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Questions surround Trump lawyer's payment to adult-film star

Trump's lawyer reportedly arranged a $130,000 payment to a former adult-film star a month before the 2016 election. There are unanswered questions about this.
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

The Wall Street Journal  reported late Friday 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, didn't generate quite as big a stir as I thought it might.

Imagine, for example, if Bill Clinton were a year into his first term when evidence emerged that his lawyer arranged a large payment to a former porn star a month before his election. Do you suppose the political world would take an interest in this, or would the Sunday shows ignore the story two days later (which is what happened yesterday)?

In normal times, this might be a presidency-defining controversy. In Trump's America, the story struggles for attention with all the other controversies surrounding this White House.

That said, even if the salacious personal allegations are better left overlooked, there are some salient aspects of the story that are unrelated to whether or not Trump was unfaithful toward his third wife.

The Wall Street Journal's report, for example, said Michael Cohen, the top attorney at the Trump Organization, arranged the payment to Stephanie Clifford, whose stage name is Stormy Daniels, following the negotiation of a non-disclosure agreement. We don't know the source of the money, though the answer to the question could be problematic for the president: funds from Trump's campaign or foundation, for example, couldn't legally be used for this purpose.

What's more, the New York Times  reported these additional details over the weekend.

The reported payment came shortly before the presidential election and as the actress, Stephanie Clifford, 38, was discussing sharing her account with ABC’s “Good Morning America” and the online magazine Slate, according to interviews, notes and text messages reviewed by The New York Times.Jacob Weisberg, editor in chief of the Slate Group, said on Friday that in a series of interviews with Ms. Clifford in August and October 2016, she told him she had an affair with Mr. Trump after meeting him at a 2006 celebrity golf tournament. She told him that Michael D. Cohen, a lawyer for Mr. Trump, had agreed during the presidential campaign to pay her the $130,000 if she kept the relationship secret, Mr. Weisberg said, adding that Ms. Clifford had told him she was tempted to go public because the lawyer was late in making the payment and she feared he might back out of their agreement.

It was around this time that another woman, former Playboy centerfold Karen McDougal, sold the exclusive rights to the story about her alleged affair with Trump to American Media Inc., the company that owns the National Enquirer tabloid. Its owner is a Trump ally who never published the claims.

The Daily Beast, meanwhile, was reportedly informed late Friday that "porn star Jessica Drake is not allowed to discuss President Donald J. Trump on account of a non-disclosure agreement she signed barring her from any such talk."

With all of this in mind, even if we ignore questions about Trump's alleged personal failings, there are some lines of inquiry that probably deserve some follow-up:

* Just how many women from the adult-entertainment industry have signed non-disclosure agreements about their interactions with Trump?

* How many of them received compensation?

* What was the source of the money?