Opinion: It was a dark and Stormy Daniels night
published : 27 Mar 2018 at 11:41
So often in Washington, the cover-up is worse than the original crime.
And so it is in the tawdry tale of Donald Trump's alleged extramarital trysts with a porn actress and a former Playboy bunny a decade before he became president.
Any "crime" here is primarily against Trump's marriage and of concern to his wife, his family and voters who continue to regard the Seventh Commandment as a key test of character.
But the cover-up - money allegedly paid to these women, by Trump's lawyer in one instance and the Trump-friendly owner of the National Enquirer in the other - is another matter. It represents an effort to conceal information from the public, to buy and bully one's way out of trouble and into office.
The spectre of six-figure payouts, widely described as hush money, gives Trump's critics an opening to talk about the matter, which might have been more delicate and difficult had this been merely a matter of consensual sex.
Particularly troubling for Trump are the legal implications of the money paid to Stephanie Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels, shortly before the 2016 election. If Trump attorney Michael Cohen paid Clifford $130,000 out of his own pocket with no expectation of being paid back (something no lawyer we know would ever do), that could be construed as an illegal campaign contribution, one considerably above the individual limit of $2,700. For Trump, the payment would raise the issue of whether he filed a false campaign statement by failing to disclose these contributions.
This might seem like small potatoes compared with some of the other things Trump has been accused of. But it was anything but minor for former senator John Edwards, who was prosecuted for similar third-party payments to a paramour in 2007 as he was beginning a quest for the Democratic presidential nomination. The case went to trial in 2012 and, while the jury did not reach a unanimous decision to convict, it came awfully close. The episode ended Edwards' political career.
With today's electorates more willing to overlook sexual indiscretions, why go to the trouble of paying hush money? It only adds a new layer of sleaze onto existing ones, while making the payer look like a power-abusing guilty party.
On Monday, the White House said the president continues to deny Daniels account, delivered to the nation Sunday on 60 Minutes, and labelled her story "inconsistent." But you have to wonder why she was paid hush money if there was nothing to hush up.
- Trump strongly denies Stormy Daniels affair
- Porn star says she was threatened to keep silent on Trump fling
- Click here for the complete 60 Minutes video and interview transcript