The story of President Donald Trump’s alleged extramarital relationship with porn star Stormy Daniels has been an open secret in Washington’s media circles for weeks.
Longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen has admitted paying Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, $130,000 to keep quiet about the alleged affair just before the 2016 presidential election.
Celebrity magazine InTouch in February published an in-depth interview detailing Clifford’s story. But with denials and evasive silence, the story had remained on the sidelines of mainstream news until Wednesday when the White House appeared to acknowledge for the first time that Trump was involved in some way with the porn actress.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, during a Wednesday press briefing, tried to dismiss a question asked about the scandal by saying the president had already won a legal battle relating to the case.
“This case has already been won in arbitration,” Sanders said, referring to a temporary restraining order issued last week by a private dispute-resolution firm that bars Clifford from talking publicly about her alleged affair with Trump and from suing the president.
Sanders added she was not aware that the president knew of the payment made to the actress.
Clifford ignored the order, filing a lawsuit Tuesday asserting that the nondisclosure agreement that accompanied the $130,000 payment was void because Trump never signed it. She contends in the lawsuit that she began “an intimate relationship” with Trump in the summer of 2006, and continued the relationship “well into the year 2007.”
According to the lawsuit, Trump’s lawyer filed the arbitration proceeding against Clifford last week to seek a restraining order to “shut her up” and “protect Mr. Trump.”
Trump ‘absolutely knew’
Clifford’s attorney, Michael Avenatti, told ABC News that Trump “absolutely knew” about the payment to his client. “Any suggestion that he didn’t know about it is, quite honestly, absurd,” he said.
Avenatti said the nondisclosure agreement was “sloppy” and referred to it as “amateur hour.”
“He purposely did not sign it so that later he could have deniability as to its existence,” Avenatti told ABC News.
The nondisclosure agreement directed that $130,000 be paid into the trust account of Clifford’s then-attorney. In return, Clifford was not to disclose any confidential information about Trump or his sexual partners to anyone beyond the few individuals she had already talked to, or share any texts or photos from Trump. It also mandates “binding confidential arbitration of all disputes which may arise between them.”
The nondisclosure agreement also stipulates that any dispute be settled by a “solo, neutral arbitrator” at one of two private firms. One of those firms, Action Dispute Resolution Services, issued the restraining order against Clifford.
The agreement refers to Trump throughout as David Dennison, and Clifford as Peggy Peterson. In the side letter agreement, the true identity of “DD” is blacked out, but Avenatti says the individual is Trump. Each document includes a blank where “DD” is supposed to sign, but neither blank is signed.
The absence of the signatures is the basis for Clifford’s lawsuit filed Tuesday. Clifford claims that she is not bound by the nondisclosure agreement to stay quiet or go through arbitration because Trump never signed the agreement, rendering it unenforceable.
If the court agrees with Clifford and invalidates the agreement, Clifford will be free to bring her story involving the American president to the front pages of international news.