Adult-movie star Stormy Daniels stops at Rooster's Country Bar in Delhi, La. on Friday, July 3, 2009.
Arely D. Castillo/AP Photo/The News-Star

Team Trump’s payment to porn star finally comes into focus

Updated

There’s been some discussion this week about why the Rob Porter controversy, and the White House’s handling of the matter, has stuck in ways other Trump scandals have not. There are competing explanations, though I suspect some of it may be the result of timing: so often since Donald Trump took office, one controversy will start to pick up steam, before some other scandal with push it off the front page.

The Rachel Maddow Show, 2/13/18, 9:44 PM ET

Trump lawyer says he paid Stormy Daniels from own money: NYT

Rachel Maddow reports breaking news that Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen, responding to an FEC complaint, insists he paid $130,000 to adult performer Stormy Daniels from his own money, not Trump Org or Trump campaign money.
With this in mind, it’s a bad sign when fresh details about hush money to a porn star are a welcome distraction for a White House already reeling from an unrelated controversy.

A personal lawyer for President Donald Trump told NBC News on Tuesday night that he paid $130,000 to pornographic film star Stormy Daniels, who has in the past said she had an affair with Trump.

In a statement late Tuesday, the lawyer, Michael Cohen, confirmed a report in The New York Times that he made the payment to Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, a month before the 2016 presidential election.

In his statement, Cohen, the president’s longtime attorney, said, “Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly.”

When I describe Cohen’s latest version of events as unbelievable, I’m being quite literal.

Indeed, consider what we’re being asked to believe: Donald Trump’s personal lawyer took it upon himself to pay a porn star $130,000, out of his own pocket, shortly before the 2016 presidential election. The attorney – whose client claims to be a billionaire with vast resources at his disposal – made the payment through an LLC he quietly created in Delaware, where it’s easier to establish business entities with minimal disclosures.

The adult-film actress alleges she had a sexual relationship with Trump, during his third and current marriage, and Cohen, for reasons he hasn’t yet explained, just wanted the porn star, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, to have $130,000.

This story had largely faded from the political radar in recent weeks. I think it’s safe to say it’s back. Among the relevant angles:

1. Did Trump reimburse Cohen the $130,000? The attorney’s statement last night said neither the president’s company nor his campaign reimbursed him. Cohen didn’t say anything about Trump’s personal finances.

2. Was this a campaign-finance-law violation? If a member of Trump’s team paid Stormy Daniels in order to bolster the Republican’s candidacy, this might very well be the kind of in-kind contribution that should have been reported to the FEC – but wasn’t.

3. The N.D.A.? Cohen has now publicly confirmed the $130,000 payment. If the parties have agreed to a non-disclosure agreement, does the lawyer’s acknowledgement affect that agreement?

4. According to Trump World, what was the point of this payment? The line from Trump World all along is that it never paid hush money to the porn star who alleges she had an affair with the president. Now that we know for certain the payment actually happened, what’s the new line that explains the purpose of the money?

5. Didn’t John Edwards face criminal charges over similar circumstances? Just saying.

I’ve kept an eye on this story, and while I appreciate that the alleged extra-marital relationship is the salacious part of the controversy, the money is what matters.

Donald Trump and Scandals

Team Trump's payment to porn star finally comes into focus

Updated