Stormy Daniels’s 60 Minutes interview was, in its way, fascinating. But it ultimately failed to shed light on the two most interesting questions posed by this entire imbroglio, presumably because Daniels herself doesn’t know the answer.
- How many other sexual partners has Trump paid hush money to?
- How many foreign intelligence services know about one or more of those women?
It’s obviously possible that shortly after his third wife gave birth to his fifth child, Donald Trump began the one and only adulterous affair of his life and then had his longtime lawyer/fixer write Daniels a six-figure check to shut her up.
But that would, obviously, fly in the face of our basic understanding of human behavior. It also contradicts Steve Bannon’s remarks in Fire and Fury when he says that another Trump attorney, Marc Kasowitz, “has gotten him out of all kinds of jams. Kasowitz on the campaign — what did we have, a hundred women? Kasowitz took care of all of them.” And the National Enquirer appears to have paid $150,000 to former Playboy centerfold Karen McDougal to try to keep her quiet.
Now, obviously, nobody seriously believed that Trump was chaste and pure as the driven snow before we heard from Daniels. He’s never really tried to sell himself as a family man in the traditional sense and wears the hypocrisy of his political commitment to abortion restrictions and abstinence-only sex education very lightly. All that said, for one reason or another, Trump is clearly quite committed to trying to prevent his former partners from discussing their dalliances in public. He and his associates are willing to put cash on the line for this, threaten massive legal consequences, and perhaps even engage in acts of physical intimidation.
Trump has secrets that he regards as worth keeping.
And while that put Daniels under pressure, it means that entities with more power and sophistication than an adult film actress can use those secrets to put pressure on Trump. The president has successfully cultivated an image as so flaky and incompetent that his many baffling decisions on the world stage — from leaking Israeli intelligence to the Russian foreign minister to undercutting his own administration’s policy on Qatar to mysteriously leaving Japan off a list of allies exempted from steel tariffs — generally get written off as evidence that he is flaky and incompetent rather than being actively manipulated by foreign actors.
Maybe that’s all it is. Maybe Daniels and McDougal are the only women he’s ever paid off. Or maybe there are others out there but nobody from Russia or the United Arab Emirates or the Mossad or whoever hates the Japanese steel industry found out about it. Anything’s possible. But I have my doubts.
It’s currently fashionable to dismiss interest in the Daniels story as fundamentally reflecting nothing more than a prurient interest in Trump’s sex life. But the possibility of bribery and blackmail here makes it impossible to fully separate out highbrow and lowbrow aspects of the scandal.
...when there are lots of other Trump scandals that involve far greater magnitudes of (alleged) corruption but which don't attract nearly as much attention.— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) March 26, 2018
Like everyone else, I am on some level merely curious as to whether there are embarrassing facts — or, even more embarrassing, tapes or photos — about the president’s sex life. But precisely because a lot of people would be interested in embarrassing material about the president’s sex life — and because Trump, a very image-conscious person, could be very worried about that interest — the existence of embarrassing secrets could well be a national security crisis for the country.
If Trump is in the habit of making these kinds of payments, we need to have a full account of it. And the sooner, the better.