Trump’s Explanation for the Hush-Money

Trump’s most specific discussion to date about the Stormy Daniels hush money, via tweet:

“Mr. Cohen, an attorney, received a monthly retainer, not from the campaign and having nothing to do with the campaign, from which he entered into, through reimbursement, a private contract between two parties, known as a non-disclosure agreement, or NDA. These agreements are……..very common among celebrities and people of wealth. In this case it is in full force and effect and will be used in Arbitration for damages against Ms. Clifford (Daniels). The agreement was used to stop the false and extortionist accusations made by her about an affair,………despite already having signed a detailed letter admitting that there was no affair. Prior to its violation by Ms. Clifford and her attorney, this was a private agreement. Money from the campaign, or campaign contributions, played no roll in this transaction.” This is widely assumed to be a lawyer’s language, since it is more sophisticated than that in which Trump usually expresses himself.

In other words: My lawyer received monthly payments from me to reimburse him for his payments to Clifford to get her to deny an affair with me and sign an NDA, something very common among celebrities and wealthy people like myself. By speaking out about what happened, Clifford is violating the law and damaging me. Anyway this is a private matter and nobody else’s business. There was no campaign money involved.

But Rudy Giuliani has made it very clear that, contrary to his earlier claims, Trump knew about the NDA signed just before the election. Or came to know about it (since these things are handled by fixers doing their jobs and not necessarily reporting to Trump) only within the last ten days or so. (This would ask us to believe that after the Wall Street Journal reported on the hush-money on January 12, Trump didn’t ask Cohen about it; and that when he told reporters on Air Force One April 5 that he had not paid any money to Daniels he was somehow not lying.)

While Trump still denies an affair, most people have concluded that he did have sex with Stormy, and paid hush money. They just don’t particularly care. Trump always boasted about his playboy ways. But now, finally, he is mentioning Daniels by name, insulting her and attempting to defame her as a liar.

Note that he is not actually saying, the way Bill Clinton did, : “I never had sex with that woman.” He’s saying, “I never used campaign money to shut this woman up after she’d given an interview in 2011 with In Touch magazine that my team was able to quash. Someone in my staff just arranged, a week or so before the election, to buy her silence about what (she says) happened in 2006. This is common practice among wealthy, powerful men who can pay twice the average American’s annual paycheck to cover up a ten-minute coupling and see it as a basic human right allowed celebrities.

Giuliani tells Fox this was to save Trump’s marriage. (That could actually produce sympathy among some of his Evangelical base. Trump,” they may say, “is a family values man. But a sinner, like we all are. Sure, because God made him rich, he has suffered special temptations. He was seduced by a prostitute who now wants to use their affair to hurt him. She is the shameful one due to her profession, her violation of the agreement, and her effort to undermine the pro-prayer president’s marriage to the devout Melania.) I imagine this was a factor, if indeed Trump values his third marriage. But surely the concealment of this matter from this voters was the larger issue for him or those around him.

So we’ve gotten a glimpse of the way people like the president operate. They expect lives of limitless sexual pleasure, the best that money or power can buy. It is not a moral issue for them but a type of entitlement sensibility. Trump no doubt finds it “shameful” that the press is making a big deal of the fact that he paid off a woman to be silent about an affair, as many dignified men of his status traditionally do (legally). But he acknowledges no shame himself.

I do not for my part suggest Trump should feel any shame at the golf-course encounter. It’s not my business. I don’t know the underlying premises of the Trump marriage; maybe it was understood in advance that Donald would play on the side. She maybe assumed that Trump regarded ongoing sexual freedom his right. We don’t know.

The problem is that death threat, and that fact that Trump in his tweet-mania in an utterly unnecessary ejaculation described the police sketch released by Daniels through her lawyer, “A sketch years later about a nonexistent man. A total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools (but they know it)!”

I personally think it highly imaginable that a man of Trump’s character would authorize a thug to threaten physical harm to a woman in a parking lot, warning her to “leave Trump alone” so that her beautiful daughter not lose her mom. That is different from mere infidelity or promiscuity. A different form of sin, if you will, resulting not from a weakness of the flesh so much as a weakness of the moral compass. Trump’s grim frown and furrowed brow, conveying indignation and hostility towards his real or imagined foes (such as Mexican migrant rapists and the Muslims who hate us) coexists with a vapid moral mind. The type that might, when asked, “What should I tell her in the parking lot?” said “Mention her little girl. And that you wouldn’t something happening to her mom.” Not saying it happened. But looking at the president’s moral record, I wouldn’t rule it out.

That said, I find it disturbing that so many cable reporters are reversing the old premise—that one is innocent until proven guilty—by constantly pointing out that while there’s been no evidence of direct “Russian collusion” by the Trump campaign there’s no evidence that there’s not evidence either, recalling Rumsfeld’s famous remark: “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

In that case it meant that the absence of evidence of Iraq’s WMDs didn’t necessarily mean they weren’t there. (Put the burden on the other guy to disprove what you’ve posited as real; question the value of empiricism in general; confuse people, throw them off balance). Here the effort is to, dammit, keep pushing and pushing until we FIND what we know is there: evidence of something we can call “Russian collusion.” If it doesn’t exist, make it up, or at least keep up pressure since there are other scandals too and they may all dovetail into an amazing impeachment.

Now Trump and his lawyers (to the extent that they retain ongoing relations and coordinate) are stressing the lack of evidence for legal wrongdoing in the Stormy affair (now virtually acknowledged in itself), and instead are suing her for violating the NDA.

How dare she, a porn performer and producer (who’s been very successful and didn’t even need the $130,000) embarrass the U.S. president as he makes America great again? How dare she try to track down the man who threatened her and her baby girl? A man who, the president explains, is “a nonexistent man,” the product of a “con-job” by someone alluded to last night by Giuliani as “this Story Daniels woman.”

(Does Giuliani realize that in 2018 you don’t attach “woman” as a suffix to a woman’s name? And the prefix “this” is in this instance disparaging?)

Does the president realize that if you grab pussy with abandon, and try to cover it up afterwards by intimidation and money and an unsigned contract, the chickens can come home to roost and threaten himself? It would be so sad if something happened to Ivanka’s dad, like removal or impeachment or some health issue exacerbated by emotional problems.

But I think Daniels’ Michael Avenatti may be right in predicting that due to this incident Trump will not serve out his term. Maybe. In my views it’s not that big a thing, relatively. It’s not like the Iraq War that didn’t impact opinion so much so as to deny Bush 44 a second term due to appropriate popular revulsion. It’s just a matter between a few people involving sex, the print media, intimidation and litigation—not hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis.

So yeah, this could bring him down—-as no imperialist war has ever brought a president down. Priorities.

Gary Leupp is Emeritus Professor of History at Tufts University, and is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900 and coeditor of The Tokugawa World (Routledge, 2021). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: