Updated: Wednesday, March 7, 2018, 12:16 PM
It looks like President Trump’s problems involving porn star Stormy Daniels are escalating.
Daniels, who claims she was paid hush money to keep an affair with Trump secret during the 2016 election campaign, sued the president on Tuesday, claiming that a nondisclosure agreement she signed was not binding because Trump never signed it.
According to CNN host and Philadelphia trial lawyer Michael Smerconish, Trump faces a “real legal dilemma” due to Daniels’ move. The president essentially has three not-so-great options, Smerconish, also an Inquirer columnist, said in a video posted on Facebook:
The first option would involve Trump’s defending himself against Daniels’ action. But if he does that, Smerconish said, it would be an admission “that this did all transpire, and that they made a deal, and she needs to keep her mouth shut.” Trump’s second option would be to do nothing, and allow Daniels to speak out penalty-free about a sexual affair she previously revealed to the gossip magazine InTouch back in 2011. In that interview, Daniels claimed she had sex with Trump following a charity golf tournament at Lake Tahoe in July 2006, a year after Trump married Melania Trump and three months after she gave birth to his younger son, Barron. The third option would involve Trump’s making the argument that despite the fact he had no knowledge of the deal and didn’t put it together, it should remain binding because “there was an offer, acceptance and consideration,” culminating in a $130,000 payout Daniels has admitted she received.
“I think he has a very difficult decision on his hands,” Smerconish said.
Perfect setting for my analysis of Miss Stormy Daniels. The president has a real legal dilemma, here is why.
Posted by Michael Smerconish on Wednesday, March 7, 2018
On Wednesday morning, Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti, sat down with Today co-host Savannah Guthrie and was rather blunt on the subject of an alleged affair between the president and his client.
“Let’s not bother to be delicate,” Guthrie said. “Did she have a sexual relationship with the president?”
“Yes,” Avenatti said.
.@SavannahGuthrie: "Let's not bother be delicate. Did she have a sexual relationship with the president?"
Attorney for Stormy Daniels: "Yes." pic.twitter.com/CuZNehbFkx
— Rob Tornoe (@RobTornoe) March 7, 2018
“She’s looking to disclose the truth about what happened,” Avenatti said later in the interview. “At this point, in light of the amount of misinformation that Mr. Cohen has put out there to the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and others, I think it’s time for her to tell her story and for the public to decide who’s telling the truth.”
Avenatti was referring to Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer, who claimed he paid Daniels $130,000 of his own money without then-candidate Trump’s knowledge as part of a nondisclosure agreement made just weeks before the election. Avenatti called Cohen’s claim “ludicrous.”
Aside from the political ramifications Trump may face if the salacious details of an affair with a porn star become public, the president could face other legal ramifications involving campaign-finance laws.
Despite Cohen’s claims that Trump was unaware of the agreement, the lawsuit alleges that “Mr. Trump, with the assistance of his attorney, Mr. Cohen, aggressively sought to silence Ms. Clifford as part of an effort to avoid her telling the truth, thus helping to ensure he won the presidential election.” Daniels’ legal name is Stephanie Clifford.
If Trump was aware of the agreement, and if it was made primarily to aid his campaign, the failure to report the payment as an in-kind donation could potentially violate campaign finance laws. Common Cause, a nonpartisan watchdog group, has already filed complaints with the Department of Justice and the Federal Election Commission encouraging the agencies to open an investigation into whether the payment to Daniels violates campaign finance laws.
In a joint column published in USA Today Wednesday, Richard Painter and Norman Eisen, the chief White House ethics lawyers under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, respectively, said revelations surrounding the payment to Daniels are “troubling.”
“Such omissions — if any — would have been disqualifying in the White Houses in which we worked, and no clearances would have been forthcoming while any question remained open,” the pair wrote, lamenting the fact that Trump would fail the basic background tests that thousands of people working in the White House must pass.
Cohen has called the complains filed by Common Cause “baseless,” and told the Journal the payment to Daniels was “lawful” and “was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone.”
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Also problematic is the idea that Trump or his associates would be willing to pay large sums of money to keep alleged misbehavior in the president’s past a secret, thereby opening him up to potential blackmail, according to the ethics lawyers.
“If we were presented with such a job applicant when we were working in the White House, we would have been forced to consider that person’s susceptibility to blackmail,” Painter and Eisen said of Trump.
Christopher Steele, the former British spy who authored a now-infamous dossier on then-candidate Trump, was worried Trump would be a “blackmail target” if elected president, according to testimony given to Congress by Glenn Simpson, the head of Fusion GPS, which commissioned the dossier.
“Chris said he was very concerned about whether this represented a national security threat and said he wanted to — he said he thought we were obligated to tell someone in government, in our government, about this information,” Simpson testified.
You can read Daniels’ full lawsuit here: