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Storm Watch: the latest developments in the Stormy Daniels case

Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen has filed papers in federal court for $20 million in damages against the porn actress.

The SUPER XLI PARTY Evan Agostini/Getty Images
Jen Kirby is a senior foreign and national security reporter at Vox, where she covers global instability.

The saga of Stormy Daniels — the adult film actress who allegedly had an affair with Donald Trump beginning in 2006, then filed a lawsuit claiming the “hush agreement” she signed was invalid — keeps growing, and the constant drip, drip, drip of details continued this week.

The White House has denied the affair or that Trump had anything to do with the $130,00 in hush money paid to Daniels. But the case moved closer to Trump’s orbit this week, when the Wall Street Journal reported that a Trump Organization attorney was listed on confidential arbitration documents that included the restraining order against Daniels.

Yet Daniels soon may soon get a chance to speak anyway — reports say she is likely to appear on 60 Minutes next Sunday.

She faces formidable opposition from Trump attorney Michael Cohen, who has claimed he personally paid the $130,000 for Daniels’s silence. He obtained a restraining order at the end of February, shortly before Daniels filed her lawsuit in court, and has now filed papers in federal court accusing Daniels of violating the terms of the nondisclosure agreement. The Washington Post reports that Cohen is seeking a total of $20 million in damages — $1 million per alleged violation.

But another one of Cohen’s legal disputes might undercut his efforts. He is pursuing a libel suit against BuzzFeed, and the website is attempting a legal maneuver that might allow Daniels’s records of any relationship with Trump to be made public.

This week’s news is more evidence that the Daniels story, first reported in January, won’t die quietly. The latest developments continue to raise serious questions as to whether the $130,000 Daniels (real name Stephanie Clifford) received in hush money just days before the presidential election is an illegal campaign payment. Here’s what happened this week, and what it could mean for the case going forward.

Cohen files for $20 million in damages against Daniels

The Washington Post reported Friday that Cohen is accusing Daniels of violating her “hush agreement,” and filed papers in court demanding $20 million in damages.

Daniels can be fined $1 million for each breach of the nondisclosure agreement, according to the terms of the contract. Daniels is suing over the validity of the agreement right now; she is arguing that it’s null and void because Donald Trump never actually signed it.

Cohen, through Essential Consultants, LLC, the company he set up to pay Daniels last October, will request to move Daniels’s dispute out of the open courts back to private arbitration, reports Bloomberg.

And Cohen’s efforts probably have the support of President Donald Trump. In a separate filing on the president’s behalf, another Trump attorney said he agreed with Cohen’s decision to move the case back to private arbitration.

Michael Avenatti, Daniels’s attorney, responded to Cohen’s suit in a series of tweets, calling it “yet another bullying tactic from the president and Mr. Cohen.”

“They are not attempting to remove this case to federal court in order to increase their changes that the matter will be decided in private arbitration,” he wrote.

An attorney for the Trump Organization attorney was linked to recent efforts to silence Stormy Daniels

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that it had obtained confidential arbitration documents — which included the request for a restraining order — from February that listed Jill Martin, a Trump Organization attorney, as representing Essential Consultants LLC. Cohen formed Essential Consultants to pay Daniels the $130,000 in hush money. He said he did this out of his own pocket and that the Trump campaign and Trump Organization knew nothing about it.

Martin, through the Trump Organization, said she was working in a personal capacity and denied the business was involved — but it’s the first time an employee connected to the Trump Organization has been tied to the case.

The Russia scandal met the Stormy Daniels saga — through a BuzzFeed lawsuit

Meanwhile, Buzzfeed is using a legal maneuver that might give Daniels the chance to tell her story.

The news outlet is embroiled in its own litigation with Cohen, who is suing BuzzFeed for libel over its publication of the Steele dossier, a collection of allegations about Trump’s dealings with Russia, last year. As part of that lawsuit, BuzzFeed has asked Daniels to preserve all documents and records relating to her dealings with Cohen and her 2016 nondisclosure agreement.

BuzzFeed is arguing that the Daniels affair helps bolster the legitimacy of some of the claims in the dossier — specifically, that Cohen met with Russian officials in Prague and tried to pay them off to cover up the relationship between the Trump campaign and the people with ties to the Kremlin. If Cohen paid off Daniels, it’s essentially saying, he might have paid off Russia too.

If BuzzFeed’s gambit is successful, lawyers may have to depose Daniels in that case. And unless a judge intervenes, according to Politico, it’s possible all those details might be made public.

Daniels is facing physical threats to stay silent, according to her attorney

Daniels’s attorney told MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Friday that Daniels had been physically threatened. He did not elaborate beyond that, instead teasing Daniels’s 60 Minutes interview on March 25.

Avenatti also talked to CNN’s Chris Cuomo and repeated the allegation that Daniels had been physically threatened. “The fact is my client was physically threatened to stay silent about what she knew about Donald Trump,” he said, “The details surrounding that, she’s going to discuss on the 60 Minutes interview on March 25.”

Later Friday, Avenatti appeared on CNN again, this time with Jake Tapper. Tapper pressed the lawyer on the allegations of physical violence against his client, asking Avenatti to explain if they were anonymous threats or from someone potentially affiliated with Trump or his circle.

“Here’s what I will say, Jake,” Avenatti said. “I think when the American people hear from my client, who will provide details, very specific details relating to this threat, they will conclude, as I have, that this was not a random threat by some wing nut ... this was a threat not by some wing nut out of the blue, and that’s all I’m going to say.”

Daniels is (supposedly) going on 60 Minutes

CBS News has not officially confirmed Daniels’s 60 Minutes appearance, but sources told the Washington Post — and Daniels’s attorney has repeatedly teased — that the interview is set to air next Sunday, March 25. The interview will reportedly cover some details of the alleged 2006 encounter with Trump. “There’s the act and there’s the cover-up and the American people are going to learn about both in the interview and beyond,” Avenatti said on Morning Joe about the 60 Minutes segment.

There no guarantees yet that this interview, which was filmed last week, will be broadcast. Trump’s lawyers are reportedly weighing legal action against CBS, though it’s unclear that would actually stop the network from airing the interview.

Daniels could also get slammed with steep financial penalties. Cohen has already sued for $20 million in damages, and Daniels could face a $1 million fine for each additional nondisclosure agreement breach. She’s raising money for her legal fees on a crowdfunding website, but as of Friday night, she’s only raised a little more than $171,000.

Daniels’s mother is a Trump supporter

Daniels’s estranged mother, Sheila Gregory, said in an interview with the Dallas Morning News that she doesn’t want the scandal to hurt the president.

“If Mr. Trump runs four more times, I would vote for him every time,” Gregory said. “I like him. I like the way he handles things. It’s time this country is put back where it belongs — taking care of the people here instead of the people who don’t belong here.”

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