Saturday, March 10, 2018

Otherwise upstanding Americans have conflicting moral judgments about Clinton-Lewinsky and Trump-Daniels. Scriber asks why.

Among the other items making news this week, Stormy Daniels Lawsuit Opens Door to Further Trouble for Trump.

… the legal maneuvers involving a pornographic film actress who says she had an affair with President Trump and the president’s lawyer who paid her hush money may seem like just another reality-show-ready spectacle at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

But the lawsuit she filed this week, seeking to break a 2016 agreement to keep silent in return for a $130,000 payout, opens what could be a precarious new legal front for a White House already beset by the investigation by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

As any longtime legal hand in the capital remembers well, it was a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by an Arkansas state employee, Paula Jones, against Bill Clinton that led to his impeachment for lying about his affair with Monica S. Lewinsky.

The case of the adult film actress, Stephanie Clifford, who uses the stage-name Stormy Daniels, may not get past even the first considerable obstacles. But if her court case proceeds, Mr. Trump and his longtime personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, may have to testify in depositions, several lawyers said in interviews on Thursday. Ms. Clifford’s suit could possibly also provide evidence of campaign spending violations, which would bolster a pending Federal Election Commission complaint against Mr. Trump’s campaign.

The potential outcomes of the lawsuit and legal wrangling took on new urgency this week after reports that Mr. Cohen had won an emergency temporary restraining order from an arbitrator, barring Ms. Clifford from speaking out now, a measure that Ms. Clifford’s lawyer, Michael J. Avenatti, declared invalid.

Ms. Clifford’s agreement with Mr. Cohen stipulated that they would resolve disputes in the confidential arbitration proceedings. Assuming she does not blink — and her lawyer has said she won’t — it will fall to a judge in Los Angeles, where the suit was filed, to decide whether to compel Ms. Clifford to return to arbitration or allow the case to go forward in court, where Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump could find themselves open to the discovery process, during which both sides share documents and information.

How did it come to this? The NY Times reports on The President and the Porn Star: A Story’s Slow Rise Above the Din.

Comeuppance is a complicated subject in this presidency. Here is a leader who crowds out scandal with more scandal, who tends to insist that the buck stops elsewhere, who boasted of sexual assault on tape and got to the White House anyway. It is not quite that nothing sticks to Mr. Trump; it is that so much sticks that nothing stays visible for very long.

For nearly two months, since The Wall Street Journal first revealed an October 2016 payment to Ms. Clifford (known on screen as Stormy Daniels), the story had subsisted on the margins of national consciousness — a consequence, it seemed, of both the daily Trumpian overload and a wide-scale confusion over what, exactly, the whole affair amounted to. Was it tragedy or farce? Serious or sideshow? Was it all of them, leaving us paralyzed by the choice?

“You almost could float two irreconcilable theories: It’s either too outrageous to be covered, or there’s just too much else that’s important,” said Nancy Gibbs, the former editor in chief of Time magazine, leaning toward the second option. Either way, she noted, the episode had not blossomed into a mega-scandal.

The facts are these: Ms. Clifford was paid $130,000 just before the 2016 election in what she calls a “hush agreement” to conceal a sexual relationship that began in 2006. The White House has denied the affair. Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, has acknowledged making the payment himself. Last week, Mr. Cohen secretly obtained a restraining order to prevent Ms. Clifford, who claimed that the agreement had been breached, from speaking publicly about Mr. Trump.

Despite the unrelated tumult of this week — tariff policy, staff turnover, nuclear intrigue — the ordeal has begun showing signs of an elusive longevity, coaxed by a lawsuit filed by her lawyer and an acknowledgment from Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, that Mr. Trump’s side had pursued an arbitration proceeding against Ms. Clifford. The White House briefing room has been consumed by repeated questions about the payment. “Look, the president has addressed these directly,” Ms. Sanders said. (Mr. Trump has not addressed this.)

Whether the scandal breaks through broadly and whether it concerns the most loyal Trump voters are different questions.

In recent days, the president’s supporters have set off on occasionally contradictory defenses: that the reports are nonsense (Trump’s lawyer has confirmed the pre-election payment); that even if they are true, no one made a fuss over Bill Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky (Mr. Clinton was impeached); that it is not as though Mr. Trump stands accused of forcing himself on Ms. Clifford. (Allegations of groping and harassment trailed Mr. Trump’s campaign and, as Ms. Sanders noted while denying those allegations on Wednesday, “the American people were aware of this and voted for the president.”)

Some have stood up for the president by changing the subject, pivoting to the Republican tax overhaul or the raft of policy victories for evangelical voters. “Evangelicals knew they were not electing an altar boy,” said Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas and a presidential adviser. “Forgiveness is part of the evangelical gospel message. We are all sinners.”

He clarified that Mr. Trump had denied the accusations and did not require forgiveness anyway. Then came another addendum. “Let me be clear,” the pastor said. “Evangelicals still believe no one should be having sex with a porn star. We have not changed our beliefs on that.”

Let’s stop there. So evangelicals are willing to throw their beliefs down the toilet so that they can achieve political aims? And that led me to asking some questions about why the populace at large and right-wing Christians in particular give Trump a “do-over” for his dalliance with Stormy Daniels (and others) after they were so incensed about Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky. I googled “Trump Daniels Clinton Lewinsky” and got an interesting list of articles.

On the one hand Trump’s Personal Scandals Matter More than Bill Clinton’s Did to Americans. On the other, Twenty years after Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton, the public yawns at Stormy Daniels and Trump

But the biggest disconnect comes from evangelicals, Evangelical Christians Support Trump over Alleged Stormy Daniels Affair, Despite Slamming Bill Clinton over Monica Lewinsky, and their leaders, who grant Trump ‘You get a do-over here’: Evangelical leaders’ apparent double-standard on the alleged Trump-Daniels affair.

The Guardian explicitly addressed the question, Donald Trump v Bill Clinton: why don’t the sex scandals seem to stick? Clinton’s extramarital affair led to his impeachment, yet Trump seems immune to similar allegations. A panel of experts gets to the bottom of the double standard.

So why is that? Here’s what The Guardian concludes.

Did not Bill Clinton get impeached not so long ago, over an extramarital affair? And has not Trump’s conduct – which has been tied to a second payment before the election to a former Playboy model – been just as egregious, if not worse?

The model, Karen McDougal, told the New Yorker this week that she regretted signing away rights to her story for $150,000 in August 2016. That story, according to an eight-page handwritten document that emerged Friday, involves a nine-month relationship with Trump that began after his marriage to Melania.

The nagging sense of a double standard when it comes to Trump’s seeming impunity for his personal behavior, and specifically his sexual conduct, is widespread, say scholars of presidential scandals.

But the roots of the double standard are no mystery, according to experts, who identified for the Guardian at least four key factors distinguishing the Trump era from the Clinton era:

  • Political tribalism has increased since the Clinton years, discouraging party defection even in extreme circumstances.
  • Democrats don’t care as much about sex scandals, or decline to pretend to care as much, as Republicans have done – and it turns out Republicans don’t actually care either.
  • There are too many scandals in the Trump era to get caught up on alleged extramarital sex.
  • There’s something unique about Trump that scrambles our collective moral compass.

It does not appear to be the case that society has, in the 20 years since the Clinton impeachment, simply grown blase about sex scandals, said Juliet Williams, a professor of gender studies at UCLA and the co-editor of Public Affairs: Politics in the Age of Sex Scandals.

“It certainly would be wrong to conclude that we’re in a post-moralizing society,” she said, noting that the former senator Al Franken had recently succumbed in a scandal that was less serious than the controversies attached to Trump.

“Today we live in a world where Republicans, no matter how hypocritical, no matter how opportunistic it makes them, will not stand up for what they believe if they don’t find it strategically advantageous,” said Williams.

Scott Basinger, a professor at the University of Houston and an expert on political scandals, pointed out that Clinton faced an oppositional congressional leadership, whereas Trump counts the GOP-majority US Congress as an ally (for now).

… the shamelessness of Trump, surrounded by his muted party, is striking and jars with the times, says Williams.

“There’s a flagrant impunity, just a performance of shameless entitlement on Trump’s part at a moment when there’s so much vulnerability in this country for people along so many different axes” – people including immigrants, victims of sexual harassment and many other groups, she said. “It’s really galling.”

Basinger called the support of erstwhile “values voters” for Trump “truly surprising”.

“It’s hypocrisy among people who told us that personal character matters now telling us essentially we’ve been lying to you the whole time, that personal character was a convenient attack that we utilized, but it doesn’t really matter to us to us when it’s someone on our side,” Basinger said.

So the answer to my question is simple: hypocrisy. The Republicans forgive Trump his subordination to a foreign power (Russia) because of the tax break bill. The Evanglicals forgive Trump his dalliance with a porn star (and, yeah, she does have awards) because they get their social agenda. Hypocrisy.

Lastly, no matter how truly shameful things get, there always is room for some humor. New Yorker satirist reports that Kim Jong Un Reveals He Is Just Using Trump to Meet Stormy Daniels

PYONGYANG (The Borowitz Report)—Kim Jong Un has revealed to close associates that he has offered to meet Donald J. Trump only as a means of achieving his real goal: meeting the former adult-film star Stormy Daniels.

A confidant of the North Korean dictator said that Kim revealed his true intentions behind the Trump invitation at a high-level government meeting on Thursday night. “Kim said that he was a big fan of Stormy’s, and he decided that meeting with Trump would be a ‘necessary evil’ if he wanted a chance to meet her,” the confidant said.

According to the confidant, Kim first attempted to arrange a meeting with Daniels through his close friend, the former N.B.A. player Dennis Rodman, “but, when Dennis said that he didn’t know Stormy, Kim was, like, ‘Oh, well, I guess I’ll have to go through Trump, then.’ ”

Kim reportedly is prepared to use whatever leverage is necessary to force Trump to broker the meeting with the erstwhile porn performer. “If Kim doesn’t get to meet Stormy, the missile tests resume,” the confidant said.

When told about Kim’s real reason for offering to meet with Trump, a White House aide initially expressed shock, but then added, “Now everything makes sense.”

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