How much was Donald Trump sweating out the Stormy Daniels interview on “60 Minutes?”
One would figure it came up in conversation when the president had dinner with Michael Cohen — the lawyer and fixer in the thick of the hush-money case — at Mar-a-Lago Saturday night. Melania Trump did not join them, ABC News said.
Much of the story the porn star told on camera has already emerged. There was no smoking gun or text or video — at least not Sunday night. (She wouldn’t answer whether they existed.) She said they had sex — once — in 2006. Through press and legal mouthpieces, Trump has denied that.
The nearest thing to a new bombshell was Daniels’ account of attempts to intimidate her. Weeks after she first told her story to a gossip magazine in 2011, she said, a man confronted her in a Las Vegas parking lot while her baby daughter was in her car.
“Leave Trump alone. Forget the story,” she says he told her. “That’s a beautiful little girl. It’d be a shame if something happened to her mom.” But Daniels doesn’t know who he was and didn’t go to the police “because I was scared.”
The ick factor
American voters — or enough of them to put Trump over the top in the Electoral College — reconciled themselves to a president who was proud of a 1990 New York Post cover quoting his lover (and later second wife) purportedly exclaiming, “BEST SEX I’VE EVER HAD.”
TV viewers Sunday night were given more to think about, or try not to think about.
Like Daniels’ story about when they went to his hotel suite in Lake Tahoe, and Trump tried to impress her with his picture on a magazine cover, and she said, “Someone should take that magazine and spank you with it.” At her command, Daniels said, he dropped his pants and she gave him “a couple swats.”
Later, Daniels said, he told her: “You are special. You remind me of my daughter.”
Former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal, who said she had a longer affair with Trump, told CNN last week that he also compared her to daughter Ivanka. “He said I was beautiful like her,” McDougal said.
Is that all there is?
The scandal remains a scandal because of the improbable $130,000 payment arranged by Cohen just before the election to keep Daniels from telling her story and the ongoing legal battle to silence her. Also, the questions of what Trump knew about the payment, whether Cohen ever got reimbursed and whether campaign finance laws may have been violated.
Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti tweeted earlier Sunday, “not all of our evidence will be mentioned/displayed tonight – that would be foolish.” An Avenatti tweet on Thursday featured a photo of a DVD and a cryptic message: “If ‘a picture is worth a thousand words,’ how many words is this worth?????”
Is that a bluff? Did Daniels turn over video images, still images, email messages and text messages in 2016 as specified in the hush-money agreement? Avenatti and lawyers from Trump’s side are fighting in federal court over whether the agreement will be enforced or nullified.
Meanwhile, what says Trump, the proud counterpuncher?
Trump: I’m a dream client
Here’s what’s happened in between: He tried to hire former Solicitor General Ted Olson. Didn’t happen. Trump hired Fox News contributor Joseph diGenova. Lead lawyer John Dowd quit. Then diGenova’s wife, Victoria Toensing, came aboard. But on Sunday, the couple was gone.
The given reason was a conflict. Toensing already represented Mark Carollo, a former spokesman for the legal team who resigned over his concerns about attempted obstruction of justice. Other reports said that after meeting diGenova and Toensing in person, Trump soured on them.
Not to worry, Trump tweeted. “Many lawyers and top law firms want to represent me in the Russia case,” he said, contrary to persistent reports. “Fame & fortune will NEVER be turned down by a lawyer, though some are conflicted,” Trump continued. See Laura Figueroa Hernandez’ story for Newsday.
Janison: War cry
Trump foreign policy — if coherent enough to be called that — is steeped in contradiction. Maybe that explains, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison, how John Bolton can fit in as national security adviser.
When part of the George W. Bush administration, Bolton was a top advocate for the war with Iraq. He falsely argued that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and that the American role after toppling him would be “fairly minimal.”
But Trump, who sneered at the idea of “regime change” when he ran, has now decided to rely on the advice of a strident interventionist.
Still no chaos
Trump is “perplexed” by reports of chaos after last week’s upheavals, his friend and Newsmax Media CEO Chris Ruddy said on ABC’s “This Week.”
“He told me that he thinks the White House is operating like a smooth machine, in his words,” Ruddy added. But Trump “did say that he’s expecting to make one or two major changes to his government very soon, and that’s going to be it.”
Staffers are perpetually confused, confounded and blindsided by a president who will, say, tweet one thing and do another.
That’s on them for expecting something resembling lines of communication through a normal chain of command, as former campaign spokesman Jason Miller explained to Politico.
The staff needs to “spend the time with the president on the front end to know exactly what his thinking is or you need to be in constant communication with him,” said Miller. “If you’re just responding to what some other staffer sent you on email, then of course you’re going to be disconnected.”
Now who’s gonna pay?
Trump wasn’t happy that Congress only gave him $1.6 billion for the wall on the southern border — he wanted $25 billion — but how come he isn’t talking lately about making Mexico pay?
Jared Kushner, who has been trying to repair relations with Mexico, persuaded his father-in-law not to go there during his grousing Friday about the spending bill he had to sign, according to The New York Times.
Trump vaguely hinted in a tweet Sunday he might try to tap funds from the big increase he won in military spending: “Building a great Border Wall, with drugs (poison) and enemy combatants pouring into our Country, is all about National Defense. Build WALL through M!”
No wall for them
The controversial Cambridge Analytica firm, funded by the billionaire Mercers of Long Island, assigned dozens of non-U.S. citizens to provide campaign strategy and messaging advice to GOP candidates in 2014 -- despite a lawyer's warning to abide by laws limiting foreign involvement in American campaigns, the Washington Post reports.
Corey Lewandowski, the first of three Trump campaign managers in 2016, told NBC News he rejected hiring Cambridge Analytica during his tenure. "They pitched me three times. Three times I said no," Lewandowski said on Meet the Press. Trump brought on Cambridge later.
What else is happening
- Trump is planning to oust Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin amid a rebellion at the agency and alleged spending abuses, The Associated Press reported. It could happen this week.
- Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) wondered aloud if Bolton can legitimately get security clearance given his own Russian connections.
- Melania Trump remained in Florida while Trump returned to Washington Sunday. A White House spokeswoman said that’s “their tradition for spring break.” It also meant they were apart when the Stormy Daniels interview aired.
- Rep. Ryan Costello (R-Pa.) blamed the "political environment," including Trump's conduct and that of "the left," in announcing he won't seek re-election.
- Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who has argued for keeping the Iran nuclear deal and warned a war with North Korea would cause horrific casualties, has told colleagues he did not know if he could work with Bolton, The New York Times reported.
- Trump is considering expelling some Russian diplomats to show support for Britain over the poisoning of a former Russian spy in England, Reuters reports.
- The economy takes to the fore in Monday's Twitter call-and-response between the TV-fixated president and Fox News.
- Convicted GOP fundraiser Elliott Broidy's Trump connection has helped him in the undrained swamp, the New York Times reports. Broidy pleaded guilty years ago in the pension scandal involving New York Comptroller Alan Hevesi.