The monthlong saga surrounding Donald Trump’s alleged fling with porn star Stormy Daniels took a new twist on Monday. Daniels is now willing to pay back the money she received via Trump’s longtime lawyer just a month before the 2016 election–if the Trump camp will allow her to speak freely about her relationship with the Donald.
The New York Times reported on Monday afternoon that Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, offered an olive branch to Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen. Read the offer here. Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, is willing to repay the $130,000 she received via Cohen in October 2016 by Friday.
In return, the non-disclosure agreement that reportedly keeps Daniels from speaking about her affair with Trump would be “deemed null and void,” allowing Daniels to “speak openly and freely” about both her relationship with Trump “and the attempts to silence her.” She would also be free to release “any text messages, photos and/or videos” related to the affair. Trump and Cohen have until noon Eastern Time on Tuesday to accept.
This move comes on the heels of reports that the Trump camp is trying to stop “60 Minutes” from airing an interview Anderson Cooper taped with Daniels last week. Daniels contends she was free to tape the interview on two counts. Not only does she believe that Cohen voided the non-disclosure agreement by revealing that he’d made the payment, but her lawyers argue that since Trump himself never signed the agreement, it was never binding in the first place. As part of the proposed settlement, Trump, Cohen, and the dummy LLC Cohen created to “facilitate” the payment will make no attempt to stop the interview from airing.
Avenatti told NBC News that all Daniels wants is to give the American people a chance to “judge for themselves who is shooting straight with them and who is misleading them.” It’s hard not to agree. After all, if Daniels is lying, what do Trump and Cohen have to gain by keeping her quiet? If they turn the offer down, it could amount to a tacit acknowledgement that Trump was having an affair just months after being married to Melania–and while Melania was home with their newborn son, Barron.
Cohen only has himself to blame for this eruption. If he hadn’t revealed the details of the agreement, we probably wouldn’t even be having this discussion.
Moreover, we learned over the weekend that Cohen used his Trump Organization email account to arrange the deal–and did so in his capacity as an executive vice president at the Trump Organization and “special counsel” to Trump. That, in turn, makes it possible that the payment may have run afoul of campaign finance law–either as an undisclosed in-kind corporate donation to the Trump campaign, or as a donation that far exceeded the legal limit for an individual donor. More seriously, it raises questions about how much Trump knew about this deal–especially considering that New York state bar rules required Cohen to keep Trump informed about such an arrangement.
On Saturday’s edition of “AM Joy,” Watergate assistant prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks suggested that the hush money may amount to obstruction of justice. Watch here.
Wine-Banks said that hush money is “part of a cover-up”–something that almost always “gets presidents in trouble.” It reminded her of how Richard Nixon paid hush money to the Watergate defendants.
Wine-Banks must have been reading the mind of Kossack Frank DiPrima, a longtime lawyer in New Jersey. DiPrima believes that the payment violated campaign finance laws. He believes it’s obvious the payment was intended to influence the outcome of the election, given that the payment was made eight days before Election Day. Additionally, DiPrima believes the manner in which the payment was arranged amounted to “an elaborate and comedic effort” to hide the actual source of the money–a textbook case of money laundering. He believes that Avenatti ought to argue that the contract was never valid in the first place–an argument that is very winnable.
Moreover, even if the contract is legitimate, Cohen may have shot himself in the foot when he obtained a restraining order against Daniels on February 27. He did so after filing a complaint on behalf of his dummy LLC, not Trump. The original non-disclosure agreement only provides for arbitration between Trump and Daniels–so the restraining order might not be valid. Do Cohen and Trump want to risk being smacked down by a judge over this?
As I write this, Trump and Cohen have roughly 17 hours to accept Avenatti’s offer. Based on what we know so far, they would do well to accept it. After spending the last few days dunking on Trump’s diehard followers, Daniels may be about to dunk on the Donald himself.
(featured image courtesy ASACP/RTA, available under a Creative Commons-BY license)