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Payment from Trump lawyer to adult-film star raises questions

It's been a busy week for controversies related to Donald Trump. Today a new one emerged about a payment from a Trump lawyer to a former adult-film star.
Image: Michael Cohen, attorney for The Trump Organization, arrives at Trump Tower in New York City
Michael Cohen, attorney for The Trump Organization, arrives at Trump Tower in New York City, U.S. January 17, 2017. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith - RTSVX0Z

It's been a surprisingly busy week for controversies related to Donald Trump. Some of the stories have been substantive, such as his confusion about immigration and surveillance proposals. Some have been entertaining, such as the president claiming Norway bought F-52 jets that don't exist.

Some have been odd, such as Trump's claim that he received complimentary letters from television anchors (the correspondence, like the F-52s, apparently didn't exist). Some have been racial, such as denigration of "shithole countries." And some have been connected to established scandals, such as Trump hedging on his previous willingness to talk to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and his willingness to accuse FBI officials of "treason."

But we haven't seen much of anything this week about Trump's personal life. It's against this backdrop that the Wall Street Journal  reports this afternoon on a curious alleged payment during the 2016 campaign season.

A lawyer for President Donald Trump 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, according to people familiar with the matter.Michael Cohen, who spent nearly a decade as a top attorney at the Trump Organization, arranged payment to the woman, Stephanie Clifford, in October 2016 after her lawyer negotiated the nondisclosure agreement with Mr. Cohen, these people said.Ms. Clifford, whose stage name is Stormy Daniels, has privately alleged the encounter with Mr. Trump took place after they met at a July 2006 celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe, these people said. Mr. Trump married Melania Trump in 2005.

The reporting has been met with several specific kinds of denials.

Cohen, for example, told NBC News this afternoon, "These rumors have circulated time and again since 2011. President Trump once again vehemently denies any such occurrence as has Ms. Daniels." The former adult-film star herself issued a statement denying she had a relationship with Trump or received hush money.

A White House spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, "These are old, recycled reports, which were published and strongly denied prior to the election."

There's one thing that stood out for me, though, about the denials: while the relevant players rejected the idea of a relationship or non-consensual behavior, neither the White House nor Cohen denied or acknowledged the $130,000 payment to the former adult-film star.

Watch this space.

Postscript: Incidentally, if this story seems at all familiar, it's worth noting that this is separate from a different Wall Street Journal  article, published a few days before the 2016 election, which said, "The company that owns the National Enquirer, a backer of Donald Trump, agreed to pay $150,000 to a former Playboy centerfold model for her story of an affair a decade ago with the Republican presidential nominee, but then didn't publish it, according to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal and people familiar with the matter."

That article related to Karen McDougal, a Playboy centerfold in 1998. Today's reporting is about an entirely different person.