Tuesday, March 27, 2018

In the case of Stormy Daniels' allegations, the coverup is more important than the alleged sex with Trump

Anderson Cooper’s interview with Stormy Daniels was a blockbuster according to the morning Significant Digits email from 538.

22 million viewers
CBS’s Sunday night news show “60 Minutes” had 22 million viewers Sunday night, its highest ratings in nearly a decade. The draw? Stormy Daniels, the adult film star who alleges to have had an affair with President Donald Trump. More people tuned in to the interview than watched either the Golden Globes or the Grammys this year. [New York Times]

The Times reports:

The segment on Ms. Clifford, who said she had a sexual relationship with Donald J. Trump in 2006 and had been offered money to keep it quiet, took up more than half the episode. The start of the episode was delayed 36 minutes by an overtime NCAA men’s basketball tournament game between Kansas and Duke. The CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, who joined “60 Minutes” as a correspondent in 2006, conducted the interview.

OK, so many Americans watched Clifford spell out in sordid details her (sexual) relationship with President Trump. Many of us gagged, many watched agog, and not surprisingly many watched Fox instead. In the main, we cease to be amazed by the extramarital antics of a man who grabs ’em and brags about ’em. So what’s the big deal? In a word: coverup.

Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) writes about that point of view in Daniels and her lawyer make their case: ‘This is about the cover-up’.

It does not require an especially active imagination to believe Donald Trump and Stormy Daniels had an extra-marital relationship, and that the president’s denials probably aren’t true. But the sexual aspect of the controversy has always struck me as the least interesting aspect of the controversy.

Trump is, after all, a thrice-married admitted adulterer. Claims that he cheated on his current wife, and not just his first two wives, may be very easy to believe, but they’re also easy to overlook as a private matter, better left to the president, his family, and his conscience.

What I find vastly more important are allegations of criminal wrongdoing, efforts to silence women, and the extent to which Trump’s private misdeeds may have left him vulnerable as president.

… when Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid Daniels $130,000 in hush money shortly before the 2016 presidential election, it may have been an in-kind contribution that ran afoul of federal election laws.

The “60 Minutes” segment featured a notable exchange between Anderson Cooper and Trevor Potter, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission appointed by President George H.W. Bush.

POTTER: The payment of the money just creates an enormous legal mess for I think Trump, for Cohen, and anyone else who was involved in this in the campaign.

COOPER: Are you saying that can be seen as a contribution to benefit a campaign?

POTTER: I am. it’s a $130,000 in kind contribution by Cohen to the Trump campaign, which is about $126,500 above what he’s allowed to give. And if he does this on behalf of his client, the candidate, that is a coordinated, illegal, in-kind contribution by Cohen for the purpose of influencing the election, of benefiting the candidate by keeping this secret.

So where does this leave us? First, the portrait that emerges is one of the president’s alleged mistresses claiming she’s faced threats, intimidation, and bullying.

Second, there’s the question of the larger effort to silence the woman at the center of the scandal. Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti, told CBS, “This is about the cover-up. This is about the extent that Mr. Cohen and the president have gone to intimidate this woman, to silence her, to threaten her, and to put her under their thumb. It is thuggish behavior from people in power. And it has no place in American democracy.”

Third, there are the related questions that still need to be answered. How many other women are there who may have had extra-marital relationships with the president? How many of them were paid off? Who, exactly, knows about the women and could they use this knowledge as leverage over Trump now?

And what does the president, who’s said literally nothing of late about Stormy Daniels, intend to do about the controversy as it intensifies? The Washington Post reported over the weekend that the president is beginning to express concern about the political impact of the story – he apparently told an associate the matter is a “hoax,” which appears to be a word Trump uses a little too often – while the Wall Street Journal added that the president has weighed whether to follow advisers’ guidance and remain silent about the allegations.

One thing to remember is that if Trump breaks silence and comes out and denies Daniels’ claims, that raises the question of why his lawyer Michael Cohen paid Daniels $130,000 to keep her silent about something than never occurred. I detect echos of the Nixon downfall. The contortions of the coverup, more than any crime, is what brought his presidency down. So it may now go.

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