The most eye-popping allegations Stormy Daniels made in her 60 Minutes interview with Anderson Cooper Sunday night weren’t about Donald Trump. They were about other figures in Trump’s orbit — an unnamed thug, and a man she believes to be Trump lawyer Michael Cohen — who she says tried to intimidate her out of sharing the truth about her affair with Trump on two separate occasions (in 2011 and 2018, respectively).
They’re also the most outlandish-sounding.
Daniels (whose real name is Stephanie Clifford) says that in 2011, an unnamed man approached her in a parking lot when she was with her infant daughter and implied that she’d face bodily harm if she talked about Trump again:
a guy walked up on me and said to me, “Leave Trump alone. Forget the story.” And then he leaned around and looked at my daughter and said, “That’s a beautiful little girl. It’d be a shame if something happened to her mom.” And then he was gone.
Then in 2018, she says, she was coerced into signing a statement denying the affair with Trump, because a man told her on the phone that “We can make your life hell in many different ways” if she refused to sign. Daniels told Cooper she believes that man was Michael Cohen.
Even if you believe Daniels is telling the truth about her affair with Trump, it’s reasonable to wonder if she’s not embellishing these incidents at least a little. The approach in a strange parking lot, the B-movie dialogue — it all seems a bit on the nose. And it’s possible she’s making them up entirely, in order to explain why she didn’t go public before now, and why she signed that statement just a few months ago contradicting everything she said on 60 Minutes Sunday night.
But this isn’t the first time that figures in Trumpworld have been accused of using two-bit intimidation tactics to silence people who had compromising information on Trump. And Cohen’s behavior — both in the past and in response to Daniels — doesn’t exactly make it harder to believe that he could be involved in the incidents as Daniels describes them.
Stormy Daniels’ story bears a resemblance to two previous allegations of intimidation from Trump employees
Even though other parts of Stormy Daniels’s story are corroborated by financial documents and other records — the $130,000 payoff she received weeks before the 2016 presidential election, for example — the episodes of intimidation she recounted to 60 Minutes don’t yet have evidence to back them up.
But two past allegations of intimidation against Trumpworld officials, both of which were reported by BuzzFeed News in 2017, do have some form of paper trail.
In 2009, as BuzzFeed’s Jason Leopold reported, an attorney named Kristopher Hansen called the FBI and reported that he’d received a threatening phone call from a man he believed to be Donald Trump’s bodyguard.
Hansen represented a group of investors in Trump’s casino company, which was going bankrupt (potentially costing the investors $1.25 billion in defaulted debt). Hansen told the local police department that the caller threatened his wife and children:
My name is Carmine. I don’t know why you’re fucking with Mr. Trump but if you keep fucking with Mr. Trump, we know where you live and we’re going to your house for your wife and kids.
According to Leopold, the FBI found Hansen’s account credible enough that they gave him a portable recording device and asked him to record any other calls he got. Meanwhile, they traced the number that had shown up on Hansen’s BlackBerry back to a Manhattan phone booth across the street from the theater that hosted The Late Show With David Letterman — on which Trump taped an appearance a few hours after the call was made. (“Three former employees of the show told BuzzFeed News that guests were asked to arrive in advance of the 4:30 taping, though accounts differ on just how far in advance,” Leopold writes.)
There’s also a claim of physical intimidation in Trump’s business history. in 1995, a Trump building superintendent and his family sued the Trump Organization for false imprisonment, saying the superintendent’s wife and child were assaulted by Trump security guards. The superintendent said he had information about financial improprieties at Trump buildings, and sent his wife and 12-year-old son to pick up some relevant documents, but the lawsuit claimed the office they were in was broken into with a screwdriver:
Four men prevented Hatixbe Bajrushi and her son from leaving. Matthew Calamari, the hulking head of security, shoved the boy. Trump’s brother-in-law, James Grau, barked questions, demanding to know why they were there. Michael Nicoll, another guard, pushed them back when they tried to leave. Grau snatched her purse and passed it to Calamari, Nicoll, and Domenic Pezzo to rifle through.[...]
Calamari threatened to harm the family if they spoke to police about what happened, according to the lawsuit. After 90 minutes, the police arrived and the Bajrushis were freed.
None of the security guards named in the lawsuit were charged, although FBI special agents told BuzzFeed News that two of them were questioned as “persons of interest.”
Because neither of these allegations resulted in criminal charges, much less convictions, they’re not proof of anything. But they bear a resemblance to some aspects of Daniels’s story: the threatening phone calls, the willingness to threaten or harm children. At the very least, they’re evidence that she’s not the first person to accuse Trump surrogates of acting like B-movie thugs.
Michael Cohen is on the record intimidating a reporter
At the center of the Daniels story is Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen, who wrote the $130,000 check to her in 2016 (something campaign finance experts suggest might have been an illegal “in-kind” donation to the Trump campaign). Daniels told Cooper that she believed Cohen was the man who told her if she didn’t sign a statement of denial, “We can make your life hell in many different ways.”
If true, it wouldn’t be the first time Cohen had made threats over the phone.
In 2015, the Daily Beast’s Tim Mak was reporting a story about Ivana Trump’s allegation that Donald Trump raped her while they were still married in the 1990s. He called Cohen for comment, and after claiming that marital rape wasn’t illegal in New York at the time (it was), Cohen threatened Mak and the Daily Beast:
“I will make sure that you and I meet one day while we’re in the courthouse. And I will take you for every penny you still don’t have. And I will come after your Daily Beast and everybody else that you possibly know,” Cohen said. “So I’m warning you, tread very fucking lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting. You understand me?”
“You write a story that has Mr. Trump’s name in it, with the word ‘rape,’ and I’m going to mess your life up … for as long as you’re on this frickin’ planet … you’re going to have judgments against you, so much money, you’ll never know how to get out from underneath it,” he added.
Lawsuit threats from Trump lawyers aren’t unusual, but “What I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting ... I’m going to mess your life up” goes beyond a simple lawsuit threat.
What’s really interesting is that Cohen hasn’t publicly denied threatening to make Daniels’s life hell in 2018. What he is denying is being involved in sending the thug to intimidate Daniels in 2011 — something Daniels isn’t actually accusing him of.
Before the 60 Minutes interview aired (when all that was known was that Daniels’s lawyer confirmed she had been “physically threatened” at one point), Cohen told Vanity Fair, “I have never threatened her in any way and I am unaware of anyone else doing so” — though he said he could only speak for himself.
Immediately after the interview aired, Cohen’s lawyer Brent Blakely used much stronger language in a letter to Daniels’s lawyer:
I am writing in connection with the false and defamatory statements you and your client, Stephanie Clifford a.k.a. Stormy Daniels, made on 60 Minutes this evening regarding Mr. Cohen, namely that he was responsible for an alleged thug who supposedly visited Ms. Clifford, while she was with her daughter, and made an alleged threat to Ms. Clifford.
In truth, Mr. Cohen had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with any such person or incident, and does not even believe that any such person exists, or that such incident ever occurred.
But Daniels never said Cohen “was responsible” for the thug. She didn’t mention Cohen in that part of the story at all.
Either Cohen’s lawyer made an elementary error, and sent a cease-and-desist letter over the wrong allegation, or Cohen assumed Daniels was talking about him when she didn’t actually specify — something that raises questions about why he made that assumption to begin with.