|CBS NEWS-60 MINUTES VIA THE ASSOCIATED PRESS|
A porn star, Playboy playmate and reality TV show contestant have succeeded in doing what no one else has -- silencing Donald Trump -- to which we can add a fourth woman, the First Lady.
We know that because Trump, who spouts opinions about anything and everything, whether on Twitter or in off-the-cuff comments, has uncharacteristically lost his voice as he suffers through what one White House insider calls "a living hell." No liar! liar! schoolboy taunts or smarmy smackdown nicknames as Stormy Daniels, Karen McDougal and Summer Zervos have gone very public in suing for the right to tell their own stories.
And we know, based on accounts of the latter stages of Trump's presidential campaign after the Access Hollywood pussy-grabbing tape went viral, that accusations of sexual infidelities -- whether they be affairs in the cases of Daniels and McDougal or a sexual assault allegation in the case of Zervos -- prompted Trump to press staffers to refresh his memory. Did they occur in the early stage of his third marriage and birth of son Barron? Because if so, he was concerned about "pissing off Melania."
We can only guess what the First Lady's reaction was to Daniels' 60 Minutes TV interview on Sunday night, but being pissed off may be the least of it.
When the White House press corps has yelled questions at Trump about Daniels, he puts on a stone face. Publicly, the White House strategy has been to stress that it has previously addressed the matter and has nothing to add, and move on to the next question, although Trump has been anything but passive on the legal front.
USA Today found that Trump and his businesses have been in involved in more than 4,000 lawsuits over the last three decades in federal and state courts in skirmishing over everything from his golf courses to his tax bills to Trump University, and to fight Daniels, he has hired Charles Harder, known for representing Hulk Hogan in the sex-tape lawsuit that decimated Gawker, and Brent Blakely, who represented Paris Hilton in a trademark lawsuit against Hallmark.
They have filed a countersuit against Daniels over her nondisclosure agreement with Trump personal macho man lawyer Michael Cohen and her own lawsuit to get out of that agreement, which she amended on Monday to include an allegation that Cohen defamed her by insinuating that she lied about her affair with Trump. Cohen had paid Daniels $130,000 through a Delaware shell company two weeks days before the election, and he and Trump seek $20 million in damages, or $1 million per violation of the agreement. And counting.
If the hush money can be considered a direct campaign contribution, which many experts do, it blew out the $2,700 individual legal limit. The payment has become the subject of complaints to the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission, while Cohen may end up losing his law license because of ethical lapses. (Recall that John Edwards was indicted for a not dissimilar situation.)
Trump has expressed concern to friends about how the Daniels scandal is affecting his poll numbers, while the president "said he thought that much of the Stormy Daniels stuff was a political hoax," according to friend and Newsmax chief executive Christopher Ruddy.
Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti responded sarcastically on Twitter by comparing her claims to other "hoaxes" such as the moon landing.
In these three women, Trump has been confronted if not confounded by opponents who have figured out that the most effective way to deal with him is on his own terms -- they won't be intimidated into silence -- and so far Daniels and Avenatti have outmaneuvered Trump and Cohen on the legal and public relations fronts.
This invites the possibility that even more women will want to tell their stories under oath. And while not exactly a chapter in the evolving #MeToo movement, the scandal is taking on additional resonance because of it.
Let's put the White House insider's "living hell" comment in context.
Trump's anguish, if it is to be believed, is not over his serial adulteries or sexual assaults. His supporters could care less about his zipper problem. It is not guilt over using intimidation as a weapon. Or his elaborate system of paying off people to keep them quiet is collapsing. It is that Stormy, Karen and Summer are public reminders of his self unawareness and profound infatuation with himself, which always has been at the expense of the women he encounters, and in three instances has married.
Take his boundary-obliterating fascination with daughter Ivanka.
There was his infamous pre-presidential declaration on The View that were Ivanka not his child, "perhaps I'd be dating her." Or telling Rolling Stone that "Yeah, she's really something, and what a beauty, that one. If I weren't happily married and, ya know, her father. Hot, voluptuous, a great beauty [with] the best body." Or a line reportedly deleted from a Washington Post story: " 'Can I ask you something?' Trump asked someone I know, about his then-13-year-old kid, 'Is it wrong to be more sexually attracted to your own daughter than your wife?' "
Trump's revolting commentaries about his daughter extended to comparing her to women who say they've slept with him.
"He was like, 'Wow, you– you are special. You remind me of my daughter.'" Daniels says during the 60 Minutes interview. "You know– he was like, 'You’re smart and beautiful, and a woman to be reckoned with, and I like you. I like you.' " McDougal has a similar recollection.
Alas, there has only been one true love in Trumps life. Himself.
For a president who measures the importance of every event by its television ratings, the 60 Minutes interview with Daniels must have been a blow because it drew 22 million viewers, its biggest audience in a decade. While there were few new revelations, the porn star did confirm that she and not Trump was the adult in the bedroom.
Daniels told CNN correspondent and 60 Minutes host Anderson Cooper that she was threatened in 2011 for attempting to tell her story publicly and accepted the $130,000 from Cohen to remain silent because she was scared for her family.
The incident occurred shortly after she first tried to sell her story to InTouch, a tabloid magazine, Daniels said. She was in a Las Vegas parking lot and was taking her infant daughter out of the car to go to a fitness class when someone approached her. (The magazine had initially decided not to run the interview with her after it said Cohen had threatened to sue, but finally published it after The Wall Street Journal reported on his payment in January and the hush agreement began unraveling.)
"I was taking, you know, the seats facing backwards in the back seat, diaper bag, you know, getting all the stuff out. A guy walked up on me and said to me, 'Leave Trump alone. Forget the story,' " Daniels said. "And then he leaned around and looked at my daughter and said, 'That’s a beautiful little girl. It'd be a shame if something happened to her mom.' And then he was gone."
She said she didn't know the man and did not go to the police after the threat, but when, years later, a lawyer came to her with an offer brokered by Cohen in the final days of the presidential campaign, she took it because, "I was concerned for my family and their safety."
Daniels said she remained fearful over the years, and after The Journal reported on the payment, she signed what she now describes as a false statement denying the affair under pressure from her former lawyer and business manager. "They made it sound like I had no choice," she said. "The exact sentence used was, 'They can make your life hell in many different ways.' "
"They being . . . ," Cooper said.
"I'm not exactly sure who they were. I believe it to be Michael Cohen," Daniels replied.
(Cohen has denied threatening Daniels, but has a long history of using strong-arm tactics.)
McDougal sued last week to break free of a confidentiality agreement that was struck in the months before the election, for which she was paid $150,000 by David Pecker, the CEO of American Media Inc., the parent company of The National Enquirer, who is a close friend of Trump and bought her story in order to not to publish it, but to bury it.
Both McDougal and Daniels say their relationships with Trump began in 2006 and ended in 2007.
In the 60 Minutes interview, Daniels described meeting Trump at his Lake Tahoe hotel room for dinner in 2006 during a celebrity golf tournament weekend. When she asked about Melania — to whom he had been married less than two years, and with whom he had a four-month-old son -- he did not want to talk about it, Daniels said.
"He brushed it aside and said, 'Oh yeah, yeah, you know, don't worry about that. We don't even — we have separate rooms and stuff.' "
They spent several hours together, and he told her that he wanted to get her onto The Apprentice, his reality television show, Daniels said. Then she went to the bathroom, and when she returned, Trump was sitting on the bed and he showed her a magazine cover featuring his photograph.
" 'Does this — does this normally work for you?' " she said she asked. "And he looked very taken — taken back, like, he didn't really understand what I was saying. Like, I was — does, just, you know, talking about yourself normally work?
"And I'll never forget the look on his face. He was like . . . "
"What — what was his look?" Cooper asked.
"Just, I don't think anyone's ever spoken to him like that, especially, you know, a young woman who looked like me. And I said, you know, 'Give me that,' and I just remember him going, 'You wouldn’t.'
" 'Hand it over.' And — so he did, and I was like, turn around, drop 'em."
"I was like,'‘Someone should take that magazine and spank you with it,' " Daniels said. "So he turned around and pulled his pants down a little — you know, had underwear on and stuff, and I just gave him a couple of swats."
"I realized exactly what I'd gotten myself into. And I was like, 'Ugh, here we go,' " she said, explaining that she was not attracted to the future president but had gotten herself into a "bad situation." She said she didn’t want to have sex with him but considered the intercourse consensual. It also was unprotected.
Trump called her frequently over the next year, and she saw him a few times, but they never again had sex, she said. He continued to say he wanted to get her a spot on The Apprentice.
In July 2007, about a year after they met, he asked her to meet him at the Beverly Hills Hotel to discuss a development related to the show, she said.
They spent four hours together, with Trump touching her leg and talking about "how great it was the last time," Daniels said. When she asked about the development, he said he would let her know the following week, but then reneged on his promise.
Asked by Cooper why she was taking the legally risky route of sitting for a nationally televised interview, she said matter-of-factly, "I was perfectly fine saying nothing at all, but I'm not OK with being made out to be a liar."
The lawsuit Daniels filed to void the nondisclosure agreement, refers to "certain still images and/or text messages which were authored by or relate to" Trump, but it is unclear whether they exist.
"My attorney has recommended that I don't discuss those things," Daniels said.
In a separate interview, Cooper said to Avenatti, "You could just be bluffing."
"You should ask some of the other people in my career when they've bet on me bluffing," Avenatti replied.
Beyond Cooper going down in history as the first television anchor to interview a woman about what it was like to give a future president of the United States a spanking, the 60 Minutes interview was something of a national event with viewing parties and "Dark and Stormy" cocktail specials at bars.
Trump and his wife were 1,000 miles apart as Daniels told her story.
Shortly before the interview aired on Sunday, Trump flew back to Washington from a weekend trip to Mar-a-Lago, where he had dined with Cohen on Saturday night. Melania refused to play the role of the dutiful wife at his beleaguered side and remained in Florida for what a White House spokeswoman euphemistically called a "spring break."