The Crime that Stole an Election

Of all Trump's crimes, the one that allowed him to cheat his way to the Presidency is the most serious of all.

The Crime that Stole an Election

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In the early 2000s, Stephanie Clifford could have possibly built a career as an Ivanka Trump lookalike.

Instead, she chose to enter the adult film industry.

Working under the name Stormy Daniels, Clifford appeared in such films as Young & Anal (2003), Porking with Pride 2 (2004), and Forever Stormy (2005).

While Clifford was reinventing herself as "Stormy Daniels," Donald Trump, a mobbed-up New York real estate developer and money-laundering casino owner from Queens was, not for the first time, in the process of resurrecting his career and rebuilding his reputation.

In 2004, three years after producer Mark Burnett had failed to recruit Vladimir Putin to appear in a reality TV show called "Destination: Mir," Donald Trump became the star of a new Mark Burnett production on NBC called The Apprentice.

It was a "reality" show in which Donald Trump was fluffed up to play the role of a "successful business tycoon" in a fake boardroom constructed by Mark Burnett to conceal the reality of Trump's actual offices, which were otherwise shabby and unimpressive.

During a 2004 panel at the Museum of Television and Radio, in Los Angeles, Trump revealed his initial reluctance to appear in the show and gave a further explanation as to why the fake sets were needed, saying he told Burnett: "I don’t want to have cameras all over my office... mobsters don’t like, as they’re talking to me, having cameras all over the room. It would play well on television, but it doesn’t play well with them."

In January 2005, one year after The Apprentice's premiere, the twice-divorced Trump, who had spent much of the 1990s partying with Jeffrey Epstein and sexually abusing dozens of girls and women in New York, Florida and beyond, married his third wife, the former Slovenian Look of the Year contestant, Melania Knauss.

But having a new trophy wife/piano ornament did nothing to slow Trump down when it came to preying on unsuspecting females—or indulging in extramarital affairs.

In September 2005, while his new bride Melania was three months pregnant, Trump was recorded bragging on tape to Billy Bush about his penchant for physically attacking women, saying that he could "grab them by the pussy" without consequence, because "when you're a star they let you do it."

In March 2006, Melania gave birth to a son, who was given Barron, one of Trump's old aliases, as a name.

Trump cheated in 2006

Just four months after Barron's birth, in July 2006, Trump cheated on Melania with Stormy Daniels.

As Daniels told Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes in March 2018, when 2006 Trump tried to impress her by displaying his picture on the cover of a magazine, she told him to drop his pants so she could spank him with it.

After that chore had been completed:

He was like, "Wow, you– you are special. You remind me of my daughter." You know– he was like, "You're smart and beautiful, and a woman to be reckoned with, and I like you. I like you."

The 60 Minutes interview aired two months after Daniels' had finally made the front cover of InTouch Weekly. The story, which appeared in January 2018, was based on interview she had given the magazine more than six years earlier in which she had first shared details of her affair with Trump.

Why did it take InTouch more than six years to publish its 2011 interview with Stormy Daniels?

As the AP reported in 2018, the delay was caused because in 2011 "Trump’s long-time attorney, Michael Cohen, sent an email to In Touch’s general counsel saying Trump would aggressively pursue legal action if the story was printed." In addition, Daniels told 60 Minutes that she had been threatened in a Las Vegas parking garage in the presence of her young daughter. The man allegedly said, "Leave Trump alone. Forget the story," and then, looking at Daniels's daughter: "That's a beautiful little girl. It'd be a shame if something happened to her mom."

When Stormy Daniels came forward again in 2016, it was Michael Cohen (who later denied any involvement in the thuggish 2011 threats against Daniels) who was called upon again when Trump, now the GOP candidate for President, needed to kill the story again.

A November surprise

In the US Presidential Election held on 8 November 2016, Trump finishing a distant second in the popular vote, ultimately losing to Hillary Clinton by 2.9 million votes.

But before noon on 9 November, in a once-common American ritual, Hillary Clinton accepted defeat and conceded the Presidential race.

Trump's improbable win shocked everyone (except maybe Vladimir Putin, Paul Manafort and Mark Zuckerberg).

It was an unjust, unfathomable and undemocratic result, made possible by a combined total of 77,744 votes in just three states. In Michigan, Trump won by just 10,704 votes. In Wisconsin, the margin was just 22,748. In Pennsylvania, 44,292.

In December 2016, Ed Kilgore wrote in New York magazine:

We will never really know why Donald Trump appeared to be the luckiest and Hillary Clinton the unluckiest candidate in history in terms of the distribution of votes. 

But it took only 13 months—until January 2018—to find out. And the answer came as no surprise:

Trump cheated in 2016.

To fully appreciate how crucial Trump's hush money payments to Stormy Daniels were to helping him cheat his way to victory in 2016, we first have to relive the impact that the October release of the Access Hollywood types had on the campaign.

Screnshot of 2005 Access Hollywood taping in which Trump bragged about being a serial sexual predator
2005 Access Hollywood taping in which Trump bragged about being a serial sexual predator

Those tapes—in which Donald Trump described to Access Hollywood’s Billy Bush his casual attitude towards sexually assaulting young women—were leaked on 7 October 2016.

They had an immediate—and "seismic"—impact on the presidential campaign.

Much of the country—including a huge percentage of the Republican party—were disgusted by what they had heard.

  • On 8 October, 2008 GOP nominee John McCain announced that he and his wife Cindy "will not vote for Donald Trump."
  • By 10 October, 16 Republican Senators had announced they would not vote for Trump and 7 were urging him to step aside in favor of Mike Pence.
  • Also on 10 October, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan dealt Trump "a withering blow" by announcing he would no longer defend Trump and focus instead on November's Congressional races.

Throughout the campaign, Trump had been an embarrassment to the Republican establishment and slammed as a "con artist" and a "pathological liar" by rivals like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

Trump had also revealed himself to be shockingly uniformed and unprepared for the role of President.

Now, in the aftermath of the Access Hollywood tapes, it seemed as if millions of Americans who might previously have held their noses and voted for him could no longer imagine themselves doing so.

In October 2016, to say the Trump campaign was on the ropes would have been a gross understatement.

Stormy Daniels' story would have been the knockout punch.

As Trump and his longtime fixer Michael Cohen considered the damage that the Access Hollywood tapes had done to Trump's already rickety campaign, they knew one thing for certain: One more sex scandal would truly finish Trump off.

And Stormy Daniels—fresh off her roles in 2015's Deep in Double D's and 2016's Sexbots: Programmed for Pleasure—had a Trump sex story that the scandal-hungry tabloids would have traditionally gobbled up.

As NPR later reported:

Clifford was inspired to step forward with her account of at least one tryst with Trump at the Beverly Hills Hotel shortly after the Access Hollywood tape was released. 

By telling her story in October 2016, Clifford—aka Daniels—would have given a nation still reeling from the news that the Republican candidate for President was a gleeful and unrepentant sex criminal, another aspect of Trump's adulterous past to consider.

After the shock of the Access Hollywood tapes, it's hard to imagine the "family values" GOP sticking with a candidate revealed not just as a serial sexual predator, but also as an adulterer who had had unprotected sex with an adult film star while his third wife—America's would-be First Lady— was at home caring for their newborn son

What Stormy Daniels didn't know in October 2016, however, was that, through a secret arrangement that dated back to August 2015, Trump and Michael Cohen had been in cahoots with the National Enquirer and its owner David Pecker, head of American Media, Inc (AMI), to bury any Trump scandals, while hyping fake stories about Hillary Clinton and concocting breathless tales about Ted Cruz's hooker romps and coworker sexcapades.

2016 National Enquirer story alleging that Texas senator Ted Cruz had five secret mistresses

As Pecker and AMI later admitted, two months before Stormy Daniels came forward with her story, the National Enquirer had used a technique known as "catch and kill" to obtain the rights to former Playboy "Playmate of the Month" Karen McDougal's story of an affair with Trump.

In that instance, the Enquirer paid $150,000 to McDougal and promised her future coverage in various magazines the company owned.

When it came to the Karen McDougal story, Trump and Cohen knew their illegal arrangement with David Pecker had helped them dodge a bullet. In fact, if the McDougal story had come out in August 2016 (as it normally would have), the Access Hollywood tapes could have been the cement shoes for Trump's candidacy.

AMI made "unlawful payments" to "influence an election"

David Pecker was granted immunity for cooperating with the Southern District of New York, which in December 2018 reached a non-prosecution agreement with AMI. In that agreement, the company admitted its wrongdoings, including its failure to report it's unlawful $150,000 payment to McDougal and a $30,000 payment to a former Trump Tower doorman who had claimed to know of a Trump child born out of wedlock. The company acknowledged these payments had been made to illegally influence an election "in coordination with or at the request of a candidate or campaign."

When Stormy Daniels appeared with her story—a story even more salacious and tabloid-worthy than McDougal's—David Pecker didn't even waste time with a "catch and kill" pretense.

He sent her lawyer straight to Michael Cohen.

The rest, of course, is history.

Michael Cohen set up a brand new shell company, Essential Consultants LLC, which he used to pay off Stormy Daniels.

Daniels received her $130,000 hush money payment toward the end of October 2016, just days before the election.

Cohen then billed Trump $35,000 a month for 12 months—receiving a total of $420,000 from the Trump Organization—including checks illegally signed by Trump while he was serving as President.

The payments to Cohen were "grossed up" by Trump's scofflaw company to allegedly help Cohen pay taxes on the income. Or maybe a big chunk of the dough was a loyalty bonus to his longtime personal, now election, fixer.

Trump's "dirty deeds" led Cohen to prison

In December 2018, Michael Cohen was sentenced to three years in federal prison. He had pleaded guilty to nine separate charges, including the charge of violating campaign finance laws by hiding Trump's illegal payment to Stormy Daniels and participation in the "catch and kill" scheme to bury Karen McDougal's story.

Cohen said that Trump's "dirty deeds" had led him to "choose darkness."

Daniels' then-lawyer Michael Avenatti told reporters, the "nation owes a sense of gratitude" to Stormy Daniels for having spoken out about Cohen and Trump.

In Cohen's sentencing memo, Donald Trump was referred to as Individual-1 and it was acknowledged that he was the person who had directed Cohen's election interference crimes.

According to Robert Mueller, the only thing that had prevented Individual-1 from being arrested and treated like a common criminal was the fact that the crime he had committed had resulted in him becoming President.

As I tweeted at the time: "The rule you can't indict a sitting president, should not apply to crimes that made a person a sitting president."

The "nation owes a sense of gratitude" to Stormy Daniels for Alvin Bragg's 34- count indictment

Trump and Cohen's illegally financed deal with Stormy Daniels brought to a close their extensive campaign to hide the truth about Trump's relentless promiscuity from voters before the November 2016 election.

The full scope of that campaign is detailed in Manhattan D.A. Alvin Bragg's 34-count indictment from April 2023.

Two key dates on the timeline:

  • On 27 October 2016, 12 days before the election, Michael Cohen wired $130,000 to Stormy Daniels' lawyer Keith Davidson. (Davidson also represented Karen McDougal in her dealings with AMI, raising questions about whether or not he was truly representing the best interests of his female clients.)
  • On 28 October 2016, Daniels, using the alias "Peggy Peterson" signed her copy of the NDA. (She later claimed that Trump, using the alias "David Dennison" had never added his signature, rendering the agreement invalid.)

But even as the "hush money" deal was being concluded, Trump and his criminal associates including Rudy Giuliani and his allies in the NY FBI office still had more dirty tricks to play:

  • On 26 October 2016, Giuliani appeared on Fox News where he teased some big new revelations "that you’re going to hear about in the next two days."
  • On 28 October, the day Stormy Daniels signed her NDA with Trump, James Comey was pressured by "a cadre of senior people in New York who have a deep and visceral hatred of Secretary Clinton" to announce he was re-opening the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of email.

Many people now take as fact the idea that the email scandal—which dominated media coverage in the final days of the campaign—cost Hillary Clinton the election.

Given the narrowness of Trump's 2016 victories in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, that's an easy case to make.

"But Here Emails" sign submerged in floodwaters - meme from 2016

But it's also easy to imagine that if a competing scandal broke at the same time—involving Trump's adultery with an adult film star—it would, especially in the aftermath of the Access Hollywood scandal, have had the opposite effect.

If Stormy Daniels' story had been told in October 2016, would Trump still have beaten Clinton 47%-45% among white women? Would Trump still have beaten Clinton by 9 points among the 65+ segment? Or would have a significant number of those voters either swung back to the Hillary column or stayed home?

Had the Stormy Daniels story had been told, it would certainly have generated fresh outrage against the serial sexual predator America heard confessing on the Access Hollywood tapes.
It would have confirmed that Trump's treatment of women was not simply "locker room talk."

It's an easy case to make that the "Trump cheated on new-mom Melania with a porn star" story would have moved at least 40,000 votes from the Trump column to the Clinton column in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, which is all it would have taken for Hillary to win.

So when people say that, among Trump's 4 indictments on 91 felony charges, the crimes that happened "during" and "after" he became President are more serous than those that happened "before," they're wrong.

Trump's "hush money" crimes are the most important crimes of all

The "catch and kill" scheme coordinated between Trump, Cohen and AMI—including the illegal payment to Stormy Daniels and the 34 falsified business records that followed—is the only crime that actually stole an election.

Without it, none of Trump's "more serious" crimes—including his failed election interference in 2020, his attempted January 6th coup in 2021, and the massive theft of classified documents—would have even happened.

We keep hearing "experts" say that Trump's "hush money" crimes are the least serious and least likely to result in prison time.

But they sent Michael Cohen to prison.

If Trump's found guilty, there's no reason not to lock him up.

*Photo credit: CrazyJ, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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