The Stormy Daniels Case Has Left Trump With a Hilarious Dilemma
Donald Trump’s advisers are telling him he has a perfect counter to the Manhattan prosecutors who are hounding him over a payment to Stormy Daniels — but the former president is so far unwilling to use it.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s office right now is laying out its case against Trump, arguing that the $130,000 paid to Daniels, an adult-film actress, in 2016 constituted violations of election and business-records laws. But according to two sources with knowledge of the matter, multiple Trump advisers — including at least one of his lawyers — have told him in recent months that he has a stronger case if he argues the payments had nothing to do with the election. Instead, these advisers would have Trump argue that the payments were entirely about preventing conflict with his wife, Melania.
In order to bring felony charges, New York law requires that prosecutors prove defendants falsified records in order to cover up a separate crime. In Trump’s case, District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office is reportedly attempting to prove that the paperwork detailing Trump’s reimbursement of former fixer Michael Cohen amounted to an effort to cover up an illegal campaign contribution. Trump’s advisers hope that by casting the payments as marriage-related, they could remove any basis for the felony charge Bragg reportedly has in mind.
But the argument would leave Trump facing some tough questions. Because if the payments to Daniels had nothing to do with the election, then Trump would have to explain why he was willing to spend six figures to prevent his wife from hearing about an alleged sexual encounter with a porn star — a tryst that he for years has claimed never happened.
“The [former] president seems reluctant about taking this approach,” one of the two sources tells Rolling Stone. “I hope that changes.” The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations with the ex-president.
Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, says she and Trump had a brief sexual encounter in 2006 after meeting at a celebrity golf tournament. Melania was pregnant at the time. Trump has denied that there’s any truth to Daniels’ detailed — and at times graphic — description of the tryst, and he re-upped that defense Tuesday. “NEVER HAD AN AFFAIR. This is old news!” Trump posted to his Truth Social account.
The subject has long been a sore one for the former president. When Trump occupied the White House, it was clear to top aides how much he worried about Melania’s anger related to Daniels’ accusations.
“He at one point called me, after the Stormy Daniels news broke, to ask if we [in the first lady’s office] would be responding to her allegations — and I could tell he was trying to take my temperature to see if his wife was pissed off,” Stephanie Grisham, a former senior official in Trump’s White House, tells Rolling Stone. “He never, ever called me to ask if the East Wing was going to respond to something. Never. And he never did again. It was just so out of character for him to do that that it was clear he was trying to see if his wife was pissed. Our East Wing was known at the time for putting out statements that would shock or anger the West Wing, and for this one, since it was a very personal topic, it was clear he was testing the waters.”
It was also clear to Grisham that Melania was indeed angry about the situation. “I don’t think we ever did put” out a statement about Daniels, Grisham says of Melania Trump’s office. “Mrs. Trump would always say to me: ‘This is his problem. This is his problem.’”
Bragg reportedly impaneled a grand jury and has sought to interview a number of former Trump campaign officials, Trump Organization employees, and National Enquirer staff, according to The New York Times. The inquiry adds to a mounting list of legal woes as Trump prepares for the 2024 presidential campaign. New York Attorney General Letitia James is continuing a civil investigation into the Trump Organization’s alleged fraud in valuing assets. Prosecutors in Fulton County, Georgia, are reportedly on the cusp of announcing a decision on whether to charge Trump for allegedly pressuring the Georgia secretary of state to commit election fraud. In November, Attorney General Merrick Garland also appointed a special counsel to investigate Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election and his efforts to hold onto classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago home.
Even if Trump’s advisers succeed in getting him to relent and admit the payments were entirely related to not angering his wife with humiliating headlines about a dalliance, it’s unclear that would clear him of any legal woes. “The fact that the false statements in this case relate to payments to hide an extramarital affair, while not a legal defense to a potential charge, nonetheless could be considered by prosecutors as a circumstance weighing against potential charges — and would certainly be considered by the judge at sentencing, when the judge considers the seriousness of the offense,” says Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor who is not involved in this case.
Michael Cohen made the payment to Daniels in October, 2016, when she was poised to discuss the alleged affair with media outlets. Cohen has since turned on Trump, and he wrote in his memoir that Trump’s decision to authorize the hush money was driven in part by concern over Melania’s reaction to potential public allegations of an affair. Cohen recounts Trump saying the $130,000 check was “a lot less than I would have to pay Melania.”
It was, apparently, a reference to a divorce.