Donald Trump’s personal lawyer says he paid $130,000 to a former porn star out of his own pocket so she would keep quiet about an alleged affair she had with Trump, according to a report from the New York Times.
Maggie Haberman reported late Tuesday that Michael Cohen, President Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, told the publication in a statement that he paid actress Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, with his own money in October 2016 to stop her from appearing on national television to discuss her history with then-candidate Trump.
“Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly,” Cohen said in a statement to the Times. “The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful, and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone.”
This is the first time that Cohen has publicly acknowledged that he had a role in the payment, which the Wall Street Journal first reported in January.
The White House has denied allegations that Trump had an affair with Daniels in 2006, soon after his wife, Melania, gave birth to their son, Barron. But beyond the obvious salacious nature of the story itself, some have questioned whether the payout to Daniels ran afoul of campaign finance laws. Watchdog group Common Cause filed complaints with the Justice Department and Federal Election Commission arguing that the settlement amounted to an unreported in-kind contribution to the Trump campaign.
Cohen told the Times on Tuesday that he had given a similar statement provided to the publication to the FEC in response to Common Cause’s complaint. “The complaint alleges that I somehow violated campaign finance laws by facilitating an excess, in-kind contribution,” he said. “The allegations in the complaint are factually unsupported and without legal merit, and my counsel has submitted a response to the FEC.”
He called the payment a “private transaction.”
Paul S. Ryan, vice president of litigation and policy at Common Cause, said in a statement that Cohen’s admission doesn’t make the Trump campaign’s legal problems go away.
“Any payment by a person such as Cohen on behalf of or in consultation with a candidate to influence an election is an in-kind ‘contribution’ to the candidate under campaign finance law subject to a $2,700 limit and disclosure requirements,” he said. He called for the FEC and Justice Department to fully investigate. “Questions about the payment and the circumstances behind it must be answered, and they must be answered under oath,” he said.
Daniels isn’t the only woman Trump is reported to have paid off to keep an alleged affair quiet. The Wall Street Journal reported just days before the 2016 election that the National Enquirer sat on a story about Trump having an affair with 1998 Playboy Playmate of the Year, Karen McDougal, in 2006. The Enquirer, which is famously pro-Trump, paid $150,000 for her story.
A quick refresher on the Stormy Daniels thing
The Journal in January reported that Cohen, Trump’s long-time lawyer, arranged a $130,000 payment to Daniels a month before the 2016 election to keep her from publicly discussing an alleged sexual encounter with Trump. Days later, celebrity magazine In Touch published an interview with Daniels conducted in 2011 in which she says she had an affair with Trump and provided some pretty eye-popping details.
First lady Melania Trump’s activities following the reports raised eyebrows. She decided against accompanying the president to Davos, instead making an impromptu trip to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, and traveling to Mar-a-Lago for the weekend, and traveled separately from the president to his State of the Union address.
Rumors of an encounter between Trump and Daniels circulated before the election. Reports have suggested that multiple media outlets, including Fox News and Slate, had the story and didn’t publish it. The Smoking Gun’s William Bastone posted a photo of Trump and Daniels together during a celebrity golf tournament in 2006, and an author at the gossip website the Dirty had posted a thinly sourced item alleging the affair back in 2011.
Trump had denied the affair. Daniels does now, too. Before an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! in January after the State of the Union, she said in a statement said the affair “never happened.”
Stormy Daniels (going on Kimmel tonight after Trump's State of the Union) issues a new statement saying she is denying having an affair with Trump not because of a settlement but because “it never happened.”— Tom Namako (@TomNamako) January 30, 2018
She would also like you to follow her on Instagram.
From @a_cormier_ pic.twitter.com/J11O3WGGz3
Vox’s Dylan Matthews has a full explainer on the entire Stormy Daniels saga.