It was six weeks ago today that the public first learned about an unusual presidential scandal: Donald Trump’s personal attorney paid $130,000 to an adult-film star, shortly before the 2016 presidential election, raising the possibility of a hush-money payoff to one of Trump’s alleged mistresses.
It’s taken a while, but yesterday, for the very first time, the name “Stormy Daniels” came up during an official White House press briefing. This was the initial exchange between ABC News’ Jonathan Karl and Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah:
KARL: Last week, the president’s personal lawyer acknowledged giving a $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels. Is the president aware that his lawyer paid that kind of money to a porn star, to buy her silence? Does he approve of that?
SHAH: I haven’t asked him about it, but that matter has been asked and answered.
Karl, to his credit, pressed further, explaining the matter hasn’t been addressed since Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal attorney, publicly acknowledged that he did in fact “facilitate” the pre-election payment to the porn star. “I haven’t asked him about that,” Shah said again.
The ABC News correspondent pressed further, asking, “Will you ask him about that?” And again, Shah replied, “I haven’t asked him about it.” When Karl asked once more, the deputy press secretary said, “I’ll get back to you,” and then called on someone else.
Time will tell whether the White House gets back to reporters about this, but the assertion that the matter “has been asked and answered” isn’t quite true.
Yes, Trump World has responded to the allegations in a general sense – the president’s aides have denied he had an adulterous affair with Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, and who detailed her relationship with Trump in a 2011 interview – but no one at the White House has yet responded to a variety of relevant questions.
For example, what did Trump know about the $130,000 payment? Did he reimburse his personal attorney for the alleged hush-money payoff? Did the arrangement run afoul of campaign-finance laws?
As I keep saying, the sex may be the provocative part of the controversy, but it’s the money that matters – and as of yesterday, this is the part of the story the White House still hasn’t commented on.