Its utter tawdriness aside, what is so mind blowingly delicious about the Stormy Daniels saga is that unlike the many other scandals swirling around the presidency of a profoundly unqualified and very sick man, this one is sticking, and a porn star may end up doing to Donald Trump what no one else has done -- seizing and keeping control of the narrative, something Trump has long been accustomed to doing.
The next few days will be a crash course in contract law for those of us who have only recently become conversant with white-collar criminal law (as in, there's no such thing as collusion; it's conspiracy) thanks to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's relentless investigation of the Trump campaign's 2016 fandango with the Kremlin.
The facts, more or less, of the Daniels scandal are these:
In 2006, Stephanie Clifford (aka Stormy Daniels) began an affair with Trump, but one of his 20-plus consensual liaisons and unwelcome sexual assaults of which we are aware. In 2016, with the election only a few weeks away, Trump fixer Michael Cohen sought to silence Daniels with a $130,000 payoff through a shell company established just for that purpose.
But Trump never signed the nondisclosure agreement (NDA) drafted by Cohen in which Daniels promised to remain silent and turn over videotapes and such in return for the hush money. She has now sued Cohen (read Trump) for violating the NDA because of Cohen's amateurish effort to enable the president to maintain deniability about the affair.
Cohen then got a temporary restraining order (TRO) from an arbitrator barring Daniels from speaking out, which she did in an interview with Cooper Anderson for 60 Minutes that has not yet aired. Cohen is expected to seek to try to make the TRO permanent and seek an injunction to silence 60 Minutes and make the whole thing go away.
The whole thing is not going away and the scandal bristles with sidelights, among them that Cohen and Trump may have violated campaign finance laws in not reporting the payoff. Cohen also may have violated a slew of ethics rules, including making Daniels think that she was dealing with Trump when she was not.
The bottom line is that some 17 months after Cohen sought to silence Daniels, she is controlling the narrative, and perhaps shortening a shambles of a presidency that long has been on life support.
With the focus of the scandal shifting to legal and press freedom issues, the president and his fixer effectively have become bystanders, and if they are unable to make the TRO permanent, let alone obtain a stay against CBS News, the floodgates will open to the whole magillah landing in open court, raising the Triple X-rated prospect of Trump being deposed if the NDA is declared invalid, which would stir Trump's numerous other sexual encounters and hush money payoffs into the mix just as Bill Clinton's other sexual encounters were addressed in the Paula Jones lawsuit.
We can only hope.
SO MANY DEALS, SO LITTLE TIME. Not to forgive Trump's behavior, but Cohen has made such a hash of things that he has no good options. Under a deal proposed by Daniels' lawyer Michael Avenatti, she is willing to return the $130,000 but with some major strings attached.
After returning the hush money, Daniels will be free to speak openly about a relationship the White House continues to deny, as well as publish any photos, videos or text messages related to the president that she may have in her possession.Oh, and there will be no attempt to block the airing of the 60 Minutes interview, which Cohen may not be able to do anyway because CBS News is not a party to the NDA.
The First Amendment that Trump loves to hate provides the news media with strong protections, including barring preemptive efforts to prevent a story being published or aired, while the Supreme Court has roundly and repeatedly rejected attempts at prior restraint.
Remember the Pentagon Papers?
NOT THAT WE NEED REMINDING, but the Daniels scandal -- coming as it does as the #MeToo movement has gained serious traction and echoes from the Rob Porter wife abuse scandal continue to reverberate -- etches in even sharper relief what an abominable person the man entrusted with the nuclear football is.
In an op-ed column titled "Melania Knew," Charles Blow of The New York Times lays out a timeline of Trump's infidelities.
It goes something like this:
Trump was on a date with another woman the night he and Melania first met at a New York Fashion Week party in February 2003 to which he had been invited by a fixer who had brought Melania to America on a modeling contract, but he still asked for her phone number while his date was in the bathroom.
Melania gladly provided her number because she had been briefed about Trump by the fixer and knew that he was in the process of divorcing Marla Maples, his second wife, with whom he had an affair while still married to his first wife, Ivana, who bore him three children, including daughter, Ivanka.
In April 2004, Trump proposed to Melania, the same month he boasted to Howard Stern that he'd screw Ivanka if she wasn't his daughter. They were wed in January 2005, while in October 2005 Trump boasted about sexually assaulting women while taping an "Access Hollywood" interview.
Melania was four months pregnant by that time with son Barron, who was born on March 20, 2006. In July 2006, Trump's affair with Daniels commenced at a celebrity golf event in Lake Tahoe and continued into early 2007.
Yes, Melania knew damned well what she was getting into. Yes, the scandal can seem like a tawdry and pointless distraction. But at its heart it is about Trump's utter corruptibility and his worldview that women are mere objects to be exploited as a billionaire playboy who happens to be a sleazebag, shyster and now president of the United States.
And we are all diminished for that.