By, Crystal Y. ’20
On January 12, 2018, The Wall Street Journal published the first details of what seemed to be yet another addition to the already long list of White House scandals. According to the publication, eleven days before the 2016 presidential election, Michael Cohen, one of Trump’s lawyers, paid adult film star Stormy Daniels $130,000 of “hush money” to silence her story of an alleged affair with Trump beginning in 2006. The legitimacy of Daniels’ agreement will be assessed in court this July.
The two allegedly first met at the American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament hosted in Lake Tahoe. At the time, Trump was married to Melania Trump, and the couple was already caring for their son, Barron. Neither of these factors stopped Trump from getting involved with Daniels.
During a 60 Minutes interview, Daniels recalled thinking, upon realizing the nature of Trump’s advances, “Well, you put yourself in a bad situation, and bad things happen, so you deserve this.” Daniels affirms, however, that the entire encounter was consensual.“I understand that everything was consensual, but I don’t think it’s fair of her to believe that she was obliged to have sex with Trump just because she went into a hotel room alone with him. Sex shouldn’t be expected just for something like that,” an anonymous student shared. Even so, Trump stayed in touch with Daniels, calling her often and inviting her to his office in the Trump Tower. Daniels, who was under the impression that Trump was interested in offering her a spot on The Apprentice, a reality television show, thought of their meetings as “a business deal” and felt that Trump was “dangling [an opportunity to be on The Apprentice] in front of [her] to keep [her] interested [and] to keep [her] coming back.” However, Trump later revealed in 2007 that he was not able to arrange a spot for her on the television show, and Daniels claims that they never met again afterwards.
While Daniels initially tried to publicize her story in 2011, the interview fell through, and she did not attempt such an endeavor again until 2016, when Cohen agreed to pay her $130,000 in return for signing a non-disclosure agreement to stay silent about her encounters with Trump. Daniels states that her reason for signing the agreement was because “[she] was concerned for [her] family and their safety.”
However, the nature of the agreement being made eleven days prior to the election may violate campaign finance laws. Cohen has repeatedly stated that he paid Daniels out of his own pocket as a personal gift to Trump, but many politically prominent figures, such as Trevor Potter, former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, do not believe him and instead view the $130,000 payout as an illegal campaign contribution. Additionally, Daniels claims that the agreement is void because Trump never personally signed the document and accuses Cohen of defamation because he accused her of lying.
Daniels is by no means the first to have highly publicized sexual relations with Trump. The president has been embroiled in sexual assault accusations corresponding to the #MeToo movement since the beginning of his presidency. However, Daniels differentiates herself from that narrative. “This is not a ‘MeToo,’” she clarified in the highly-anticipated 60 Minutes interview with Anderson Cooper, “I was not a victim. I’ve never said I was a victim. I think trying to use me to– to further someone else’s agenda does horrible damage to people who are true victims.”
As one student said, “I felt really moved when I heard her say that, because it can be so easy to try and use events like #MeToo to generate more buzz for yourself, but Stormy Daniels really beautifully avoided that and explained why she avoided it. And by doing so, it tells the people listening ‘Oh that’s the right way to act, I should do that too,’ which is very productive.”
While the final outcome of Daniels’ lawsuit won’t be known until July 12th, 2018, her determination to share her side of the story is definitely admirable.