ThinkProgress

White House won’t answer questions about the Stormy Daniels scandal, despite Sarah Sanders’ claims

Stormy Daniels poses for a photo before her performance at Gossip Night Club on February 22, 2018 in Melville, New York. (CREDIT: Mike Pont/Getty Images)

The White House is trying to deflect questions about a blockbuster lawsuit filed by adult film actress Stormy Daniels by claiming they have already been asked and answered.

This is false and there are receipts.

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, filed the lawsuit on Tuesday against the President of the United States in California Superior Court. The purpose of the lawsuit was to obtain a declaratory judgement invalidating an apparent agreement between Daniels, Trump, and a shell corporation set up by Trump’s longtime attorney, Michael Cohen. Daniels claims the agreement, which paid her $130,000 in exchange for her silence about her alleged affair with Trump, is invalid because Trump never signed it, among other reasons.

On Wednesday, a CNN reporter asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders about Trump’s reaction to the case and the reported “hush money” agreement with Daniels. Sanders responded that the White House has already “addressed our feelings on that situation.”

This is false. From the beginning, White House officials have claimed they’ve already addressed the money paid to Daniels — but never actually have.

The rumor of a sexual relationship between Daniels and Trump first emerged in the Wall Street Journal a few days before the 2016 election. In response to the Wall Street Journal’s inquiries, Trump spokesperson Hope Hicks denied the allegations of an affair.

Mr. Davidson also represented Stephanie Clifford, a former adult-film star whose professional name is Stormy Daniels and who was in discussions with ABC’s “Good Morning America” in recent months to publicly disclose what she said was a past relationship with Mr. Trump, according to people familiar with the talks. Ms. Clifford cut off contact with the network without telling her story. She didn’t respond to requests for comment.

An ABC spokesperson declined to comment on Ms. McDougal or Ms. Clifford.

The Trump spokeswoman, Ms. Hicks, said it was “absolutely, unequivocally” untrue that Ms. Clifford had a relationship with Mr. Trump.

Several months later, more details emerged. The agreement to pay Daniels $130,000 was first reported by the Wall Street Journal in January. The White House avoided answering questions about this payment by referring the Wall Street Journal reporter back to Hicks’ previous statement — which did not address the issue of the $130,000 payment because it had not yet been reported. 

“These are old, recycled reports, which were published and strongly denied prior to the election,” a White House official said, responding to the allegation of a sexual encounter involving Mr. Trump and Ms. Clifford. The official declined to respond to questions about an agreement with Ms. Clifford.  

The agreement between Trump and Daniels was raised a few days later during a press gaggle with Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah on Air Force One. Shah again claimed the questions about the payment had been already answered.

Q:    This is an issue that hasn’t really gotten much attention amidst everything else, but nonetheless, this woman named Stephanie Clifford, goes by the name “Stormy Daniels,” she says that she had an affair with the President.  She spoke on record about it to a magazine.  They say that she took a polygraph test.  What is the President’s response to her allegations?

MR. SHAH:  This allegation was asked and answered during the campaign, and I’ll point you to those comments.

Q:    Was there some kind of settlement, some kind of hush money that was paid?

MR. SHAH:  Like I said, this matter was asked and answered during the campaign, and anything else could be directed to Michael Cohen.

In February, Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney, finally acknowledged making the payment to Daniels. Shah was then asked about the payment at a White House press briefing. Shah first falsely claimed the issue had already been answered. After being pressed on the fact that the White House could not have answered questions about Cohen’s admission, he claimed that he hadn’t asked Trump about it and would not commit to do so in the future.

Q:   Yeah, just another subject.  Last week, the President’s personal lawyer acknowledged giving a $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels.  Is the President aware that his lawyer paid that kind of money to a porn star to buy her silence?  Does he approve of that?

MR. SHAH:  I haven’t asked him about it, but that matter has been asked and answered in the past.

Q:    No, not since he acknowledged this.  He acknowledged this last week.  This is the first time we’ve had a chance to ask about it.  So can you go back — can we find out if the President approves of the fact that his personal —

MR. SHAH:  I haven’t asked him about that.

Q:    Will you ask him about that?

MR. SHAH:  I haven’t asked him about it.

Q:    But will you ask him about it, Raj?

MR. SHAH:  I’ll get back to you.

That was the last time the matter was addressed by the White House until Wednesday, when Sanders said she didn’t “have anything else to add.”

The issue of the payment is not simply a tawdry detail of of a sex scandal, but a serious legal issue that could implicate the President of the United States. If the payment was intended to benefit Trump’s campaign, as Daniels alleges in her new suit, the failure to report it would be a violation of federal election law.

Neither the White House nor Cohen has addressed whether Trump knew about the agreement, whether he supplied the $130,000 to Cohen, or why such an agreement would exist if he did not have a sexual relationship with Daniels.