Of all the epic problems Donald Trump is facing, I’m sure he never thought the one that would put him in the most legally precarious position was his alleged involvement with a porn star.
In case you’re not familiar, here’s the background to this sordid tale. At the beginning of the year, President Trump found himself at the centre of a scandal concerning allegations of an affair with a woman named Stormy Daniels – whose real name is Stephanie Clifford - and secret payments to keep her quiet.
InTouch magazine then published a previously unseen interview with the now-retired porn actress detailing the alleged sexual relationship with Trump in 2006, shortly after his wife Melania had given birth to their son Barron.
In the salacious interview, Daniels said that Trump was a pretty bland lover, that he creepily compared her to his ‘beautiful’ daughter Ivanka and that he’s absolutely petrified of sharks. “He is obsessed with sharks. Terrified of sharks. He was like, ‘I donate to all these charities and I would never donate to any charity that helps sharks. I hope all the sharks die,’” Daniels told the magazine.
Daniels then gave an interview to CBS’ 60 Minutes alleging that she had been threatened to keep quiet about her story.
Still keeping up with the story? Good… because it’s about to get a whole lot murkier.
Trump had long denied he knew anything about the payments to the porn star, including on camera on Air Force One.
The president’s lawyer Michael Cohen, however, admitted he had paid Daniels $130,000, but said he did it without telling Trump. And, he said, the payment didn’t prove Trump had had sex with Stormy – he was only paying the money to stop Trump being embarrassed by a fake story.
Now, Trump’s new lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who was the mayor of New York City during 9/11, has made the whole situation even messier by going on Fox News and saying that, in fact, Trump reimbursed Cohen for the hush money - potentially implicating Trump in a violation of campaign-finance laws, according to Vanity Fair.
Here’s why all this could be very bad for Trump:
A. There’s now video of the president lying about knowledge of the payments.
B. Trump might have broken the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 by failing to disclose the payments, which were undoubtedly made to stop information coming out that would damage the Trump campaign.
“If Trump knew that Cohen was advancing him a $130,000 loan for campaign purposes, that would have to be reported by the campaign, as would the payments Giuliani said Trump made in installments to Cohen. These would be campaign expenditures that the committee has to keep track of,” Richard Hasen, a professor of election law at the University of California-Irvine, wrote for Slate.
C. And, according to the New York Times, Trump might have violated the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, which requires that federal officials report any liabilities of more than $10,000 during the preceding year. Trump’s last disclosure report, which he signed and filed in June, mentions no debt to Cohen at all.
What’s going to happen next?
If either Cohen or Trump is found guilty of breaking finance rules, they could face a fine of double the amount of the payment – so $260,000.
And if they’re found criminally guilty, they could face up to five years in prison, although legal experts disagree on whether a sitting President can be charged with a crime and sent to jail.
Just as serious, perhaps, is the prospect of impeachment from Congress – something Bill Clinton faced over the Monica Lewinsky scandal in 1998. The likelihood of this will rise dramatically if the Democrats retake control of the House of Representatives and the Senate in the upcoming November midterm elections, something all the polls are pointing towards.
Things, as ever, aren’t looking good for the president. But, more than likely, he’ll somehow find a way to dodge all responsibility and get himself off the hook - again.