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How Stormy Sunk Trump

Why this adult film star proved so potent against the former President

By Kylie Morris

As the saying goes, it’s the cover-up, not the crime. And so it has fallen for US President Donald Trump, found guilty on 34 counts of falsifying records to cover up a sex scandal that threatened his ascent to the White House.

He likes the phrase, America First. Fitting, perhaps, given he is now America’s First Felon President. While three other cases against him continue to make their way through the courts, it was this grubby attempt to suppress the story of Stormy Daniels that has landed him firmly on the wrong side of the law.

Stormy Daniels arrived on the US political scene like a weather system that no-one could have forecast.

In Washington DC, in 2018, two years after Donald Trump’s election, rumours of an alleged affair involving an adult film star and the President finally burst into full view. As a correspondent there at the time, it felt strangely normal that a wise-cracking blonde from Louisiana would be the latest to accuse Mr Trump.


Stormy Daniels in 2018 CREDIT: Getty Images

What made her all the more potent was that she felt of his world. She declared herself a Republican. She was southern and had charm. She was quick behind the microphone, and funny. She felt believable and authentic. When she finally told her story to 60 Minutes in the US that March, she got the kind of ratings that would make the President churn with envy. Still, few would have predicted that she would be the trigger for his conviction.

After all, as bribes go, this one wasn’t substantial. Almost cheap, in fact, given it was from a celebrity on the cusp of becoming President to America’s most celebrated porn star.

The Manhattan court heard that before the 2016 presidential election, Stephanie Clifford (aka Stormy) was paid nearly $200,000 by Donald Trump’s right hand man to keep quiet about having sex with the candidate.

Critically, the prosecution was able to persuade the jury that the President falsified records with the intent to commit another crime, and get elected by ‘unlawful means.” That pushed the crime into a more serious category (a felony rather than a misdemeanour), which meantl a potential jail sentence longer than a year.

Stormy outside court CREDIT: Getty

Clifford testified to the details of their 2006 encounter when she took the witness stand in Manhattan, dressed in black, as if in mourning for the President she was about to bury. Her lawyer says she wore a bulletproof vest en route to the court.

The details she drolly shared over five hours testimony, to the court’s disapproval, were titillating.

They’d met, in July 2006, for dinner in his Lake Tahoe hotel suite. She’d spanked him with a magazine with his face on the front cover. He’d told her not to worry about his wife, who’d just given birth to their son: “We actually don’t even sleep in the same room.” Trump made conversation by asking Clifford whether porn stars had a union. She noticed in his toiletry bag gold grooming instruments and Old Spice. He asked her to call and invite a friend to join them in the room. They never ate dinner. They’d had sex, missionary style. He called her “honeybunch”.

President Donald Trump in court CREDIT: Getty

If Mr Trump’s defence had expected contrite and coy testimony, which politely skirted around any damaging detail, they had the wrong woman. Clifford had already written and spoken extensively about her frisson with Donald Trump (labelling it in her memoir, Full Disclosure, “the least impressive sex I’d ever had.”)

She’d faced threats to her own physical safety after she spoke out. But she’d done a stand up comedy tour, made a documentary and hosted a podcast series. She had no interest in making him look good. And with each salacious detail, Stormy reminded the jury why he would have wanted to silence her.

President Trump has always denied there was any sex. His former communications director, Hope Hicks, testified that he hadn’t wanted the newspapers to go to his wife’s bedroom the day the story of the affair broke (in 2018). Perhaps his lawyers were trying to establish another motive for the hush money – keeping the story away from the First Lady, rather than American voters.

If this is all feeling a bit inconsequential, it’s worth remembering what was going on back in 2016, when Michael Cohen, Trump’s consigliere, arranged the hush money payments for his boss.

It was just two weeks before the election, and candidate Donald Trump was in trouble over the Access Hollywood video, on which he was caught bragging about how he was so famous, he could do anything to women without their consent. As a result, he dips in the polls, and Hillary Clinton surges. In the days that followed, according to Cohen, payments were hastily arranged to two women – Stephanie Clifford, and former Playboy model Karen McDougall. Trump denies affairs with both.

She labelled it “the least impressive sex I’d ever had”

What he perhaps never reckoned on was the betrayal of Michael Cohen, his once loyal lieutenant. But the FBI flipped Cohen, charging him with tax evasion and campaign finance violations over the payments he’d arranged to Clifford and McDougall. He spent three years in prison. Plenty of time to reflect. Shortly after his release, in a television interview, Cohen said, “It’s sad that I should spend three years in prison to take responsibility for his dirty deeds.”

Legal observers say it’s unclear whether President Trump will ever serve prison time. After all, he’s 77 and has no other criminal convictions. Still, the verdict throws up so many questions. For example, can a felon President receive security briefings? As a felon, if Mr Trump goes to prison, he can’t vote, under NY law. But he could still be President.

Four minutes after the guilty vote, the Trump campaign sent out an appeal for donations. (“I am a political prisoner. Help me fight back!” it exhorted.) He told the cameras even Mother Teresa wouldn’t have escaped the ‘witch hunt’ he’d faced. His son, Eric, tweeted from court that May 30 might be remembered as the day Donald J Trump was re-elected. Trump wrote in a statement, “I’m a very innocent man. And it’s okay. I’m fighting for our country.”

As for Stormy? Her husband Barrett Blade has told CNN the verdict is a big weight off her shoulders. “She feels vindicated. At the same time, we’re bracing ourselves for whatever comes next.”


BY Kylie Morris

Kylie is PRIMER's gendered violence reporter. She is a former foreign correspondent for the BBC and Channel Four News, and has also worked for the ABC

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