New details shed light on when (and why) Trump World paid a porn star

Adult-movie star Stormy Daniels stops at Rooster's Country Bar in Delhi, La. on Friday, July 3, 2009
Adult-movie star Stormy Daniels stops at Rooster's Country Bar in Delhi, La. on Friday, July 3, 2009.

About a week ago, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah was asked about Donald Trump's personal attorney paying $130,000 to an adult-film star, shortly before the 2016 presidential election, raising the possibility of a hush-money payoff to one of the president's alleged mistresses. "That matter has been asked and answered," Shah replied.

Strictly speaking, that isn't quite true -- there are plenty of questions that have been asked without being answered -- and the story continues to come into sharper focus. The Washington Post  reported over the weekend, for example, on how close the deal between Trump World and Stormy Daniels was to falling apart.

The 2016 election was less than a month away, and Donald Trump's attorney had blown the deadline for paying Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about her alleged affair with the future president.In an Oct. 17 email, an attorney for Daniels -- a porn star whose real name is Stephanie Clifford -- threatened to cancel the nondisclosure agreement by the end of the day.That very morning, Trump's attorney, Michael Cohen, had created a limited liability company, public records show, that ultimately would serve as a vehicle for Daniels's payoff. But the money had not arrived. A second email to Cohen, a short time after the first, said Daniels was calling the deal off.

Daniels' lawyer wrote in an email that the adult-film actress considered her settlement agreement "canceled and void." At the time, there was a growing scandal surrounding Trump's alleged mistreatment of women, including an audio recording in which the Republican was heard bragging about sexually assaulting women.

On Oct. 27, Daniels received the $130,000.

These new details start to paint a provocative picture: Daniels was prepared to remain quiet about her alleged extra-marital relationship with Trump, but she was expecting to be paid for her silence. When Trump's personal lawyer was late in making the payment, Daniels was reportedly prepared to walk away from the agreement and go public at a politically inopportune time that could've done real harm to the Republican campaign.

After all, the Oct. 17 email was sent just two weeks remaining before Election Day. By the time the apparent hush money was delivered, early voting was already underway in much of the country.

Why is this important? Because if the $130,000 was intended to help Trump's presidential candidacy, it means the money probably should've been reported to the Federal Election Commission as an in-kind campaign expenditure -- and failure to do so may have been illegal.

Ellen Weintraub, the vice chair of the Federal Election Commission, recently spoke to Rachel about campaign-finance law in general and she 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."

And it's hardly a stretch to think the apparent hush money was delivered for the purpose of influencing an election.

So, here are some of the questions for Team Trump:

* If Daniels canceled the deal on Oct. 17, and then received her money on Oct. 27, what was the nature of the negotiations between those two dates?

* Now that Trump's lawyer has publicly acknowledged the $130,000 payment, is the non-disclosure agreement still in effect?

* When did Trump learn about the porn-star payment?

* Did Trump reimburse Cohen for the payment? Was there any kind of financial arrangement between the lawyer and his client? (Cohen recently said in response to these questions, "I can't get into any of that." He didn't say why not.)

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

* Wasn't former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) prosecuted for similar actions?

I have no idea whether this controversy is registering with the public, but it's worth noting that the latest CNN poll asked respondents whether the payment to Daniels was intended to protect the Trump campaign, and 65% of the country said it was.

Or put another way, nearly two-thirds of the country believes Trump World illegally paid a porn star to avoid an election defeat.