Earlier this month, adult film actress Stormy Daniels (whose real name is Stephanie Clifford) a lawsuit against President Donald Trump. In it, she claims what several news outlets have already reported—that Trump Organization lawyer Michael Cohen paid her $130,000 to keep quiet about her alleged affair with Trump in October 2016, one month before the November 2016 election.
Daniels would now like to be released from that agreement and her lawyer has said that the settlement isn't valid, not only because Trump failed to sign it at the time, but also because the fact that Cohen has spoken publicly about it is a breach of their initial agreement. Additionally, watchdog group Common Cause with the legality of the hush money payment itself, arguing that because it served the Trump campaign to buy Daniels' silence, the $130,000 was essentially a campaign donation. That's doubly problematic, given that campaign contributions must be disclosed and $130,000 far exceeds the amount that an individual, in this case Trump attorney Michael Cohen, can donate to a campaign.
Here, reporter Jordi Lippe-McGraw details how her 2011 interview with Daniels broke open this still-growing scandal, and what it means that a tabloid, an adult film performer, and a young journalist could potentially take down a president.
I was sitting in my living room at five months pregnant about to head to the airport for a two-week trip to Antarctica when I saw a news report flash on the TV screen. "The Wall Street Journal is that in 2016 Donald Trump's lawyer paid porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 to stay quiet about an affair they had in 2007," said the reporter.
When I heard that statement, I was stunned. Not because the President of the United States had a fling with an adult film star while married—that's par for the course at this point—but because I interviewed Daniels in 2011 about her sexual escapades with Trump.
Yes, before becoming a full-time freelance travel and wellness writer, I spent six years in the gossip industry as a reporter for In Touch magazine. I started in 2009, and it was my first job fresh out of school with a broadcast journalism degree. It was my dream then to become the new E! What`s New host, so when I saw the reporter role at the magazine, I thought it could be a good stepping stone. Plus, what 22-year-old doesn't want to have access to the best parties in Manhattan, expense fancy dinners, and hang out with celebrities?
My passion and career has changed since then, but years ago, it was my role to find out who Kim Kardashian was dating, why Jon and Kate Gosselin broke up, and who was misbehaving late night at NYC's hottest nightclubs. A good celebrity cheating scandal was just a bonus.
So, two years into my tenure with the magazine, I was informed that there was a woman willing to talk about an affair she had with Donald Trump just months after his son Barron was born. It was Stormy Daniels.
It wasn't uncommon for people to make claims they'd slept with celebrities in hopes of getting money for their stories or 15 minutes of fame. That's why, unless I'd witnessed the cheating myself (which did happen during my career), I always approached these stories with strong skepticism.
Since this all happened more than six years ago, I don't know exactly how I was put in contact with Daniels (her real name is Stephanie Clifford). But I do remember speaking with her on the phone for at least an hour about her affair with Trump four years earlier.
She went into detail about first meeting the then businessman-turned-reality-star at a golf tournament in Lake Tahoe and having "textbook generic" sex with him later that night in his hotel room. From there, she described how over the next year or so they met up a few more times, spoke on the phone every 10 days or so, and other incredible details like how he hates sharks.
Daniels was never hyperbolic in her recounting of the affair, but rather very matter-of-fact and business-like. It was abundantly clear that she saw that by making a connection with someone who had a lot of power in the entertainment industry could lead to a professional opportunity. She wasn't in love. She didn't want to run off with him. In fact, she had a boyfriend throughout the affair—whom she later married. (By the time I interviewed her, they'd divorced.) It was Trump who made outlandish promises, claiming he could get Daniels on TV and would even set her up with a condo in Florida. Neither happened. The whole story came across as genuine and truthful.
But even if what she told me seemed true, I still had to do my due diligence and report out the story. I spoke to other sources who corroborated her account and had Daniels take a lie-detector test, which she passed. (We administered these from time to time, especially when people made claims without photographic or other material evidence.) By the end of the multi-week process, I had no reason not believe her story and handed off all of my reporting to my editors.
Despite the strong evidence, an editorial decision was made not to run the story. This might make you question the validity of her claims, but it's important to remember this was back in 2011. Some context: Donald Trump was a star on the Apprentice, not President of the United States. Jon Gosselin was big news. Stories were killed all the time. I didn't really think much of it and moved on to whatever Justin Bieber or Ashton Kutcher scandal was happening.
Six years later—two after I had left the magazine—Trump announced he was running for office. The interview with Daniels did pop into my head, but I brushed it aside given all of the other scandals (i.e. "pussygate") popping up in the news.
But when I saw the Wall Street Journal report surface in January, I knew I should tell someone at In Touch that this extensive interview I did existed. I reached out to a friend who still worked there, she brought it to the editorial director, and days later the magazine released the entire 2,000-word transcript detailing the affair she was paid to be quiet about.
Up to that point, Trump's team, and even Daniels denied the initial Wall Street Journal story. But it's pretty hard to deny a fully flushed out interview that was supported by a lie-detector test. It blew the lid off the whole thing.
Now, the Trump-Stormy saga is a major plotline in this insane reality TV show in which we're all living. What`s New shows cover it daily, legacy media outlets like the New York Times are printing follow-up stories, and Trump's press secretary is even addressing the topic in briefings.
If someone had told me back in 2011 that I'd be involved in a presidential scandal with a porn star, I would have thought they were insane. Even now, it feels surreal. As a journalist who often got bashed and shamed for working at a "trashy" magazine, it's incredible to watch how an interview I did years ago be the reason Trump can't use his typical bully-and-deny tactics.
And while he still has a Russia investigation and potential obstruction-of-justice allegations to deal with, the fact that it might just be a persistent adult film star refusing to sit by idly who's the one actually to bring down Trump? That's justice.