It's been nearly a week since the Wall Street Journal first reported that Donald Trump's lawyer "arranged a $130,000 payment to a former adult-film star a month before the 2016 election as part of an agreement that precluded her from publicly discussing an alleged sexual encounter with Mr. Trump." The story, which was met with a series of denials that I detailed on Friday, is still producing new details.
The New York Times reported, for example, that Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, was in talks with ABC's "Good Morning America" before the election about sharing her story. CNN reported yesterday, meanwhile, that Fox News had the story, including an on-the-record statement from Clifford's manager, confirming a sexual relationship, "but the story never saw the light of the day."
Slate's Jacob Weisberg, meanwhile, published a detailed account yesterday about his own work on the story, including a series of phone conversations and text exchanges he had with Daniels between August and October of 2016.
Daniels told me she'd gone to Trump's hotel room after meeting him at a celebrity golf tournament in Nevada in 2006. There they'd begun a sexual relationship, which continued for nearly a year. [...]In our conversations, Daniels said she was holding back on the juiciest details, such as her ability to describe things about Trump that only someone who had seen him naked would know.... Daniels said she had some corroborating evidence, including the phone numbers of Trump's longtime personal assistant Rhona Graff and his bodyguard Keith Schiller, with whom she said she would arrange rendezvous. While she did not share those numbers with me, I did speak to three of Daniels' friends, all of whom said they knew about the affair at the time, and all of whom confirmed the outlines of her story.
As for why she was willing to share this with Weisberg, Daniels was reportedly concerned that Trump would betray her. The Slate piece added that Trump "had negotiated to buy her silence," but Daniels began having conversations with the media in case the Republican failed to follow through on the alleged financial commitment. The more Trump stalled, the story went, the more Daniels shared.
Weisberg's article added, "And then, about a week before the election, Daniels stopped responding to calls and text messages. A friend of hers told me Daniels had said she'd taken the money from Trump after all."
All of which brings us back to the importance of the reports about Trump's payment.
I realize I've been emphasizing this quite a bit -- see items one and two from recent days -- but if there's evidence that the president paid hush-money to a porn star, it's a major political development. Indeed, it's worth emphasizing that while Trump and his lawyer have made strenuous denials about the alleged affair, they've been more circumspect when it comes to the $130,000 payment.
It's therefore important to know if there was such a payment, and if there was, where the money came from. Because if Trump World relied on campaign or foundation money for the alleged payment, there are important legal questions that the president and his team may need to answer.
Mother Jones' Kevin Drum added yesterday, "The affair itself is not that big a deal. However, the agreement to pay Daniels $130,000 to stay quiet is a very big deal. Trump's lawyer has admitted the payment was made, but refuses to say anything more about it. How is this happening? How can the president of the United States get away with what looks like hush money paid to a mistress in the middle of an election? How is it that this isn't front-page news until Trump tells us what it was all about and shows us the agreement?"
For the record, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders held a briefing yesterday, but there were no questions about the Daniels controversy or the alleged payment.