What if the president just told the truth about Stormy Daniels?
Daniels—as possibly you’ve heard—is the porn star who claims to have had a sexual encounter with Donald Trump in 2006 and been paid $130,000 in hush money by Trump’s lawyer shortly before the 2016 election.
While Daniels maintained her silence through the campaign and the first year of Trump’s presidency, she has been singing like a canary as of late, divulging enough details about their Lake Tahoe tryst to keep comedy writers busy for months and provoking a rare silence from the perpetually pugilistic commander-in-chief. Curiously, Trump hasn’t tweeted a single word about this story since it first broke on January 12.
Naturally, the president’s press secretary and legal team have disputed Daniels’s account on Trump’s behalf, claiming the alleged affair didn’t occur, while admitting the $130,000 payment—and an accompanying nondisclosure agreement—did. The two parties have been suing each other ever since.
Legal maneuverings aside, deep down, every American knows Stormy Daniels is telling the truth. First, because presidential candidates tend not to pay beautiful women six figures for sex they did not have. Second, because the particulars of Daniels’s chronicle bear striking similarities to those of Karen McDougal, the Playboy model who has asserted a yearlong affair with Trump around the same time as Daniels’s.
Finally—and, by far, most importantly—we believe Trump had sex with a porn star one year into his third marriage because that’s exactly the sort of thing he would do. There is nothing we have gleaned from his character—or his public statements—that is inconsistent with anything Daniels told Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes last Sunday night, and in other interviews. For his entire adult life—from “best sex I’ve ever had” to “grab ’em by the pussy”—Trump has proudly branded himself a boorish horndog of the highest order, and we have no reason to believe he has reformed himself since becoming the most powerful man on Earth.
So why not say so? If you’re Trump, why go through the charade of pretending Daniels is part of some nefarious conspiracy—or is simply a lone wolf liar—when the truth is so much easier—and so much cheaper—to come by? With Robert Mueller on the march and all the usual chaos enveloping the West Wing on a daily basis, is Stormy Daniels really a battle worth fighting—and, presumably, losing?
It was almost exactly 20 years ago when another skirt-chasing president stood in front of a phalanx of TV cameras and categorically denied accusations of a sexual dalliance with a White House intern. Seven months—and several million dollars in legal fees—later, Bill Clinton reappeared in a prime time address to admit that, in fact, he’d been lying the whole time and Monica Lewinsky was telling the truth. Whoops.
What prodded Clinton’s belated confession, you’ll recall, was not a sudden attack of conscience or a pang of moral responsibility as leader of the free world. Rather, it was a grand jury deposition and a stained blue dress—two factors he was too arrogant to anticipate but which eventually proved a near-existential threat to his presidency. He’d been caught with his hand in the cookie jar with no good options for getting it out, and in the meantime, the entire country had to endure a full year of pointless political melodrama—complete with a special prosecutor—culminating in an equally pointless impeachment from which both Clinton and his antagonists emerged thoroughly embarrassed and without anything positive to show for it.
And all rooted in a single presidential lie that didn’t need to be told in the first place.
Is this the future Donald Trump wants for himself? Does he believe he can improvise his way through this crisis as he has with every crisis that has come before? Has he convinced himself that by telling a bald-faced lie with enough frequency, he can bend reality to his will and carry a hefty minority of the public along with him, up to and including re-election in 2020?
Perhaps he has, and perhaps he can. Certainly Trump has proved more adept at conning his way up the success ladder than any political figure of our time.
And yet the world of depositions—where “truthful exaggeration” is called “perjury”—is different from the world of electoral politics, as Bill Clinton so salaciously discovered in 1998. Trump, who has been involved in more than 3,500 lawsuits, presumably understands this distinction and, for all his supposed mental depreciation, possesses the wherewithal to find an escape hatch before this particular legal squabble reaches the point of no return.
Here’s a scenario for you: Trump calls a press conference sometime in the near future and says to the American public, “It’s true that I had sexual relations with Stormy Daniels in 2006, and that my attorney paid her $130,000 to keep quiet. I’d like to apologize to Melania for breaking the bonds of our marriage, and to the public for setting a poor example for our children. I will try to be a better man and a better husband in the future, and will not waste the public’s time with petty litigation with Ms. Daniels, to whom I also apologize and wish all the best in her future endeavors. I hope the American people can forgive me, and that we can now move on to the important business of making America great again.”
Does Donald Trump have it in him to make such a statement and mean it? Isn’t it pretty to think so?