Cokie and Steven Roberts: Stormy and the Donald
Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 17, 2018
By Cokie Roberts and Steven V. Roberts
President Trump denies having an affair with an adult film actress named Stormy Daniels. Yet his lawyer and close confidant, Michael Cohen, paid Stormy $130,000 — using fake names and shell corporations — to buy her silence on the eve of the 2016 election.
There are only a few logical possibilities here. One: Trump is a liar who did dally with the porn princess. Two: Cohen is a fool who paid hush money to bury a false story. Three: The lawyer is a movie buff who contributed to a GoFundMe campaign to help an aspiring artist.
The smart money is on option No. 1. The fact is Stormy (real name Stephanie Clifford) and The Donald are made for each other: two professional performers who star in their own reality TV shows. Think of their fling this way: They were each doing guest shots in the other’s production. In fact, Stormy claims The Donald promised her a slot on “The Apprentice” during their relationship — a promise he failed to keep.
The real difference is that The Donald has made it to the Big Time. Stormy is still trying to break through, and this is her moment. She’s not going away, and The Donald has to know that. He sees too much of himself in his old flame.
So why should we care, apart from the obvious fact that Stormy is a fascinating public figure? For one thing, there’s politics.
In 2016, 1 out of 4 voters identified themselves as “white born-again or evangelical Christians,” and 80 percent of that group backed Trump. He was right on their main issues, especially abortion, and they ignored his three marriages, numerous affairs and a video on which he boasted about sexually assaulting women.
“Evangelicals knew they were not electing a choir boy,” Robert Jeffress, a Baptist pastor in Texas and Trump adviser, told The New York Times. “Forgiveness is part of the evangelical gospel message. We are all sinners.”
Still, there are signs that Trump’s support among evangelicals could be slipping. A Pew survey in December reported his favorable rating had dropped to 61 percent in this group, down from 78 percent the previous February, and some conservative Christians are gagging on their own hypocrisy.
“The Trump evangelicals,” writes Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, “have made a national joke of moral standards that were once, presumably, deeply held. At least when a Democrat violated them.”
Even the Rev. Jeffress had to admit, “Let me be clear. Evangelicals still believe no one should be having sex with a porn star.”
There is plenty of hypocrisy to go around. Just as evangelicals excuse Trump’s transgressions, women’s groups rallied around Bill Clinton despite his long record of sexual misconduct, and for similar reasons. He was right on their issues, particularly abortion.
Clinton eventually faced impeachment on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, all stemming from a sexual harassment lawsuit brought against him by Paula Jones, a former Arkansas state employee. Stormy Daniels’ accusations against Trump probably won’t rise to that level of legal jeopardy, but they could still pose a huge headache for the White House.
Stormy and her aggressive lawyer, Michael Avenatti, have challenged the legitimacy of her agreement to remain silent, and she’s upped the ante, offering to return the $130,000 and giving an interview to “60 Minutes” that promises more salacious details of her liaison with the president.
The White House is contemplating legal action to block CBS from airing the interview, but the law is pretty clear. No court would enjoin the network unless national security was in imminent danger. Trump might sue for damages after the interview is aired, but he has often threatened foes and failed to follow through. And the last thing he wants is a legal proceeding that forces him to testify under oath.
There’s another potential legal trap as well: If Cohen did pay Stormy $130,000 out of his own pocket, he could have violated campaign finance laws that limit individual contributions to $2,700. If Trump reimbursed Cohen, and didn’t report the payment as a campaign expense, he could also be in trouble.
“The whole set of circumstances raises a number of red flags about potential campaign finance violations that merit further investigation,” said election-law expert Richard Hasen to USA Today.
It looks like “Stormy and The Donald” will be renewed for another season. Stay tuned for the next episode.
Steve and Cokie Roberts can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.