ANALYSIS: Why the Stormy Daniels scandal matters
It’s more than just a salacious story. An adult film star’s claim she had an affair with President Donald Trump could wind up advancing Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s investigation into Russia election meddling.
Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, was paid US$130,000 by Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen to keep quiet about an affair she claims she had with Trump in 2006, and which Trump has denied.
On Monday, Daniels offered to pay back the money she received in order to nullify the hush agreement. In a letter sent to Trump’s legal team, her lawyer Michael Avenatti explained his client wants to speak “openly and freely about her prior relationship with the president and the attempts to silence her.”
Daniels’ lawyer also wrote she wants to be able to “use and publish any text messages, photos and/or videos relating to the president that she may have in her possession, all without fear of retribution and/or legal liability for damages.”
Avenatti gave Trump’s team until noon Tuesday to respond to his offer, but says he never heard back.
“The President and Mr. Cohen have purposely ignored our settlement offer, thus doubling down on their efforts to muzzle Ms. Clifford and prevent her from telling the American people what happened,” Avenatti tweeted. “Time to buckle up.”
It’s unclear how Daniels will now proceed, but if she does speak out and is able to prove she had an affair with the president, it would mean Trump is and was vulnerable to blackmail, which may be something special counsel Robert Mueller will want to look into as part of his Russia probe.
It also turns out Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen paid Daniels just a few days before the 2016 election. Cohen says he used his own personal funds to pay the porn star, but watchdog groups say buying her silence may have violated campaign finance laws.
The $130,000 paid to Daniels could be considered an “in-kind donation” to the Trump campaign — yet it’s illegal for any individual to donate more than $2,700 to a presidential campaign. In addition, the payment wasn’t disclosed to the Federal Election Commission.
Mueller is already looking into Cohen’s ties to Russia. If he now finds wrongdoing by Cohen, he could threaten to bring criminal charges against Cohen to get him to “flip”— or to pressure him into cooperating with his investigation.
Mueller has used similar tactics to persuade former national security advisor Michael Flynn and former campaign aide George Papadopoulos to cooperate. The big question now is whether he’ll try and do the same with Trump’s personal lawyer — a man who’s so loyal to Trump he once said he’d take a bullet for his client.
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