There’s a certain prurient attraction to the Stormy Daniels story but also a sense in which relatively few people care because they’ve already internalized all the lessons the affair can teach them. That Trump cheats on his wives is an established fact. That he would do it while his third wife was still recovering from childbirth is somewhat shocking, I guess, but this is a man who said a few years later while answering a question about whether it’s fair to pay mothers less than men who have the same job that Melania was “not giving me 100 percent. She’s giving me 84 percent, and 16 percent is going towards taking care of children.” In his mind, this justified paying women less and also helps explain why he’d seek sex outside of his marriage.
More interesting is the way Trump went about trying to keep this affair secret. His lawyer, Michael Cohen, is of interest for a lot more reasons than how he’s been handling this potential scandal. For one, he’s mentioned in the Steele dossier as a key contact with the Russians. So, to the extent that the Stormy Daniels story peels back the shroud around his methods, it’s instructive. The fact that he acted like Trump’s Mr. Fix-It in his personal life lends weight to the allegations in the dossier that he “met with Russian officials in the Czech Republic to discuss how to cover up efforts by Trump campaign officials to collude with the Russian government, secretly pay hackers who infiltrated and leaked emails from the campaign of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee, and [to] keep the hacking campaign going.”
Those allegations have not been proven, but they seem less implausible every day.
We do not have any reporting that implicates Michael Cohen in meetings with Russians as outlined in the dossier. However, recent revelations indicate his long-standing relationships with key Russian and Ukrainian interlocutors, and highlight his role in a previously hidden effort to build a Trump tower in Moscow. During the campaign, those efforts included email exchanges with Trump associate Felix Sater explicitly referring to getting Putin’s circle involved and helping Trump get elected.
It seems far-fetched that Christopher Steele would identify the relatively obscure Michael Cohen as the likely man to clean up after Manafort’s flame-out in August 2016 if it weren’t true, especially because that’s the role Cohen clearly plays for Trump in other areas. Steele got the name “Michael Cohen” from actual sources, not out of his imagination.
It is indeed strange that Trump doesn’t pay much of a price for his lack of family values nor for his obvious dishonesty about his behavior with women. After all, he clearly thought the Stormy Daniels story could hurt him or he wouldn’t have authorized a payment of $130,000 to silence her. Cohen wouldn’t have worked last week to get a temporary restraining order on her speaking out if he and Trump didn’t think her revelations could be damaging. But they’re probably wrong about that.
People know Trump is a cheater and a liar and a bully, and these things form the basis for his appeal with a lot of people. There are enough people who want to fly around in private jets and have sex with porn stars to give Trump some political inoculation. If this story has real legs, it’s more for what it reveals about Trump’s ability to brazenly lie and his strategies from dealing with crisis. If we can’t believe him about Stormy Daniels, and we surely cannot, then we have less reason to believe him about Russia.