Why the Stormy Daniels Case Matters
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Why the Stormy Daniels Case Matters

Because a President with Dark Secrets Is a National Security Risk

David Cay Johnston

Important national security, political and other issues are embedded in the lawsuit that a porn actress filed against the president this week. Treating it as mere entertainment would be a serious mistake.

Further, the inept and dishonest way the White House and Trump’s personal lawyer have handled the matter underlines the many facts that establish this administration is a kakistocracy, a government of the venal, the corrupt and the incompetent. Instead of the best and the brightest, the Trump administration draws on the worst and the dullest.

The porn star Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, is just one of many people who know dark secrets about Trump. Like Clifford, these people have solid evidence—photographs, text messages, outtakes from Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice and other evidence. The secrets Clifford knows are for sure not the darkest.

The rest cannot speak out because their silence has been obtained through cash, coercion or both. The result is that the public does not have anywhere near a full appreciation of what Trump has done, who he had done it to, how much he has paid in hush money and how vulnerable he is to blackmail and leverage.

Lawyer Michael D. Cohen on CNN

Virtually everyone who has worked for Trump since the late 1980s has been required to sign a nondisclosure agreement, or NDA, as a condition of working for him. Even some low-level campaign volunteers had to sign NDAs, which included lifetime promises to never speak critically of Trump, his family or the Trump Organization.

Clifford has asked a Los Angeles County superior court judge to lift any restrictions on telling about what she says was an affair with Trump that began in 2006 and continued well into 2007, when Trump’s third wife, the former soft-core porn model Melania Knaus, was caring for their infant son.

The lawsuit states Clifford has documentary evidence of the affair, which she plans to make public if the court rules in her favor.

Trump, aided by personal lawyer Michael D. Cohen, “aggressively sought to silence” Clifford, the lawsuit asserts.

Clifford and her lawyer say Trump never signed the agreement, making it null and void. They also say public statements by Cohen negate the deal.

The Trump White House has denied any affair. At the same time, both Trump, Cohen and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders have backhandedly confirmed there was an affair and, significantly, that hush money was paid.

Our interest is not in the illicit sex. Rich and powerful men dallying is hardly news. Rather our interest is in the denials, the cover-up and what those actions tell us and how they jeopardized national security.

People with dark secrets, the kind that make them vulnerable to blackmail, are routinely denied national security clearances. By virtue of his office, Trump has access to every secret—including ones he delivered to Russian emissaries last year, as we learned from the Kremlin.

We know that Clifford is not the only woman who could come forward. Earlier the parent company of one of Trump’s favorite newspapers, the supermarket tabloid The National Enquirer, paid $150,000 to the 1999 Playmate of the Year to never speak of her 2006 fling with Trump.

How many others with dark secrets of all sorts are out there, hidden from the American people because of nondisclosure agreements or hush money? What of the mobsters and the major international drug trafficker with whom Trump has done business and lucrative favors—the ones we know about from court records, a letter he wrote and New Jersey casino regulatory files?

Are there others? And what do they know?

And what is known by the spies and agents of Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin autocrat of whom Trump always speaks with fealty and awe despite Russian interference in U.S. presidential election?

And to show how likely it is that there are dark secrets out there that endanger our national security, keep this in mind: Plenty of journalists knew about Clifford, but only a few knew about the Playmate.

If American reporters knew these secrets, but could not get them out, imagine what a foreign power with sophisticated electronic surveillance and trained agents could know. Keep in mind that Trump’s national security adviser, who was on Putin’s payroll, is now a convicted felon. And he is only one of three men close to Trump who were caught lying to American law enforcement agents and are now convicted felons.

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Cohen made a number of legal errors, including technical issues in creating the special purpose vehicle to make the hush money payoff, a Delaware company called “Essential Consultants, LLC.” Its sole purpose, Clifford’s lawsuit says, was to conceal “the true source” of the hush money “thus further insulating Mr. Trump from later discovery and scrutiny.”

A month ago, Cohen got Clifford to sign a statement denying she ever was intimate with Trump, evidently through threats of litigation for breaching the hush money agreement and a demand that she return the money.

Cohen says he paid $130,000 to Clifford less than two weeks before the presidential election. Cohen said he paid with his own money, not a cent coming from Trump, the Trump Organization or the campaign.

This declaration poses a host of issues:

  1. If the money was a gift on Trump’s behalf or, indirectly, to Trump, the law requires the filing of a federal gift tax return, which may include payment of gift tax.
  2. The money can also be seen as an illegal campaign contribution since federal election law covers “anything of value” that benefits a candidate. The hush money was 48 times the maximum lawful campaign contribution from an individual.
  3. Cohen issued a statement last month about the payment, which appears to violate the two-sided requirement for confidentiality.
  4. Trump evidently never signed the hush money agreement, which may, as Clifford claims, render it null and void.
  5. If Cohen told the truth—that he acted on his own without Trump’s knowledge—he is a candidate for disbarment since rule 1.4 of the New York State bar specifically prohibits lawyers from settling cases without the knowledge and consent of their clients.
  6. Cohen, reporters have since established, complained to friends that Trump was supposed to reimburse him but never did. That’s not surprising given Trump’s long and well-documented history of refusing to pay workers, vendors and even governments.

With such sloppy legal work, an obvious question arises as to what other legal and reputational jeopardy Trump may be in because of Cohen’s ineptness. It surely suggests that Cohen’s practice of screaming at people who pose a threat to Trump may now have been rendered ineffective, making him of little future use to Trump. What secrets does Cohen know, especially given his statement, “I will always protect Mr. Trump.”

Compounding this was what Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, told reporters Wednesday. Almost as an afterthought, Sanders said: “This case has already been won in arbitration.”

No such arbitration could exist unless Trump was a party to the event. Sanders went on to clarify that “the arbitration was won in the president’s favor.” That backhanded, and unintentional, admission by Sanders establishes that the affair was real.

Whatever Clifford’s motives in coming forward, we can only hope that she is freed to speak and that this encourages others who have been legally gagged by Trump to step forward.

We should also worry because the Clifford lawsuit shows that Trump is subject to blackmail and leverage and yet he has unlimited access to every single one of our national security secrets.

We know that Trump has abused this power. Last year he delivered closely guarded secrets from an ally with the Russian foreign minister and the Russian ambassador in their jocular Oval Office meeting attended by only one other person, a photographer for the Kremlin-controlled news agency Tass.

Keep in mind that Clifford’s lawsuit goes to the heart of Trump being subject to blackmail. Think not of illicit sex, but of all the lucrative business Trump is known to have done over decades with Russian mobsters and others with close ties to the Putin regime.

March 9, 2018