Yes, the Stormy Daniels Story Matters

White House

 A consensual affair with the President of the United States seems like a story that sex positive, policy-focused voters should dismiss. It has the appearance of a red herring — not substantive, worth media attention, or citizen concern. But the tactics to silence Stormy Daniels, an adult film star who had an affair with Donald Trump, go beyond moral infractions into possibly illegal ones.

Stephanie Clifford’s alleged affair with President Donald Trump has now weathered several months of the usual quick turnover news cycles. Stephanie is an adult film industry star better known by her stage name, Stormy Daniels. In a recent “60 Minutes” interview with Anderson Cooper, she gave further details about the affair and its aftermath.

Stormy Daniels brief, alleged affair with Donald Trump began in 2007, long before his political aspirations. He teased her with offers to be a contestant on his then hit show, “The Apprentice.” She was skeptical but pursued the relationship fleetingly, despite admitting she was not attracted to him.

This is the version of the scandal we have already known for several weeks and has been reported on various news outlets. It has also been discounted by some Democrats, citing irrelevance when compared to Russia and policy pursuits of Trump. Many Democrats made the very same defense about affairs committed by former President Bill Clinton and even President John F. Kennedy. It was the new details of the aftermath of the alleged affair that raised concerns of ethics and legal counselors alike.

One of the more severe developments, Daniels alleges an unknown man threatened her and her daughter in a parking lot after taking the story to a publication. The publication ultimately decided not to run the story after being threatened with a lawsuit, and Daniels alleges they did not pay her for her time or the content they received.

Stormy Daniels in 2007. Via WikiMedia

Another revelation, as reported by The New York Times, is the payment to Daniels by Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen in late 2016. When Cohen approached Stormy Daniels to give payment, Trump was already the nominee for the Republican party, making the money beneficial to the candidate and therefore legally considered a contribution. The $130,000 payment Cohen has insisted came from his own pocket “as a friend” to Donald Trump far exceeds the $2,700 cap on individual contributions, nor was it ever reported.

Her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, also insists that the Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) Daniels signed is invalid in light of threats and intimidation imposed by Cohen. Donald Trump also never signed the agreement, Cohen did in his place. She has still, nevertheless, been continuously threatened with multi-million dollar lawsuits.

The question of Trump’s involvement in the payment to Daniels and the potential campaign finance violation has legal ramifications almost as weighty as the Russia probe. Similarly, the involvement or even knowledge of the threat in the parking lot Daniels alleges she received back in 2011 could present legal troubles for Trump. Her attorney has already filed a motion requesting to depose Trump about his knowledge of the payment, CNN reports.

Stormy Daniels claimed on air with Anderson Cooper, “This is not a Me Too,” referring to the movement on behalf of sexual harassment and assault victims. She warned conflating her consensual relationship could do damage to victims and the movement. However, in the same interview she goes on to say that she didn’t want to have sex, but she didn’t say “no,” a deviation from the newly accepted affirmative consent standard. Despite how Daniels may view her relationship with Trump, she is no doubt self-aware of media portrayal and the public’s misunderstanding of consent when it concerns those in the sex industry.

Trump is already swamped in potential scandals as the Russia probe heats up and those close to him continue to be indicted. CNN reported just Wednesday about Trump’s apparent trouble in finding a lawyer to defend him, with firms citing the President’s unpopularity and difficulty to work with as reasons to pass on the case.

The case of Stormy Daniels has evolved from a consensual affair — a potentially superficial scandal. The alleged affair and its aftermath have now developed into a legal conflict with implications of shaming and threatening women for political means. While Daniels acknowledged the slight benefit in pay after the story broke, she also reemphasized the harassment and concerns for her safety. Her treatment in the media has been appalling, with a constant emphasis on her career, rather than the accusations she presents. Despite Daniels’ insistence to distance her story from the Me Too movement, these threats are something every feminist should take seriously.

Writer’s note: In pursuit of a feminist focus based on transparency, I wanted to discuss the decision to use Daniels’ professional name rather than her given one throughout the article. As Daniels has chosen this name for her public persona, it seemed fitting regarding the privacy she has referred to seeking for her personal life and protection of her family. That is why the personal name is referred to once for data purposes, and her professional name is used otherwise. The use of her professional name is in no way meant to discredit her story as media outlets have been known to do in regards to sex workers and those in the adult film industry.

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