Inside Stormy Daniels’ silent payment that could lead to Trump’s first charges
FFormer President Donald Trump has been away for two years and is already looking forward to returning.
But a figure from his first run for president refused to go and could end up being a major headache for him as he pursues a third bid for the White House.
We’re, of course, talking about adult film star Stormy Daniels, also known by her real name, Stephanie Clifford. Ms Daniels made headlines in 2018 when she advanced an allegation that she had a romantic extramarital affair with the president in 2006, and was threatened and then bribed to keep quiet.
At the time, the basis of her claim took an interesting angle thanks to a lawsuit she filed against then-President Donald Trump. Alleging the silence agreement was invalid because Mr Trump had not signed it, she sued him and sparked what would become a years-long investigation into whether the scheme was legal in all respects. of sight. That question remains unanswered today as Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is reportedly considering charges against the former president and possibly others in the long-running investigation into the 2016 payment.
Let’s go back to the beginning and examine the main stages of the Trump-Stormy relationship:
October 2016: Daniels is contacted by journalists
The first journalists to latch onto the Stormy Daniels story did so long before it came out. It remains unclear exactly how many media outlets contacted Ms Daniels ahead of the 2016 election, but at least one, Fox News, is known to have killed off a story about the alleged affair days before the presidential race. Because none of the stories were ever in print, Ms. Daniels escapes public notice.
January 2018: Daniels introduces himself
More than a year later, the story is finally being printed in a flurry of media activity. The Wall Street Journal reveals the initial story, detailing the payment made by Trump fixer Michael Cohen. He admits the payment on January 14, before denying that the affair itself took place.
Continuing, CNN tells the story of Fox killing its pre-election article on the case on January 16. A day later, a 2011 interview with InTouch Weekly in which Ms. Daniels repeats the same allegations to the letter is revealed by the magazine, adding to the shocking news that its editors had Ms. Daniels take and pass a polygraph test.
The cat is now officially out of the bag.
March 2018: Cohen escalates, Avenatti appears and the White House turns
Two months later, Donald Trump’s repairman is still fighting on his behalf, this time filing an arbitration case against Ms Daniels and alleging she breached his nondisclosure agreement. He threatens her with legal sanctions for talking more about the case.
March also marked the first appearance of one of the strangest characters to have been brought up by this scandal: attorney Michael Avenatti, the hot-headed and combative lawyer who frequently wowed cable hosts with his fiery pronouncements and his penchant for media appearances; Mr Avenatti would eventually be sued by Ms Daniels for cheating on her out of money and sentenced to prison for stealing millions from her clients, but not before being elevated to near dietetic status by liberal pundits enthusiastic.
Media coverage of the Stormy Daniels case explodes with interest with the addition of Mr. Avenatti to the case. Mainstream and left-leaning news outlets are consumed by the coverage, culminating in a vivid portrayal of the situation by Ms Daniels herself during a 60 minutes interview with Anderson Cooper.
The White House is also addressing the news for the first time, with press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders denying at a press conference that Mr Trump had paid Ms Daniels money. Whether Mr. Trump reimbursed his lawyer for the silent payment remains open.
April 2018: Cohen’s office is raided by the FBI
As part of an independent investigation led by Robert Mueller into the Trump campaign and Russian election interference in 2016, Cohen’s New York office is raided by the FBI. Mueller’s team eventually convinces Cohen to plead guilty to lying to Congress about plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow; Mr. Cohen says the president ordered him to lie.
Mr Trump also addressed the matter personally for the first time, denying knowledge of the $130,000 payment Cohen made to Ms Daniels allegedly on his behalf.
At the time, federal prosecutors are believed to have opened a separate investigation into the Daniels case. This is later confirmed.
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May 2018: Rudy Giuliani screws things up
Joining the president’s legal team, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is said to have a years-long legal relationship with Mr Trump, which has led the aging politician to cause far more harm than good.
Years before his blunders in Ukraine were considered a cause of the Democrats’ first impeachment proceedings against Mr. Trump, Mr. Giuliani would throw a hand grenade into the legal defenses of his boss and former colleague, Cohen, admitting that Mr. Trump himself was aware of the payments.
Speaking on Fox News, in a shocking interview with a bewildered Sean Hannity, Mr Giuliani clarified that not only did the president ‘know the general arrangement’, he added that the president even repaid Cohen with money which he described as “channeled” by a law firm. Mr Trump denies this, telling reporters: “He started yesterday. He’s going to clarify the facts.”
August 2018: Michael Cohen surrenders to the FBI
Michael Cohen becomes the first person to face legal music on the Daniels case in August. He pleads guilty to making an illegal corporate campaign contribution as well as a contribution that exceeded federal donation limits.
In his guilty plea, the extent of Mr. Trump’s support for his ex-attorney is revealed: Cohen claims the Trump Organization repaid him for his work by having Ms. Daniels leave for $420,000.
Mr Trump addresses the discovery later in the month, saying the funds came from his personal account and contradicting his earlier claim that he was unaware of the deal.
October 2018: Daniels loses libel case
Filed earlier in the year, Ms Daniels had sought damages from Mr Trump for denying his claims of an affair, which she said damaged his credibility. A judge didn’t buy this and threw away his suit in prejudice. She is ordered to pay the president’s attorney and court fees.
December 2018: Cohen’s sentencing memorandum reveals the feds believe Trump committed a crime
A sentencing memo unveiled in the ongoing case against Cohen is made public in December. In it, prosecutors implicate Mr. Trump for ordering Cohen to commit crimes, which the president bizarrely tweets to “clear” him of any legal liability. Cohen receives a three-year sentence.
July 2019: DOJ closes investigation into silent payments
Without an explanation of why federal prosecutors don’t believe a case can be brought against the incumbent president (despite the office having a decades-old non-binding policy against this), the silent payment investigation was closed by the DoJ in July 2019.
It continues however at the state level. Manhattan prosecutors continue their work until the end of the Trump presidency.
August 2020: Stormy Daniels loses appeal
A year later, Ms. Daniels’ last legal avenue is exhausted. She is no longer bound by the nondisclosure agreement, which Mr. Trump’s attorney has not argued is still valid, but unable to pursue any means to force the president to speak under oath about his situation. His defeat is truly settled with a final appeal to the Supreme Court; an Ave Maria that goes nowhere and ends in February 2021.
May 2021: FEC drops StormyDaniels inquiry after split vote
The Federal Election Commission’s board votes 2-2 and declines to pursue action against the Trump campaign for violating federal law with the Daniels payment. At least two commissioners believe there is evidence the Trump campaign knowingly committed crimes.
November 2022: Alvin Bragg smells blood in the water
The case remains quiet for another year. Then, at the end of 2022, The New York Times reports that new Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has ordered his office to resume the investigation after leaving it on the back burner for several years. Mr. Bragg took office in January 2021, the same month that Mr. Trump left office.
January 2023: Michael Cohen meets Bragg as investigation heats up
A few months later, it appears that Mr. Bragg’s team is taking over the case with an interest that the DoJ and its predecessor never showed. Cohen, fresh out of prison, begins what would become a series of meetings with the D.A. team as a grand jury is assembled early in the new year.
March 2023: Bragg’s team reports charges are close
As March rolls around, the seriousness of Mr. Bragg’s investigation becomes clear. The New York Times cites four sources connected to the investigation and reports that Mr. Trump was asked to speak to the grand jury; the newspaper reports that this is the case almost exclusively when an indictment or indictments are close.
Cohen appears before the grand jury and Mr. Trump is also asked to testify. It’s a clear signal that the New York prosecutor is considering charges against Mr Trump, who would become the first US president to face criminal charges in the country’s history.
The Independent Gt