Opinion

Stormy Daniels bringing down Trump would be the poetic justice America needs

The Trump-Daniels scandal is grimly amusing — but it's no joke

My favorite Wikipedia page is "Donald Trump pseudonyms." This concise but informative introduction to John Barron, a.k.a. John Baron, a.k.a. John Miller, is full of amusing historical tidbits, such as the time when Barron called reporters to inform them that his "employer" would not be purchasing the Cleveland Indians.

I was pleased to note on Wednesday that the page had been updated to include a new character. David Dennison's first, and so far only, appearance seems to have been in the non-disclosure agreement signed by the pornographic actress Stormy Daniels, who received $130,000 from Michael Cohen, Trump's lawyer and éminence grise, just before the presidential election in November 2016.

Daniels (whose own real name is Stephanie Clifford but who went, rather confusingly, by Peggy Peterson in the agreement) has just filed suit against the president, alleging that he did not sign the document, which renders it null and void and gives her liberty to speak about their dalliance.

The Trump-Daniels-Cohen saga is grimly amusing, but it's not a joke. There is a very real possibility that this scandal could have more serious consequences for the president than the never-ending Russia investigation.

A watchdog group called Common Cause recently filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging that the payment, which Cohen once claimed to have made with his own money without consulting then-candidate Trump, was an undisclosed election-related expenditure and thus a violation of federal campaign finance laws. Cohen's reported subsequent complaint about not being reimbursed and now Daniels' lawsuit certainly bolsters that case. Trump's refusal to sign the agreement looks very much like an attempt to avoid being charged with what the Common Cause believes he is guilty of.

That Trump could face prosecution is not beyond the bounds of possibility. In 2011, former senator and presidential primary candidate John Edwards was indicted by a grand jury on six felony charges after it was revealed that the chairman of his campaign, Fred Baron (yes!) had made payments to Edwards' mistress, Rielle Hunter. As it happens Edwards was found not guilty on one charge, while the jury was unable to reach a decision concerning the other five. But even a trial would be a disaster for a sitting president in a way it was not for Edwards, who was by then a (not very) private citizen.

It would seem very fitting if an attempt to bury a sordid affair, rather than a lengthy and expensive special counsel investigation or the antics of congressional Democrats or even a re-election defeat by a fellow television star, proved to be Trump's undoing. Far more so than the remote possibility of Russian collusion, the Daniels mess speaks to the essence of the man and his personality. Trump may not be Vladimir Putin's handpicked agent in the new Cold War, but he is vulgar, perverted, indifferent to the consequences of his worst decisions, addicted to pointless conspiracies, a liar, and, of course, a cheapskate who would try to get away with not paying his craven associate even if there were not important legal reasons preventing him from doing so.

Even now it's not entirely clear why he might have bothered asking Cohen to arrange the non-disclosure agreement, even at the height of the campaign. What exactly is Daniels sitting on? Lewd messages? We already knew about that sort of thing from the Billy Bush tapes. Pornographic images or videos of the former Apprentice host? Maybe. But how many votes at the margin would the release of a blurry photo of a hulking blood-orange mass of naked flesh have cost him? Trump should have let the photos come out. He could have denied that it was him in the pictures. He could even have invented a new character to take credit for them. Very few sensible people would be persuaded that it was actually Larry Platypus or Bill Stumper in whatever state of undress Daniels claims to have captured our 45th president, but it might have been enough to appease the conscience of a Franklin Graham or a Tony Perkins.

Trump being laid low by a scandal involving pornography, adultery, a sleazy Manhattan lawyer, hush money, and the use of at least one ridiculous-sounding alias is the poetic justice America deserves.

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