Feb 19, 2018

Donald Trump's slow-moving sex scandal

Adult film actress/director Stormy Daniels hosts a Super Bowl party in Vegas this month. Photo: Ethan Miller / Getty Images

Lost in Russia, and internal intrigue, and FBI trashing and mean tweets: Donald Trump is confronting a slow-moving sex scandal that would easily sink most politicians and presidents.

It includes porn stars, hush money, caught-on-tape crudeness and tawdry tabloids. And Bill Clinton would blush at how easily Trump seems to duck consequences for it all:

  • Today's N.Y. Times front page, above the fold, "Tools of Trump’s Fixer: Tough Talk, Hush Money and the Tabloids," profiling longtime Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen: "Cohen’s role has come under scrutiny amid recent revelations that he facilitated a payment to silence a porn star, but his aggressive behind-the-scenes efforts stretch back years."
  • "In the summer of 2016, American Media [publisher of National Enquirer, Star, Us Weekly] came to Mr. Cohen with a story involving [Karen] McDougal, [a] former Playboy Playmate. She claimed to have had a consensual affair with Mr. Trump in the mid-2000s, early in his marriage to Melania Trump. Mr. Trump denies an affair."
  • Cohen said he used his own money for a $130,000 payment in October 2016 to "an adult film star, Stephanie Clifford, who used the stage name Stormy Daniels, and who once said she had had an affair with Mr. Trump."
  • "She was alleging that she had had a consensual sexual relationship with Mr. Trump after they met at a [Lake Tahoe] celebrity golf tournament about 10 years earlier (Mr. Trump denies her claims)."

The big change ... The two women say they will no longer honor agreements that had silenced them:

  • AP reported last week: "Stormy Daniels ... believes she is now free to discuss an alleged sexual encounter with [Trump [because she] believes that Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, invalidated a non-disclosure agreement after two news stories were published."
  • Gina Rodriguez, her manager: “Everything is off now, and Stormy is going to tell her story."
  • In The New Yorker last week, Ronan Farrow interviewed Karen McDougal, the former Playmate: "McDougal fears that [American Media] will retaliate for her public comments by seeking financial damages in a private arbitration process mandated by a clause of her contract. But she said that changes in her life and the emergence of the #MeToo moment had prompted her to speak."
  • McDougal: "Every girl who speaks ... is paving the way for another.”

Be smart: These years-old incidents are getting new attention in the #MeToo context. It could make things tough for Trump in the suburbs in 2020. Remember: More women vote than men, and more women are running and organizing than ever before. Trump, and his treatment of women, is a massive motivator. 

  • But so far, his popularity with his base has survived every possible incursion. 
  • Amid all of this, Trump support is strongest among ... evangelicals — the same group that demanded President Clinton’s scalp for his sex sins. 

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 4 p.m. ET: 5,463,392 — Total deaths: 344,503 — Total recoveries — 2,195,325Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 4 p.m. ET: 1,653,904 — Total deaths: 97,948 — Total recoveries: 366,736 — Total tested: 14,163,915Map.
  3. World: Italy reports lowest number of new cases since February — Ireland reports no new coronavirus deaths on Monday for the first time since March 21 — WHO suspends trial of hydroxychloroquine over safety concerns.
  4. 2020: Trump threatens to move Republican convention from North Carolina — Joe Biden makes first public appearance in two months.
  5. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks over Memorial Day.
  6. Economy: New York stock exchange to reopen its floor on Tuesday — White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Charities refocus their efforts to fill gaps left by government.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Italy reports lowest number of new coronavirus cases since February

Italy’s aerobatic team Frecce Tricolori fly over Milan in Duomo Square on May 25. Photo: Francesco Prandoni/Getty Images

The Italian government reported 300 new cases of coronavirus on Monday, the lowest daily increase since Feb. 29.

Why it matters: Italy, the first country in Europe to implement a nationwide lockdown after emerging as a hotspot in March, appears to have finally weathered its coronavirus outbreak. Italy has reported nearly 33,000 total deaths, the third-highest total behind the U.S. and U.K.

Joe Biden makes first public appearance in over two months

Photo: Oliver Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe Biden made his first in-person appearance in over two months on Monday to honor Memorial Day by laying a wreath at a Delaware veterans park, AP reports.

Why it matters: Biden, the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee, has taken the unprecedented step of campaigning from his home during the coronavirus pandemic, ever since canceling a rally in Cleveland on March 10.