This is why the Stormy Daniels story is so dangerous

A sex scandal that is actually important.

Actress Stormy Daniels poses for photos at TAO Nightclub on January 12, 2008 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Farina/WireImage)
Actress Stormy Daniels poses for photos at TAO Nightclub on January 12, 2008 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Farina/WireImage)

There are credible allegations that the President of the United States engaged in an affair with an adult film actress, paid her over $100,000 to keep quiet about it weeks before the election, and is now actively engaged in an elaborate cover-up.

On January 12, the Wall Street Journal reported that Trump, through his lawyer Michael Cohen, had paid Stephanie Clifford $130,000 one month before the election to buy her silence about an affair she had with Trump in 2006. Clifford is an adult film actor who performs under the name Stormy Daniels. The affair allegedly took place shortly after Trump’s third wife, Melania, gave birth to his son Barron.

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Cohen then released a letter — purportedly by Daniels and dated two days before the story published — denying she ever had a sexual relationship with Trump.

Daniels has not publicly commented or confirmed the accuracy of the letter.

The letter directly contradicts the contemporaneous account of another adult film actor, Alana Evans, who said she talked to Trump on the phone when he was with Daniels and he invited her to come over and “party.” Evans says Daniels later told her she had sex with Trump.

It also contradicts an interview Daniels gave to In Touch in 2011, according to a new report from the magazine. “[Sex with Trump] was textbook generic. I actually don’t even know why I did it, but I do remember while we were having sex, I was like, ‘Please, don’t try to pay me,” Daniels said, according to In Touch.

This scandal had not garnered the intense media coverage one might expect of a story about a porn actor’s affair with a president: At yesterday’s White House press briefing, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders did not receive a single question about the alleged affair with Daniels or the payment.

But the Stormy Daniels–Trump story matters — beyond allegations of an affair. Here’s why.

The story indicates Trump is willing to lie about his sexual encounters with women.

Trump’s lawyer is distributing a statement denying any sexual relationship between Daniels and Trump. But there is a mountain of evidence that suggests this statement is a lie, including historical interviews by Daniels herself, the existence of the $130,000 payment, and the contemporaneous accounts by friends of Daniels. The president’s willingness to lie about his interactions with women is important: There are more than a dozen women who have accused Trump of sexual assault. Trump has denied those claims, but the Daniels story suggests he’s willing to lie.

The story has parallels to other women’s claims of sexual assault by Trump.

In October 2016, another adult film actor, Jessica Drake, accused Trump of sexual assault. The women’s stories diverge dramatically: Daniels’ sexual contact with Trump was reportedly consensual, but the material circumstances of their stories indicate some parallels. Drake, who says Trump assaulted her, said that she met Trump at a “2006 at a golf tournament in Lake Tahoe.” This is the same golf tournament where Daniels met Trump. (This fact is not in dispute — there are photos of Trump and Daniels at the event.) Drake said that “Trump invited her to his hotel room, but she didn’t feel entirely comfortable going alone, so she brought two other women with her.” According to press accounts, Trump also invited Daniels to his hotel room. Drake says that when she arrived at the hotel room Trump “grabbed each of us tightly, in a hug and kissed each one of us without asking permission.” While Daniels’ account is dramatically different from Drake’s, it does indicate that Trump was pursuing sexual encounters with women at his hotel room at Lake Tahoe in 2006, when and where Drake says Trumped assaulted.

The story suggests Trump is vulnerable to blackmail and extortion.

According to reports, Daniels was able to extract a $130,000 payment to keep quiet about her affair with Trump. How many other women have stories about Trump that he does not want told? This is potentially a very dangerous predicament for a sitting president. In the unverified Steele dossier, there is an allegation that Russian officials have information about Trump’s interactions with sex workers in Moscow that Russian agents are using as leverage. There is not evidence that this is true (although Trump’s bodyguard confirmed he was offered the sexual attention of prostitutes) but Daniels’ story suggests similar circumstances may be possible. Trump, reportedly, has things to hide and is willing to go to substantial lengths to hide them.