On Thursday, Stormy Daniels’ name was uttered for the first time during a White House press briefing.
“Last week the president’s personal lawyer acknowledged 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?” ABC’s Jonathan Karl asked deputy press secretary Raj Shah.
Shah attempted to dodge the question, but Karl pressed him.
“I haven’t asked him about it, but that matter has been asked and answered in the past,” Shah said, alluding to a talking point the White House frequently deploys about how the final verdict regarding Trump’s sexual conduct was rendered by the voters who elected him.
“No, not since 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 approved?” Karl replied.
But Shah wouldn’t even commit to asking Trump about it.
“I haven’t him asked that. I haven’t asked him about that,” Shah reiterated.
“But will you ask him about it, Raj?”
“I’ll get back to you.”
Karl was referring to Trump’s longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen, admitting last week that he paid $130,000 to Daniels weeks before the 2016 election. Daniels previously said she had an affair with Trump, and the October 2016 payment came as she was in talks with media outlets who wanted to tell her story.
In a statement Cohen provided to the New York Times, he didn’t detail the reason for the payment. But during a recent interview with Jimmy Kimmel, Daniels effectively confirmed the existence of a non-disclosure agreement regarding her relationship with Trump.
Days after Cohen admitted to the payment, the New Yorker published an in-depth report about an affair between Donald Trump and Playboy model Karen McDougal. The affair reportedly began in June 2006 — the year after President Trump married Melania Trump, and right around the same time Daniels said her affair with Trump started. According to the New Yorker, four days before the 2016 election, a Trump ally paid $150,000 for exclusive rights to McDougal’s account of her affair with Trump — effectively killing the story.
In a statement provided to The New Yorker, an unnamed White House spokesperson characterized the McDougal story as “just more fake news.” But notably, the statement doesn’t flat-out deny the affair. Instead, the spokesperson merely claims that Trump says it didn’t happen.
Neither Daniels or McDougal have accused Trump of doing anything to them without their consent, but 14 other women have accused Trump of sexual assault. Earlier this week, Trump reacted to a Washington Post feature story about Rachel Crooks — one of the his accusers — by falsifying her account of being assaulted, and then claiming it proved his innocence.
The White House’s official position is that all of Trump’s accusers are lying.
While Shah’s refusal to say anything about Trump and Stormy Daniels isn’t surprising, a New York Magazine piece published earlier this month revealed that Shah was privately happy to see Trump become a subject of widespread criticism after a recording of him bragging about sexual assault was published in October 2016, right around the same time Cohen was making the payment to Daniels.
“I’m kinda enjoying this, some justice,” Shah emailed a colleague just hours after the recording hit the internet. “I honestly don’t think it’s the worst thing he’s done but he somehow got passes for the other acts.”