By Amy Davidson Sorkin
As Stephanie Clifford, known professionally as Stormy Daniels, told the story to Anderson Cooper on “60 Minutes” on Sunday night, she was heading into a fitness class in Las Vegas one day in 2011, with her infant daughter in tow—“taking, you know, the seats facing backwards in the back seat, diaper bag, you know, getting all the stuff out”—when a man she didn’t know walked up to her. Clifford said that she remembered the man saying, “Leave Trump alone. Forget the story.
” The “story” was one that she had told a few weeks before the day of the fitness class to a writer for Bauer magazines, which owns In Touch and Life & Style, in which she described a sexual encounter that she said had taken place with Donald Trump at a celebrity golf tournament in 2006. Life & Style had offered her fifteen thousand dollars for the story; it then called Trump for comment and, in response, two former employees of the magazine told “60 Minutes,” Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen threatened the publication with a lawsuit. The magazine held the story and didn’t pay Clifford. But that, according to Clifford’s account, did not count as going far enough; hence the guy in the Las Vegas parking lot.
“And then he leaned around and looked at my daughter and said, ‘That’s a beautiful little girl,’ ” Clifford continued. “ ‘It’d be a shame if something happened to her mom.’ And then he was gone.”
“You took it as a direct threat?” Cooper asked.
“Absolutely,” Clifford said—and that, indeed, is what the parking-lot story, if accurate, sounds like. “I was rattled. I remember going into the workout class. And my hands are shaking so much, I was afraid I was gonna—drop her.” She held on to her daughter, and also to her story.
Clifford is now thirty-nine years old. For her interview, she wore a pink button-up shirt and spoke evenly, with an occasional wry note. When she imitated Trump’s expression of surprise at something she had said, one got a hint of her gifts as a performer. She has starred in pornographic films, and written and directed them; she still performs as an exotic dancer, recently for higher fees. On “60 Minutes,” she remembered Trump being surprised, as they talked, by her intelligence. (“You remind me of my daughter.”) She said that, on the night they had sex, he had enticed her partly with the prospect of being cast on “The Apprentice”—“You’re going to shock a lot of people: you’re smart, and they won’t know what to expect”—and that he pursued that idea as they spoke on the phone over the next several months. The market in information is an unsteady one. Five years after the alleged threat in Vegas, Trump was the Republican nominee for President. Less than two weeks before the election, Michael Cohen, the same lawyer who was said to have blocked the fifteen-thousand-dollar story, arranged for a deal in which Clifford would get a hundred and thirty thousand dollars and assurances, from Trump personally, about not suing her under certain circumstances, and in return she would stay silent. She said, on “60 Minutes,” that she knew she could have got a lot more money if she had told the story, but that she preferred not to: among other reasons, her daughter was now old enough to watch television.
“I did not want my family and my child exposed to all the things that she’s being exposed to right now,” Clifford said. “Because everything that I was afraid of coming out has come out anyway, and guess what: I don’t have a million dollars.” She laughed and, looking at Cooper, added, “You didn’t even buy me breakfast.”
The hush agreement unravelled after the Wall Street Journal ran a story about the payment in January; when the paper asked Cohen for comment, he said that the payment was simply a “personal transaction” between him and Clifford. He also suggested that he was trying to stop Clifford from telling a false story. Clifford said, on “60 Minutes,” that she had been happy to remain quiet, “but I’m not O.K. with being made out to be a liar.”
The Journal story also provoked Bauer to publish the 2011 interview in In Touch. Most of what is in the “60 Minutes” interview regarding the alleged encounter was in In Touch, including the comparison to Ivanka Trump, with some blanks filled in (but with some of the sexual details in the 2011 interview left out). For example, Clifford said in 2011 that she teased Trump when he showed her a magazine with his picture on the cover; on “60 Minutes,” she said that this included a few spanking “swats” with a rolled-up magazine. (And there have been secondhand reports of even that.)
If it was to keep such details from the “60 Minutes”-watching public that Cohen, with the help of a Trump Organization lawyer, tried to enforce the agreement through arbitration, it wasn’t worth it. Their efforts have been legally “ludicrous,” to quote a word that Clifford’s lawyer, Michael Avenatti, used on “60 Minutes”—in part because Trump never signed the agreement. Instead, Avenatti claimed, the story was now about a “coverup” and “thuggish” behavior. When Cooper asked Avenatti about denials of the affair issued in Clifford’s name at various points, he said, “If the President of the United States’ fixer made it clear to me, either directly or indirectly, that I needed to sign it, and I was in the position of Stormy Daniels, I might sign those statements.” Clifford said that she’d been told that if she didn’t agree to the denials, “They can make your life hell in many different ways.”
“ ‘They’ being?” Cooper asked.
“I’m not exactly sure who ‘they’ were,” Clifford replied. “I believe it to be Michael Cohen.” (Cohen denied to “60 Minutes” that he had ever threatened Daniels.)
This story, as I noted in a piece for The New Yorker last week, is very much about the President’s poor legal judgment. On Sunday, hours before the interview aired, Trump tweeted, regarding another set of legal problems he’s dealing with, “Many lawyers and top law firms want to represent me in the Russia case … don’t believe the Fake News narrative that it is hard to find a lawyer who wants to take this on. Fame & fortune will NEVER be turned down by a lawyer, though some are conflicted.” But the problem for Trump really isn’t which lawyers are willing to work for him. It’s the kind of work that he expects them to do, in line with his own view of what the law will allow. (He had not, as of Sunday night, tweeted about Clifford. According to “60 Minutes,” another of Trump’s lawyers, when asked for comment, requested that the program show onscreen the text of one of her denials.)
“60 Minutes” also raised the prospect that the two stories—about the hush agreement and about possible Russian interference—might become one, again via Michael Cohen. He already has the attention of investigators working for Robert Mueller, the special counsel, because of his possible role involving contacts between members of Trump’s circle and Russians. If Cohen has made himself legally vulnerable, perhaps via campaign-finance violations—for example, if the payment to Clifford counts as an unreported in-kind contribution—that could, as Cooper put it, give Mueller “leverage.” On “60 Minutes,” a campaign-finance expert referred to this scenario as a “wild card.”
Clifford is now suing Trump to have the hush agreement declared void; Trump has, through his lawyers, said that he planned to sue to enforce it. That legal saga could get complicated; the President himself might eventually be deposed.
“It started out all about him,” Clifford said, when describing how her evening with Trump began. She had asked him, she said, “Does this normally work for you? And he looked very taken aback, like he didn’t really understand what I was saying.” Clifford said that she clarified her question to Trump: “Does, just, you know, talking about yourself normally work?” For a while, maybe it did.
Bron: New Yorker