vetted.
Cohen did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
CBS News officially offered little information about the “60 Minutes” interview. The network’s president, David Rhodes, has made no official statement. CBS declined to comment on whether it made any legal arrangement with Daniels. It also declined to say whether it has received any legal threats from Trump or his attorneys, leaving open the possibility that there is behind-the-scenes maneuvering.
On Tuesday, Rhodes seemed to quell such speculation when he told a gathering at the Innovative TV Conference in Jerusalem that the reason the interview had not yet aired was that routine editorial procedures were still underway. The entertainment magazine Variety covered that event and posted an online report. CBS confirmed the accuracy of Rhodes’s remarks and subsequently posted its own report, crediting Variety.
“The only reason it hasn’t run is that there’s still a lot of journalistic work to do,” Rhodes said, according to Variety. “The encounter between Anderson Cooper and Stormy Daniels was accompanied also by conversations with attorneys, documents were provided, and so we have to run all that down before it runs.”
Rhodes also brushed aside concerns about a legal challenge.
“60 Minutes” has particular reason not to be stopped by legal threats. In a famous example more than 20 years ago, the show delayed publication of an interview because of the potential for expensive litigation. Mike Wallace spoke with Jeffrey Wigand, former research director for one of the country’s largest tobacco companies. In the interview, Wigand said, “We’re a nicotine delivery business,” alleging that the company knew it was selling an addictive product. CBS held the interview for months — a decision that inspired the 1999 movie “The Insider.”
Fager, now executive producer of “60 Minutes,” did not respond to an interview request.
In 1999, when ABC’s “20/20” secured its exclusive interview for Barbara Walters with Monica Lewinsky, the network — whose guidelines forbid paying for interviews — allowed Lewinsky to resell international broadcast rights of the interview, which garnered $1 million, according to a Jane Mayer piece in the New Yorker in 2000. As part of her immunity deal, Lewinsky had agreed to give no interviews about her experience. ABC considered suing independent counsel Ken Starr, alleging he was violating Lewinsky’s First Amendment rights, according to the Mayer piece, the contents of which The Washington Post confirmed with a person with direct knowledge of the arrangement. Instead, the network paid $25,000 to Theodore Olson of the firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, who was a close friend of Starr’s. The payment allowed Olson to negotiate a private deal with Starr, who permitted the interview. Olson declined to comment, as did a representative for ABC.
In cases such as these, networks battle to secure the booking and tape the subject as soon as possible — then are left afterward sorting through the material that’s been gathered.
Ted Boutrous, a First Amendment attorney at Gibson Dunn who frequently represents media organizations — and briefly represented former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who alleged she had an affair with Trump before he took office — said that in such cases, networks would check and verify the authenticity of any audio or video recordings they have obtained. For CBS, this would be of particular concern given its 2004 Dan Rather report critical of President George W. Bush’s service in the Air National Guard. Documents used in that report were later found to be inauthentic, and CBS retracted it.
Before NBC aired an hour-long “Dateline” interview in 1999 with Juanita Broaddrick, who accused Bill Clinton of raping her when he was a candidate for governor of Arkansas, producers of the show went to all the hotels in Arkansas to attempt to verify a specific encounter she had discussed during the interview, according to a former “Nightline” producer. Preparing that interview to air took months, the producer said.
The news cycle has sped up since then, something evidently not lost on Avenatti, who appears ready to move faster than the media outlets angling for the next step in his client’s story.
This story involves publishing information about alleged private, intimate sexual activities, an area that got a lot of attention with the Peter Thiel-backed Hulk Hogan case against Gawker Media, which was eventually driven into bankruptcy as a result of the suit. Hogan prevailed in arguing that Gawker had violated his privacy with its publication of a sex tape. “There is a privacy element, but in this circumstance that is out the window,” Boutrous says.
The payments made to Daniels occurred after Trump was a candidate and had threatened litigation against women alleging that he had engaged in sexual improprieties.
The potential for stopping the “60 Minutes” report is unlikely to be in the form of a court injunction — which is seldom permitted under First Amendment doctrine, legal experts say. But powerful figures can slow publication of damaging material simply by threatening legal action.
George Freeman, the New York Times’s First Amendment lawyer for 30 years and now executive director of the Media Law Resource Center, said CBS’s scheduling decision might reflect other priorities. “I don’t see a legal reason why they wouldn’t air it,” he said.
Some legal experts see potential peril for Daniels if the “60 Minutes” interview goes ahead, and Cohen has vowed to follow up.
“I believe Mr. Avenatti’s actions and behavior has been both reckless and imprudent as it opens Ms. Clifford to substantial monetary liability, which I intend to pursue,” Cohen told The Post.
The potential penalties are substantial — $1 million each time Daniels defies the confidentiality agreement’s constraints. Last week she launched an online fundraising campaign to cover her legal costs.
“I can’t imagine how Cohen, Trump . . . or anyone else could successfully stop CBS from airing the interview,” said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, a lecturer at Georgetown Law. “Yes, it might cost her a million bucks, but that isn’t CBS’s problem.”
Nor does it appear to be holding Avenatti back. This week he seemed relentless, teasing the “60 Minutes” interview again with another photo — this time showing Cooper under a bank of lights looking across a television studio at Daniels.
Emma Brown and Beth Reinhard contributed to this report.