Stormy Daniels–Donald Trump scandal
The Stormy Daniels–Donald Trump scandal is a political scandal involving adult film actress Stormy Daniels, Donald Trump, and Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen. The scandal first broke in January 2018, when The Wall Street Journal revealed that shortly before the 2016 United States presidential election, Daniels had been paid $130,000 for signing a nondisclosure agreement about an affair she had with Trump in 2006. Later, Daniels signed a statement witnessed by her lawyer and her publicist denying that she had ever had an affair with Trump.
In August 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty to eight criminal charges, including a campaign finance violation for the Daniels payment. He stated under oath that he had paid her "in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office." Trump and his attorney Rudy Giuliani stated that Trump had personally reimbursed Cohen in 2017, and that no campaign money was involved. Cohen was sentenced to three years in federal prison for various charges.
Daniels filed three lawsuits against Trump and Cohen, arguing that the nondisclosure agreement was invalid, that she had been defamed, and that Cohen had colluded with her previous attorney Keith Davidson against her interests when negotiating the payment. The first of these was dismissed; the second was dismissed and as of May 2019[update] is the subject of an appeal; and the third was settled in May 2019. The dispute gained significant media coverage and drew legal attention to Cohen's involvement in the matter.
Allegation and non-disclosure agreementEdit
The first reports of an alleged 2006 affair between Trump and Daniels (for which Daniels took a polygraph test) were published in October 2011 by the blog The Dirty and the magazine Life & Style. Around the same time, Daniels talked about the alleged affair with the gossip magazine In Touch Weekly, which chose not to publish the interview after Cohen threatened to sue the magazine. On January 12, 2018, The Wall Street Journal reported that Cohen paid Daniels $130,000 in October 2016, a month before the presidential election, to stop her discussing the alleged affair.
On behalf of his client Donald Trump, on January 14 Cohen denied the existence of the affair, but on February 13 he acknowledged that he paid Daniels $130,000.
On March 6, 2018, Daniels filed a lawsuit against Trump, claiming that the nondisclosure agreement she had signed about the alleged affair was invalid because Trump had never personally signed it, despite acknowledging that she accepted the payment made in consideration for her silence in the matter. The suit also alleged that Trump's attorney was trying to intimidate Daniels and "scare her into not talking". On the next day, Cohen initiated an ex parte arbitration process that resulted in an order barring Daniels from disclosing "confidential information" related to the nondisclosure agreement. The order itself, which Daniels's lawyers called "bogus," was supposed to remain confidential.
In an interview with 60 Minutes that was aired March 25, 2018, Daniels said that she and Trump had sex once. She also said that in 2011 she was threatened in front of her infant daughter after a fitness class in Las Vegas. The threat pressured her to later sign a nondisclosure agreement.
Status of Cohen's paymentEdit
Daniels' lawyer said that the $130,000 payment to her was a cover-up, while others also raised questions about whether the payment was in violation of federal campaign finance laws, which may be the case if campaign funds were used. The payment was reported on January 12, 2018, by the Wall Street Journal that revealed that Daniels was paid $130,000 pursuant to the nondisclosure agreement via a Delaware limited liability company called Essential Consultants created by Cohen for the purpose. On January 22, the political watchdog group Common Cause filed a complaint calling on the Federal Election Commission and U.S. Department of Justice to investigate if the reported payout violated campaign finance rules, saying the alleged payment amounted to an in-kind donation to Trump's presidential campaign that should have been publicly disclosed in its official reports.
In response, on February 13, Cohen told The New York Times that the $130,000 was paid to Daniels from his own pocket, that it was not a campaign contribution, and that he was not reimbursed for making it by either the Trump Organization or the Trump campaign. The Washington Post later noted that, by stating that he used his own money to "facilitate" the payment, Cohen was not ruling out the possibility that Trump, as an individual, reimbursed Cohen for the payment. On March 13, Cohen said that he had transferred funds from his home equity line of credit to Essential Consultants and from the company to Daniels' attorney.
On April 5, 2018, Trump was on Air Force One when he claimed that he had no knowledge of Cohen’s payment to Daniels. On April 26, however, Trump admitted for the first time that Cohen represented him in "the Stormy Daniels deal". On May 2, Trump's new personal attorney Rudy Giuliani told Sean Hannity of Fox News that Trump reimbursed Cohen for the payment, stating Trump "didn’t know about the specifics of it but he did know about the general arrangement, that Michael [Cohen] would take care of things like this." On the next day Trump tweeted that it was Cohen who entered into the nondisclosure agreement, and wrote Cohen was reimbursed for the $130,000 through monthly $35,000 retainer payments to him and wrote that "Money from the campaign, or campaign contributions, played no roll [sic] in this transaction." On May 4, Trump contradicted Giuliani's statements, saying that Giuliani "wasn't familiar with everything" and that "He started yesterday. He'll get his facts straight." Giuliani later released a statement saying "the payment was made to resolve a personal and false allegation in order to protect the President's family."
On August 21, 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty to eight charges, including a campaign finance violation, for his role in the payment. He implicated Trump, saying that he was acting "in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office." Trump said that he only knew about the payments "later on," adding that the payments "didn't come out of the campaign, they came from me." On August 22, The New York Times reported that Cohen's court documents revealed that two senior Trump Organization executives were also involved in the hush money payments. The report also said that Cohen “coordinated with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls” about the payments.
On December 13, Trump denied directing Cohen to make hush payments.
The Common Cause complaints with the Department of Justice and the Federal Election Commission claim that Trump’s campaign violated campaign laws by not publicly disclosing the $130,000 payment to the Federal Election Commission. There are also concerns about where the funds originated, and whether they are an illegal or undisclosed in-kind contribution to the campaign. However, several members of Trump's legal team have denied the payment was related to the campaign and claimed it was instead aimed at saving Trump's marriage. Questions have also been raised about how the payment was classified for tax purposes, and if there is a possibility of tax-based charges or fees relating to the payment.
Daniels filed a civil suit on March 6, 2018, in an attempt to nullify the nondisclosure agreement between her and Trump. The hearing was set for July but has since been pushed back by U.S. district judge James Otero citing the possible indictment of Cohen in the ongoing criminal probe by federal prosecutors.[needs update]
Cohen could also face discipline from the State Bar of New York under the New York Rules of Professional Conduct, which prohibits lawyers making loans to clients.
A well established principle of contract law is the offer and acceptance of "consideration" or something of value, in exchange for a promise to do something (or not do something in the case of a non-disclosure agreement). Legal experts argue that the $130,000 payment being accepted by one party is valid consideration and enforceable regardless of the unsigned state of the Daniels non-disclosure agreement, but other elements in the Daniels agreement make predicting the outcome difficult. Issues such as the use of pseudonyms and the disclosure exception for law enforcement investigations may favor Daniels's position.
On August 21, 2018, Cohen pled guilty to eight charges, including tax fraud, bank fraud, and campaign finance violations, for his role in the payment, and implicated Trump. In response, Trump said that he only knew about the payments "later on".
The Wall Street Journal reported on November 9, 2018, that federal prosecutors have evidence of Trump’s "central role" in payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal that violated campaign-finance laws.
In a December 7, 2018, sentencing memorandum for Cohen, federal prosecutors implicated Trump in directing Cohen to commit the campaign finance law felonies for which Cohen had pleaded guilty. Shortly after the memorandum court filing, Trump tweeted, “Totally clears the president. Thank you!” Cohen was sentenced to three years in federal prison.
On December 13, 2018, NBC News reported that Trump was present in an August 2015 meeting with Cohen and David Pecker when they discussed how American Media could help counter negative stories about Trump's relationships with women, confirming previous reporting by The Wall Street Journal.
As of May 2019 the Southern District of New York is investigating the possible role of Trump and others regarding concealment of hush money payments. On July 17th, 2019, U.S. district judge William Pauley announced the probe was over and that materials related to the probe would be made available on July 18th, 2019.
- January 12, 2018: The Wall Street Journal reported that Cohen paid Daniels $130,000 in October 2016, a month before the presidential election, to stop her discussing an affair she allegedly had with Trump in 2006. Cohen denied the existence of an affair on behalf of his client, Trump, but later acknowledged having paid Daniels $130,000 out of his own money.
- In its initial report the Wall Street Journal elaborated that the payment was made through a private company, Essential Consultants LLC. The company was founded by Cohen on October 17, 2016, in Delaware, and had received £500,000 from Columbus Nova, an affiliate of Viktor Vekselberg's Renova Group. At the time, Daniels was reportedly in talks to tell her account to Good Morning America and Slate. The Daily Beast was also in talks with Daniels "after three sources—including fellow porn star Alana Evans—told The Daily Beast that Daniels and Trump were involved. Daniels ultimately backed out on November 3, just five days before the 2016 election."
- January 16, 2018: CNN reported that Fox News reporter Diana Falzone had written an article about Daniels and Trump in October 2016 that Fox News never published. It included Daniels's then-manager Gina Rodriguez alleging on-the-record about a sexual relationship between them. CNN also reported that "Falzone had even seen emails about a settlement" between Daniels and Trump. The next day, In Touch Weekly published excerpts of a 2011 interview of Daniels alleging a 2006 extramarital affair with Trump. The magazine described her account as being supported by a polygraph and corroborated with both her friend and her ex-husband. Cohen alleged that claims made in that interview were untrue and had previously been published in October 24, 2011, in Life & Style magazine. However, The Daily Beast described the interviews as "hardly identical", noting that Daniels had declined to comment to Life & Style, while the In Touch Weekly interview had direct quotes from Daniels.
- January 18, 2018: Mother Jones reported that in 2009, as Daniels was considering running to become the senator for Louisiana, she had identified Trump as a potential campaign donor to a political consultant, and also described details of a sexual relationship with Trump. That consultant discussed Daniels's revelations to another consultant in emails which Mother Jones obtained and published.
- January 30, 2018: Cohen produced a letter allegedly signed by Daniels denying the affair and the payment of hush money. However, later that day in an interview with Jimmy Kimmel, Daniels claimed no knowledge of the denial statement with her purported signature.
- February 13, 2018: Cohen publicly acknowledged paying Daniels $130,000 and said the payment was made with his own funds. He also said he was not reimbursed by the Trump Organization or the 2016 Trump presidential campaign. In response, Daniels's attorneys notified Cohen that by disclosing the payment he was in breach of the agreement, meaning that she was no longer bound by the agreement.
- March 5, 2018: the Wall Street Journal cited anonymous sources recounting Cohen as saying he missed two deadlines to pay Daniels because Cohen "couldn't reach Mr. Trump in the hectic final days of the presidential campaign", and that after Trump's election, Cohen had complained that he had not been reimbursed for the payment. Cohen described this report as "fake news".
- March 6, 2018: Daniels filed a lawsuit against Trump in California Superior Court, claiming, among other things, that the nondisclosure agreement never came into effect because Trump never signed it. The suit, which is a complaint for declaratory relief, seeks a judgment declaring that no agreement was formed and for costs of the suit and other relief the Court might deem proper. The Court set a July hearing date.
- March 7, 2018: NBC News reported that Trump's lawyer, Cohen, initiated an ex parte private arbitration case on February 27, 2018, against Daniels, and obtained a restraining order barring Daniels from disclosing "confidential information" related to the nondisclosure agreement and states that Daniels will face penalties if she discusses in public her alleged relationship with Trump. The order itself, which Daniels's lawyers called bogus, was supposed to remain confidential. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that President Trump's personal attorneys had won an arbitration case "in the President’s favor" against Daniels, and that "there was no knowledge of any payments [to Daniels] from the President".
- March 14, 2018: documents surfaced indicating that Jill Martin, assistant general counsel for the Trump Organization, had signed legal papers in connection with the restraining order against Daniels.
- March 16, 2018: Daniels's lawyer, Michael Avenatti, said on CNN and MSNBC that Daniels had been threatened with physical harm if she did not remain silent about the alleged affair with Trump. Avenatti did not state when the threat was made, or who made it.
- March 16, 2018: Cohen, with Trump’s approval, asked for Daniels's suit to be moved from state to federal court, based on the criteria that the parties live in different places and the amount at stake is more than $75,000. Cohen asserted that Daniels could owe up to $20 million in liquidated damages for breaching the agreement. The filing marked the first time that Trump himself, through his personal attorney, has taken part in the Daniels litigation.
- March 25, 2018: Daniels's involvement with Trump was the subject of a segment on the U.S. television news program 60 Minutes. The segment included interviews by Anderson Cooper with Daniels, her attorney Avenatti, and Trevor Potter, the former chairman of the Federal Election Commission. In her interview, Daniels said that she briefly spanked Trump with a copy of a Forbes magazine; that she had sex with Trump in the same encounter; that she later met Trump privately and did not have sex on that occasion; and that, under pressure from her former business manager–lawyer, she signed multiple false statements that the affair did not happen. She also said that, while she was getting her infant daughter out of their vehicle in a Las Vegas parking lot, an unknown man showed up at the vehicle car and said "Leave Trump alone. Forget the story. That's a beautiful little girl. It'd be a shame if something happened to her mom."
- April 5, 2018: On Air Force One, Trump said he did not know about the $130,000 payment Cohen made to Daniels. He also said he was not aware of why Cohen had made the payment or where he got the money.
- April 9, 2018: FBI agents raid Cohen's office and seized emails, tax documents, and business records relating to several matters, including payments to Daniels. The raid was conducted on behalf of the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, and is seen as likely to have resulted from information uncovered from Mueller's investigation. Following the raid, Daniels was reportedly cooperating with federal investigators.
- April 26, 2018: In an interview on Fox & Friends, Trump said Cohen "would represent me and represent me on some things. He represents me like with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal, he represented me." This is Trump's first admission of any relationship to the case.
- April 27, 2018: Judge put Stormy Daniels lawsuit on hold for at least 90 days while the criminal investigation of Cohen moves forward in New York because Cohen would assert his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself while the criminal investigation continues.
- April 30, 2018: Daniels's lawyer Michael Avenatti, tweeted about a lawsuit filed against Trump, in which Daniels is currently suing Trump for his "recent irresponsible and defamatory statements" made against Daniels. These statements can be seen in a tweet mocking the released police sketch of the man Daniels claims told her to drop her allegations of the affair, and have been claimed to be defamatory as they accuse Daniels of falsely accusing a person of threatening her.
- May 2, 2018: Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani said on Fox News that "the president repaid" Cohen the $130,000 that Cohen had paid to Daniels. Giuliani also said that Trump "did know the general arrangement" of Cohen's payment, but not "the specifics". This appeared to contradict Trump's claim of April 5 that he had no knowledge of the payment.
- May 3, 2018: Trump tweeted that Cohen had entered into a nondisclosure agreement with Daniels. In the tweets, Trump wrote Cohen was reimbursed for the $130,000 through monthly $35,000 retainer payments to him and wrote that "Money from the campaign, or campaign contributions, played no roll [sic] in this transaction."
- May 4, 2018: Trump contradicted Giuliani's statements, saying that Giuliani "wasn't familiar with everything" and that "He started yesterday. He'll get his facts straight." Giuliani later released a statement saying "the payment was made to resolve a personal and false allegation in order to protect the President's family".
- May 5, 2018: Daniels appeared on Saturday Night Live, playing herself, in a sketch involving the president, played by Alec Baldwin, and mocking Trump with the line; "I know you don't believe in climate change but a storm's a-coming baby."
- May 9, 2018: CNN reported that Mueller's team has questioned Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg about hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments his company's US affiliate made to Cohen. The US Treasury Department opened an investigation into the leak of Michael Cohen's private bank records to Michael Avenatti, the porn actress' lawyer, who had sent a seven-page dossier to the New York Times and other news outlets.
- May 10, 2018: Newsweek reported that Michael Cohen's lawyers argued that some of the small transactions that Avenatti reported were for a different Michael Cohen but did not deny that the large transaction were for their client. Greenberg Traurig, the former law firm of Giuliani, released a statement against Giuliani's claim that it was common practice for lawyers to make secret payments to individuals. A spokeswoman for the firm stated: "We cannot speak for Mr. Giuliani...speaking for ourselves, we would not condone payments of the nature alleged to have been made or otherwise without the knowledge and discretion of a client."
- May 16, 2018: In his annual disclosure of personal finances required by the Office of Government Ethics, Trump acknowledged that Cohen was paid between $100,000 and $250,000 last year, out of which potentially came the $130,000 payment for Daniels. The form reports on page 45, "Mr. Cohen sought reimbursement of those expenses and Mr. Trump fully reimbursed Cohen in 2017. The category of the value would be $100,001 to $250,000..."
- May 24, 2018: Daniels's lawyer Avenatti filed a motion in federal court to have a judge allow Daniels's lawsuit to move forward, instead of continuing the 90-day hold that been placed last month. Avenatti cited recent statements by Trump and Giuliani, that potentially contradict Cohen's argument for the stay, with the recent disclosure of the Settlement Agreement and the "new facts call into question whether Mr. Cohen's Fifth Amendment rights..." in relation to the case are "as compelling as previously argued..."
- June 6, 2018: Daniels sued both Michael Cohen and her own former lawyer, Keith M. Davidson, accusing Cohen of encouraging Davidson to violate her attorney-client privilege. The lawsuit also alleges Trump was aware of the efforts for Daniels to deny the affair on media interviews.
- June 6, 2018: Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, verbally attacked Daniels, saying: "The business you were in entitles you to no degree of giving your credibility any weight … Explain to me how she could be damaged … If you're going to sell your body for money, you just don't have a reputation … a woman who sells her body for sexual exploitation I don't respect."
- Daniels's May 24 motion was denied. Avenatti said he would file an appeal shortly.
- July 12, 2018: Daniels was arrested in Columbus, Ohio by undercover vice cops in a sting operation. Officers alleged that Daniels "touched" three undercover officers in the club where she was performing, which is against Ohio law. While Daniels was booked into the county jail, two other female adult entertainers who were arrested at the club for the same alleged violations were given summonses to appear in court and did not have their mugshots taken, unlike Daniels. Daniels retained Columbus defense lawyer Chase Mallory, who worked with prosecutors to dismiss the charges less than 12 hours later, citing that the law did not apply to out-of-town performers. It was later reported that the lead detective on the vice squad in charge of the arrest was a supporter of Donald Trump.
- August 21, 2018: Cohen officially surrendered to the FBI. That afternoon, Cohen pleaded guilty to eight charges: five counts of tax evasion, one count of making false statements to a financial institution, one count of willfully causing an unlawful corporate contribution, and one count of making an excessive campaign contribution at the request of a candidate or campaign. The plea deal reportedly does not include any agreement to cooperate with investigators. However, the plea does include jail time and a substantial monetary fine. In his plea, Cohen implicated Trump, but did not identify him by name. No charges had been filed in connection with the Stormy Daniels-Trump scandal prior to Cohen's guilty plea. Following the plea, Daniels stated that she felt "vindicated."
- August 22, 2018: The New York Times reported that Cohen court documents revealed that two senior Trump Organization executives were also involved in the hush money payments, and that Cohen “coordinated with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls” about the payments.
- August 23, 2018: During a Fox & Friends interview Trump stated that the payment funds came from him personally and not from campaign funds. Trump also said that he only knew about the payments "later on". These comments contradict earlier statements from Cohen that were given while under oath. Lanny Davis, Cohen's lawyer suggested that Trump should be prosecuted for the crimes he instructed Cohen to commit.
- September 7, 2018: Cohen offers to rescind and invalidate the non-disclosure agreement with Daniels, in return for Daniels refunding the $130,000 Cohen had paid to her.
- September 8, 2018: Lawyers for Trump have declared that Trump will neither enforce the non-disclosure agreement nor contest Daniels's claim that it is invalid.
- September 10, 2018: Michael Avenatti argues lawsuit over 2016 nondisclosure agreement must be allowed to proceed in federal court because neither President Trump nor his former personal attorney has faced “any true consequences or a meaningful inquiry into the truth” in the case.
- September 12, 2018: Stormy Daniels announces a book titled Full Disclosure about her life which she says will include details of her tryst with Donald Trump.
- October 15, 2018: The federal judge S. James Otero dismissed Daniels's defamation lawsuit against President Trump. The judge also ruled that Trump is entitled to receive attorney's fees from Daniels. Daniels's attorney Michael Avenatti immediately appealed to the Ninth Circuit court.
- The Wall Street Journal reported on November 9, 2018, that federal prosecutors have evidence of Trump’s "central role" in payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal that violated campaign-finance laws.
- December 7, 2018: In a sentencing memorandum for Cohen, federal prosecutors implicated Trump in directing Cohen to commit the campaign finance law felonies for which Cohen had pleaded guilty. Shortly after the memorandum court filing, Trump tweeted, “Totally clears the president. Thank you!”
- December 11, 2018: In relation to the defamation lawsuit that was dismissed in October 2018 by Judge Otero, Daniels was ordered to pay $293,052.33 in attorney's fees, costs and sanctions: less than half the amount demanded by Trump's lawyers.
- December 12, 2018: Cohen was sentenced to 3 years' imprisonment, in part for having paid $130,000 hush money (characterized in the charges as an "excessive campaign contribution") to Daniels during Trump's election campaign.
- July 17, 2019: The federal investigation into the hush payments was announced as closed.
- July 18, 2019: Unsealed documents were released, and show that the FBI had suspected that Trump talked to Cohen and Hope Hicks at the time about "the need" to keep Daniels from going public right before the presidential election.
- August 1, 2019: The New York County district attorney subpoenaed the Trump Organization for records related to the hush payments.
- September 2, 2019: It was reported the House Judiciary Committee is preparing to investigate Trump's alleged involvement in the 2016 hush-money payments to Daniels, and Karen McDougal.
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