President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 panel plans to subpoena Trump lawyer who advised on how to overturn election Texans chairman apologizes for 'China virus' remark Biden invokes Trump in bid to boost McAuliffe ahead of Election Day MORE’s Stormy Daniels problem is getting worse.
The porn star, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, says she is ready to spill the beans about a 2006 extramarital sexual encounter with the president now that Michael Cohen, the president’s personal attorney, has acknowledged he paid her $130,000 to not discuss the allegations publicly.
Cohen, who spent years leading the legal team at the Trump Organization, has in the past described himself as the president’s “fix-it guy.”
A lawyer for Clifford says Cohen violated their nondisclosure agreement and that she’s preparing to tell the story in full. “Everything is off now and Stormy is going to tell her story,” said Gina Rodriguez, an attorney for Clifford.
Clifford’s accusations bring unwanted scrutiny to the Trumps' private life, and could also have legal ramifications.
A watchdog group has filed complaints with the Department of Justice and the Federal Election Commission alleging that Cohen’s payment to Clifford runs afoul of campaign finance laws, although GOP lawyers are dismissive of the claims.
It’s another political headache for the White House at a time when the administration is dealing with the enduring controversy over a senior aide who resigned amid accusations he abused his ex-wives.
Republicans are worried that the White House’s stumbling response to that controversy will further erode their standing with women ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.
As a result, more news about a possible presidential affair with a porn star, which allegedly took place shortly after first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpMcCain: Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner had 'no goddamn business' attending father's funeral GOP leader's remarks on Fox underscore Trump's power White House orders release of Trump records to Jan. 6 committee MORE gave birth, is unwelcome.
“It’s one more example of Trump disrespecting women, both his wife and the woman he had an affair with and then tried to buy her silence,” said Jennifer Lawless, who leads American University’s Women and Politics Institute.
“Trump’s level of support among women voters has gone down and these issues have a lot to do with it. But more importantly for Republicans, it drives up Democratic turnout that leads to the kinds of outcomes we saw recently in Virginia.”
Rumors of Clifford’s allegations had been bubbling under the surface for some time in celebrity gossip magazines.
The story burst back onto the scene in January when The Wall Street Journal reported that Cohen had given Clifford hush money shortly before the campaign.
Clifford began making the rounds in the media but would not confirm or deny whether the affair took place.
Clifford’s attorney circulated a statement with her name on it denying the affair, but in a subsequent interview on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!," the actress strongly implied that the statement was not true and that the encounter did take place.
This week, Cohen told The New York Times that he made the payment but that he acted alone and was not reimbursed for it.
Trump’s allies are dismissing the controversy as another media-generated distraction that will have zero impact on the president’s broader support, which has ticked up in recent weeks as voters have warmed to the GOP tax bill.
“The media’s ability to impact public sentiment has been so completely diminished that this will have no impact on Trump’s numbers,” said a former Trump transition adviser.
“Nothing the mainstream media is talking about is at the forefront of the thoughts of most Americans, and Melania has learned from experience that the media makes up all kinds of ugly stories.”
Privately, some of Trump’s allies are questioning Clifford’s integrity, pointing to her background in adult films and the statement released by her attorney denying the affair.
And they argue that the public will shrug off the controversy, as voters knew what they were getting when they elected a reality television star as president.
“Nobody thought they were electing a priest,” said Sam Nunberg, a former Trump campaign aide.
Frank Cannon, the president of the conservative American Principle Project, said the evangelical voters that make up a substantial portion of Trump’s base would stick by him. The Christian right has been thrilled by Trump, believing he has delivered on his campaign promises.
“Evangelicals and conservatives have fallen for guys who talk right about the issues — we’ve elected them time and again and we didn’t get anything out of it,” Cannon said. “This is a guy who comes from a crass political world. He doesn’t have the rhetoric or the biography so he knows he has to deliver for us to keep our support and he’s done that.”
“This is not a guy I want to be my pastor,” Cannon added. “But being a pastor isn’t the job. I’m not sure my pastor can deliver politically like Trump has.”
Cohen’s admission that he paid Clifford out of his own pocket appeared to be aimed at putting to rest questions about whether the president or his campaign was involved.
Individual donors are restricted to giving $2,700. The watchdog group Common Cause, in separate complaints filed with the Justice Department and the FEC, alleged that the $130,000 was tantamount to in-kind campaign contribution.
Common Cause says the payment is illegal even if it did not come from Trump or the campaign because Cohen was acting as “an agent of then-candidate Trump.”
Conservative lawyers dismissed the claims as a cheap effort to keep the story in the news.
As a well-known celebrity businessman, Trump has countless reasons to protect his reputation that extend beyond the campaign, conservative legal experts say.
“If you believe individuals would try to obtain settlements from a rich celebrity like Donald Trump irrespective of his candidacy, then this payment has no FEC implication,” said Charlie Spies, a GOP lawyer.
Larry Klayman, a lawyer and founder of a conservative watchdog group, echoed that sentiment, saying that FEC complaints rarely gain traction and that there is nothing illegal about paying to protect one’s reputation. Klayman said he doubts the Justice Department complaint will go anywhere either.
“The Trump Justice Department and attorney general Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump criticizes Justice for restoring McCabe's benefits McCabe wins back full FBI pension after being fired under Trump Overnight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability MORE have had a hard enough time investigating Clinton and the Democrats,” he said. “It’s all Washington Kabuki theater.”
Some have likened the controversy to the government’s prosecution of former Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards. In that instance, the government failed to convince a jury that payments connected to an affair were considered regulated campaign contributions or expenditures.
“There seems to be an effort afoot to try and make this a legal issue,” said Caleb Burns, a partner at Wiley Rein, who specializes in political law. “It's by and large a personal relationship issue.”
Megan R. Wilson contributed.