Stormy Daniels visits a local restaurant in downtown New Orleans, Wednesday, May 6, 2009. 
Bill Haber/AP Photo

Controversy over Team Trump’s payment to porn star intensifies

Updated

We’ve now known for several weeks about the money a porn star received, shortly before the 2016 presidential election, in order to keep quiet about her alleged affair with Donald Trump. The adult-film actress, Stormy Daniels, has said very little about her relationship with the future president since receiving the money.

But now that Michael Cohen, a longtime personal Trump attorney, has spoken publicly about the money he “facilitated” for Daniels, the porn star believes she’s free to discuss her sexual history. As her manager put it the other day, in apparent reference to a non-disclosure agreement, “Everything is off now, and Stormy is going to tell her story.”

Indeed, just yesterday, Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, began hinting at revelations to come, including possible physical evidence of her relationship with Trump.

And while I’m sure all of this seems quite provocative, I’m going to say again what I’ve been saying for a while: the interesting part of this scandal is the money, not the sex. The New York Times  reported yesterday:

The admission by President Trump’s longtime personal lawyer that he sent $130,000 to a pornographic film actress, who once claimed to have had an affair with Mr. Trump, has raised potential legal questions ranging from breach of contract to ethics violations.

The lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, told The New York Times on Tuesday that he had used his own funds to facilitate the payment to the actress … adding that neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign had reimbursed him for the payment.

OK, but did someone – say, Donald J. Trump Sr., for example – reimburse him? Was there any kind of financial arrangement between the lawyer and his client? Cohen replied to the Times, “I can’t get into any of that.”

But why not?

Complicating matters is why Cohen felt compelled to admit his role in the porn-star payment – unprompted – in the first place. On the surface, the longtime Trump attorney appeared to be responding to an FEC complaint that the payment to Daniels was a campaign-finance violation. But as Rachel noted on last night’s show, that doesn`t make sense either, since Cohen does not appear to be one of the official respondents in that case.

Cohen then told us he is, in fact, an official respondent, which would suggest he did more than just facilitate the $130,000 payment.

And so, we’re left with some questions that need answers:

* Ellen Weintraub, the vice chair of the Federal Election Commission, spoke generally about campaign-finance law last night, and explained, “The law says that a gift, loan, advance, money anything of value that is made for the purpose of influencing an election is a contribution.” With this in mind, did Trump World’s porn-star payment run afoul of campaign-finance laws?

* Is the official story from Trump World that the president’s longtime attorney gave Stormy Daniels $130,000, out of his own pocket, just for the heck of it? Isn’t it more likely that Cohen received a legally dubious reimbursement?

* If Cohen paid the adult-film actress out of his own pocket, is that a potential bar violation?

* Why $130,000? Isn’t that a weird number?

* Wasn’t former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) prosecuted for a similar set of circumstances?