May 19. 2024. 1:38

The Daily

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The US president, the porn star and the payment scandal that could lead to Trump being charged

The photograph was like tens of thousands of others that the then businessman and television star Donald Trump had been asked to stand in for at events with members of the public.

Trump was wearing a yellow polo shirt and a red hat. The blonde woman standing next to him had sunglasses perched on her head.

But the meeting at which the picture was taken nearly 20 years ago was the starting point for an extraordinary tale that would involve the White House, the adult film business, supermarket tabloids, political fixers, secret pay-offs and ultimately a criminal investigation that could see Trump become the first former president of the United States to be arrested and charged.

The woman in the photograph was Stephanie Clifford, a then 27-year-old adult film actor from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who goes by the name Stormy Daniels.

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Daniels claims she first met Trump at a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe, Nevada in July 2006. She says Trump invited her to dinner and she met him at his hotel suite where he suggested she could secure a role for her on his Celebrity Apprentice TV programme

In an interview with US broadcaster CBS in 2018, Daniels maintained Trump said: “Got an idea, honeybunch. Would you ever consider going on and – and being a contestant?”

She said she had laughed at the idea. “NBC [the US broadcaster of Trump’s programme] is never gonna let, you know, an adult film star be on.”

She said Trump had replied: “No, no, That’s why I want you. You’re gonna shock a lotta people. You’re smart and they won’t know what to expect.”

Daniels claimed she had sex with Trump that night. The former president has denied repeatedly that there was any affair.

Daniels said she and Trump stayed in touch, and that.he invited her to a Trump Vodka launch party in California, as well as to his office in Trump Tower in New York.

“He called several times when I was in front of many people and I would be like: ‘Oh my God, he’s calling.’ They were like: ‘Shut up, the Donald?’”

“And I’d put him on speakerphone, and he wanted to know what I was up to and [would say]: ‘When can we get together again? I just wanted to give you a quick update, we had a meeting, it went great. There’s – it’s gonna be spectacular, they’re totally into the idea, [about the Celebrity Apprentice appearance]’ and I was like ‘mhmm’, that part I never believed.”

She says she met Trump again in July 2007 at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles, where together they watched a TV programme about sharks. She said Trump wanted to have sex with her. She asked him about the Celebrity Apprentice appearance and he told her: “I’m almost there. I’ll have an answer for you next week.”

“And I was like, Okay, cool. Well – I guess call me next week. And I just took my purse and left.”

Daniels says Trump called her the following month to say he had not been able to get her a spot on Celebrity Apprentice. She says they never met again.

In 2011, Daniels tried to sell her story to a tabloid but it was never published, allegedly after Trump’s staff warned of legal action.

Daniels also says she was threatened by a man in a car park in Las Vegas who told her to “leave Trump alone”.

When Trump ran for the White House in 2015 his then lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen met David Pecker, the then head of the company that owned the National Enquirer, a tabloid that specialised in celebrity gossip. Pecker and Trump, who were friends, agreed a deal to “bury” potentially damaging stories.

In the summer of 2016 a former Playboy model, Karen McDougal, approached the National Enquirer with claims she had had an affair with Trump in 2007. Trump denied these claims. Pecker’s company bought her story for $150,000 but never published anything – a practice known as “catch and kill”.

Pecker later told prosecutors that Cohen never provided this money.

In October 2016 Trump’s campaign was rocked by the Access Hollywood video in which Trump boasted about sexually assaulting women. Around the same time Cohen heard that Daniels was again considering going public with her claims of an affair with Trump.

Another sex scandal could have been fatal to the Trump campaign, and just before the election Daniels signed a non-disclosure deal for $130,000.

The National Enquirer was involved in connecting Cohen with Daniels’ lawyers but this time it did not pay any money. Instead the funds came through Essential Consultants, a Delaware-based company Cohen had established.

Cohen told the US Congress at a subsequent hearing that before signing the deal he consulted Trump. He said Trump was anxious that any payment should not be traced back to him.

Cohen said he eventually used funding from a home equity line of credit to make the payment himself, and the Trump Organization agreed to reimburse him over a year, so that it would look “like a retainer”.

Cohen claimed the former president knew about the payment and the reimbursement methods. “Everything had to go through Mr Trump”, he said.

Cohen told the congressional hearing that in February 2017, a month after he became president, Trump showed him around the White House and then said something to the effect: “Don’t worry Michael, your January and February reimbursement cheques are coming.”

[ If I get shot, I’ll probably win in 2024: Donald Trump on his Stormy Daniels court appearance ]

Cohen was subsequently prosecuted and jailed in December 2018 after pleading guilty to campaign finance charges and lying to Congress. Trump, as a sitting president, was not indicted.

Cohen has given evidence against Trump to a grand jury in New York as part of a new investigation being undertaken by the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, into the Daniels payments and how it was accounted for by the Trump’s Organization.

Allies of Trump have contended that Cohen is telling lies and is seeking to get revenge against the former president.

[ ‘Where the F**K IS MY LUGGAGE!?’: Stormy Daniels lets fly at Aer Lingus ]