An Unhappy Valentine’s Day in the White House

Donald Trump’s longtime attorney Michael Cohen has now admitted paying porn star Stephanie Clifford (a.k.a. Stormy Daniels) $130,000 to keep mum about her affair with the president. While he denies that he did this on behalf of the campaign or the Trump Organization (either of which could have legal ramifications), he does not deny that it did it on behalf of Trump. In fact, he explains his decision by saying “I will always protect Mr. Trump.”

Oddly, he claims that he made this payment out of funds from his own pocket, and it’s already known that he set up an LLC in Delaware for the purpose. And, again, while he denies he was compensated or made whole for this payment by the campaign or the Trump organization, he doesn’t mention the possibility that Trump himself may have paid him back.

Of course, he didn’t just hand the money over. There was a non-disclosure agreement which means, presumably, that Clifford could be compelled to return the funds if she admitted to the affair. So far, since news of this arrangement broke in January, she’s been cagey about the whole thing, not quite admitting or too forcefully denying that she had a relationship with Trump.

Cohen has also been hard to pin down, but he’s on the record now as having made the payment. He still insists that no affair took place and that he paid Clifford because “Just because something isn’t true doesn’t mean that it can’t cause you harm or damage.”

We need to apply some common sense to this. No one, no matter how rich, will pay $130,000 to cover up another person’s affair, especially if the accuser is lying. If Cohen took the money out of his own pocket, then he expected to be repaid either in cash or through some other equivalent benefit. Perhaps he thought having his friend and client become president would provide plenty of opportunities to get a return on his investment, but in October, when this agreement was reached with Clifford, no one thought Trump was going to win. In fact, the Republican establishment was running from Trump in the aftermath of the Access Hollywood fiasco and even discussing whether he could remove himself from the contest. Cohen couldn’t have had much confidence that he’d get compensated through the benefits of a Trump presidency. If he wasn’t paid back, it’s only because Trump won and some other arrangement became possible.

Cohen made this admission because Common Cause filed a complaint in January accusing him of making an illegal and undisclosed campaign contribution. He’s protecting himself and the president from that charge by insisting that he did this in his own private capacity and that it had nothing to do with the campaign. Yet, he admits he did it because even a false allegation can cause harm or damage.

Unless he means harm or damage to Trump’s marriage, it’s hard to avoid the fact that he did it to preserve Trump’s electoral prospects in the election, which was then only a few weeks in the future. Since that would be a political purpose, it could be considered a political contribution.

The bottom line is that Cohen’s current explanation is the only one he could give that would acknowledge what he did without it necessarily causing legal problems. And that makes it highly convenient if it also happens to be true.

What’s not convenient is that Cohen’s admission has released Clifford from the non-disclosure agreement, at least according to her manager:

Stormy Daniels is no longer bound by a non-disclosure contract after Mr Trump’s lawyer admitted he paid her, manager Gina Rodriguez says.

Ms Rodriguez says that acknowledgement allows her client to speak freely.

Cohen achieved his short-term purpose, which was preventing this information from coming out while people were already casting early votes in the election. But he gave $130,000 “out of his pocket” to get a non-disclosure agreement that is no longer in effect due to his own actions. That’s a screw up.

It’s probably not a happy Valentine’s Day in the White House.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.