During the White House news briefing on Wednesday, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders acknowledged that some sort of arbitration proceeding took place between President Trump and adult film star Stormy Daniels — a revelation that seemingly confirms Trump’s involvement in a hush money payment made to her days before the 2016 election.
Asked if Trump approved “of the payment that was made in October 2016 by his longtime lawyer and adviser Michael Cohen,” Sanders said, “This case has already been won in arbitration, and anything beyond that, I would refer you to the president’s outside counsel.”
Later, a reporter followed up on Sanders’ comment and asked, “You said that there’s arbitration that’s already been won — by whom and when?”
“By the president’s personal attorneys, and for details on that I’d refer you to them,” Sanders said. “I can share that the arbitration was won in the president’s favor.”
If Trump in fact won some sort of arbitration procedure against Daniels, that indicates there is some sort of agreement between Trump and Daniels, because if Trump was never involved with her, there’d be nothing to arbitrate.
However, at other points during Tuesday’s briefing, Sanders said the president denies accusations he was ever involved with Daniels at all.
“Look, the president has addressed these directly and made very well clear that none of these allegations are true,” she said. (Trump’s spokespeople previously said it was “absolutely, unequivocally” untrue that Daniels and Trump had a relationship.)
Those statements taken together are incoherent. It can’t both be the case that Trump won some sort of arbitration proceeding against Daniels, but also never had any sort of agreement with her.
On Tuesday night, news broke that Daniels filed a lawsuit against Trump to nullify an nondisclosure agreement surrounding her relationship with the president. The lawsuit mentions a “bogus arbitration proceeding” that took place last month.
“On or about February 27, 2018, Mr. Trump’s attorney Mr. Cohen surreptitiously initiated a bogus arbitration proceeding against Ms. Clifford in Los Angeles. Remarkably, he did so without even providing Ms. Clifford with notice of the proceeding and basic due process,” the lawsuit says.
Sanders may have been referring to that proceeding during Wednesday’s presser.
At other points during the presser, Sanders danced around questions about whether Trump knew about the payment to Daniels at the time it was made — weeks before the 2016 election, when Trump’s treatment of women was a major topic following the Access Hollywood tape and numerous women coming forward to accuse him of assault.
Asked if Trump “knew about the payment at the time,” Sanders replied, “Not that I’m aware of.” Later, she said that “there was no knowledge of any payments from the president.”
Sanders’ denial, however, doesn’t rule out the possibility that Trump knew about a payment from Cohen.
UPDATE: In a statement on Wednesday afternoon, Daniels (Clifford’s) lawyer, Michael Avenatti, responded to the White House’s claim that the president had “won” an arbitration dispute with the adult film actress.
“Yeah, and he won the popular vote, too,” Avenatti said. “President Trump hasn’t won anything relating to Ms. Clifford. First of all, it does not appear as if he was even a party to the arbitration Ms. Sanders is referring to. How can you win something you’re not even a part of? Secondly, claiming that Mr. Trump ‘won’ at arbitration when there has been no hearing, no notice to Ms. Clifford, no opportunity given to her to respond, and no decision on the merits, is completely bogus.”