In the thunder of news last week on guilty pleas, immunity deals and criminal convictions, you may have heard something astonishing: President Trump’s ex-lawyer said in open court that Mr. Trump had ordered him to pay a large sum of money to a porn movie star not to tell the world that they had had sex.
Other than that, you might be a bit hazy on the details.
After all, the porn star in question, Stephanie Clifford, whose pseudonym is Stormy Daniels, isn’t the only adult-only figure to have made a cameo during President Trump’s tenure. (There was also a former Playboy model and a former procurator, Madame Manhattan.)
Moreover, Mr. Trump’s own statements about the arrangement with Mrs. Clifford – a payment of $ 130,000 made to him by the President’s former lawyer, Michael D. Cohen – have, shall we say, evolved over time.
Tuesday, Mr. Cohen’s guilty plea in federal court in Manhattan has brought to light new revelations about the gain – and the efforts to cover it up.
Here’s everything we now know – and don’t know – about Mr Trump’s deal with Ms Clifford.
It all started with a golf tournament and “Shark Week”.
Ms Clifford, now 39, first met Mr Trump in July 2006 – four months after the birth of her son Barron – at the American Century Championship, a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe , in Nevada.
At that time, she was a porn star with over 60 credits under her belt in films like “Slave to Love” and “The Witches of Breastwick”. She had attended the event to promote her adult film company, Wicked Pictures.
According to an interview Mrs Clifford gave to In Touch magazine, she and Mr. Trump shared a golf cart ride, after which he invited her to dinner. Dressed for a night out on the town, she said she showed up to Mr. Trump’s hotel room where she said the married mogul greeted her from the sofa while watching “Shark Week” in television in pajamas.
They had dinner in her room and ended up having sex, she said. (“Generic manual,” as she put it.)
Ms Clifford claims the two have met again, most notably in Mr Trump’s private bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles.
Mr. Trump has denied the case.
Do you remember that “Access Hollywood” video?
Ms Clifford gave the In Touch interview in 2011, but given its sensitive subject matter, the magazine decided not to publish it at the time.
Cut to five years later, when Mr. Trump, now a presidential candidate, was besieged by questions about his relationships with women.
Many had come forward that year accuse him of everything from unwelcome advances to trial and error and harassment.
The fury peaked on October 7, 2016, when the Washington Post published the explosive video “Access Hollywood” in which Mr. Trump was heard claiming that as a “star” he had the right to grab women “by the pussy”.
It was then, according to prosecutors, that Ms Clifford’s agent, Gina Rodriguez, decided it was time for her client to try again to publicize the story of what she said was her liaison with Mr. Trump.
According to court documents, a day after the video was released, Ms Rodriguez contacted someone she said could help: an editor at American Media Inc., a conglomerate whose flagship publication was the National Enquirer.
Her message to the editor was clear: Ms. Clifford, as the government later said, was “willing to make public statements and officially confirm” her assignments with Mr. Trump.
How a supermarket tabloid protected Donald Trump.
Even though the National Enquirer was a supermarket tabloid, known for publishing gossip, it turned out to be the worst possible place to take a story about Mr. Trump’s infidelities.
David J. Pecker, the owner of the publication, was not just a longtime friend of Mr. Trump. Specifically, as the presidential race heated up, Mr Pecker had turned the Enquirer into something like an early warning system for Trump-related scandals, prosecutors said.
Whenever the tabloid heard “negative stories” about Mr. Trump’s dealings with women, the government said Mr. Pecker and his team would try to “buy and avoid their publication” – a tactic known as catch and kill. .
[Here’s an-depth look at Mr. Trump’s relationship with the supermarket tabloids.]
Approaching the Enquirer, Ms Rodriguez and Ms Clifford set off this early warning system.
Instead of rushing to post their scoop on a major party’s presidential candidate, Mr Pecker, after catching the story, sent him to be killed by someone he trusted: l attorney and fixer for Mr. Trump, Mr. Cohen.
A contract, but no signature.
It was not the first time Mr. Cohen had done this.
Months earlier, prosecutors said, Mr Cohen had worked with Mr Pecker to capture and kill the story of former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who had also claimed an affair with Mr Trump.
Although that deal – for $ 150,000 – was never sealed, McDougal was represented in the negotiations by Los Angeles attorney Keith Davidson.
In this case, Mr. Davidson also represented Ms. Clifford. And with the presidential election just a month away, he and Mr Cohen got back to work, quickly making a deal to keep Ms Clifford silent.
Under the terms of the agreement, Mr. Cohen agreed to pay Ms. Clifford $ 130,000 through Essential Consultants LLC, a shell company he created. (He got the money, prosecutors said, through a fraudulently obtained mortgage.)
Ms Clifford, in turn, agreed to sign a nondisclosure contract with Mr Trump. In it, she was identified as Peggy Peterson and he as David Dennison.
There was just one problem: Mr. Trump never signed the papers. This omission could cause him future legal problems because Ms Clifford’s current lawyer, Michael Avenatti, sued him.
Mr Avenatti claims that the non-disclosure contract signed by Ms Clifford is void because Mr Trump never bothered to sign it.
The story comes out anyway.
Two things have happened at this point.
First, Mr. Trump was elected president. Second, shortly after taking office, In Touch finally released Ms Clifford’s case story.
When Mr Cohen learned the interview was about to come out, he was quick to book Ms Clifford on Sean Hannity’s Fox News TV show, according to a separate trial which Mr. Avenatti filed in June against Mr. Cohen and Mr. Davidson.
Mr. Cohen wanted Ms. Clifford “to lie to the American public about her relationship with Mr. Trump,” according to the lawsuit.
But after a series of frantic texts to Mr. Davidson – “Can you call me please?” “Please call me” – Mr. Cohen abruptly changed his mind about putting Ms. Clifford on TV.
The lawsuit cites him as having sent a ciphertext to Mr. Davidson.
“The sages all believe that history is dying,” Mr. Cohen wrote, “and don’t think it is smart for her to do interviews.”
Mr. Trump’s story keeps changing.
During the campaign and after, Mr Trump’s aides have repeatedly denied who he slept with, let alone paid, Mrs. Clifford, attacking the idea with words like “extravagant” and “absolutely, unequivocally” wrong.
But the president’s position on the matter, like that of those close to him, has gradually evolved over time.
In May, for example, Mr. Trump’s attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani told Mr. Hannity on Fox that the president not only knew about the secret cash payment, but also had reimbursed Mr. Cohen for his expenses.
Tuesday, Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty to, among other things, working with Mr. Pecker to pay Ms. Clifford, at Mr. Trump’s request, to influence the election.
Then, on Wednesday, Mr. Trump made his final statements on the scandal. Go on the fox himself, he admitted that, yes, he was aware of the payment – but only after Mr. Cohen did.
Contrary to established law, he went on to say that even though he had reimbursed Mr. Cohen the $ 130,000, none of this constituted a crime.
The payments did not “get out of the campaign,” Mr. Trump said. “They come from me. “