Mike Allen Feb 19
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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. 
Lauren Meier 2 hours ago
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Facebook's growing problems

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios 

Facebook is caught in the middle of a rapidly unfolding scandal over Cambridge Analytica's improper gathering of data on millions of users, and what that exposed about the company's data collection. The fiasco has drawn the interest of lawmakers and regulators and rekindled the debate over its role in the 2016 presidential election.

Why it matters: The bad headlines continued to pile up; "A hurricane flattens Facebook" said Wired, "Silicon Valley insiders think that Facebook will never be the same" per Vanity Fair, "Facebook is facing its biggest test ever — and its lack of leadership could sink the company" from CNBC, and — as we've yet to hear from the company's top leaders — "Where is Mark Zuckerberg?" asks Recode.

Dave Lawler 8 hours ago
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What Trump and Putin did and didn't discuss

President Trump spoke with Vladimir Putin this afternoon, and congratulated him on winning re-election on Sunday. After the call, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was asked whether Trump felt the election had been free and fair, and said it wasn’t up to the U.S. to “dictate" how Russia holds elections.

The bottom line: Trump is not alone in congratulating Putin — leaders in France, Germany and elsewhere have done so this week, as Barack Obama did in 2012. But past administrations certainly have seen it as America’s role to call balls and strikes when it comes to elections abroad, and weigh in when democratic institutions are being undermined. A departure from that approach would be welcomed not only by Putin, but other leaders of pseudo democracies around the world.