On May 2, Rudy Giuliani revealed that the Trump administration has been lying for months about the fact that Donald Trump reimbursed his personal attorney Michael Cohen for the $130,000 he fronted to buy porn star Stormy Daniels’s silence about her affair with Trump. Until then, Trump had been claiming that he didn’t know about any settlement, and that he hadn’t had a sexual liaison with Daniels. (The official White House line continues to be that Daniels is lying about having sex with Trump, but almost no one believes this.) Giuliani has claimed that Trump gave him the okay last week to contradict several months’ worth of denials, by revealing Trump’s payments to Cohen.
In journalism this is known as getting out in front of a story. After federal law-enforcement officials raided Cohen’s office on April 9, they surely had documentary evidence of these financial transactions, which meant it was inevitable the truth would eventually come out.
We should consider the strong possibility that the same tactic — i.e., shameless, baldfaced lying — may have played a role in the exposure of yet another Trump-related sex scandal. The Wall Street Journal published a story on April 13 revealing the existence of another nondisclosure agreement involving an affair between an adult entertainer and a client of Cohen’s. The NDA employed the pseudonyms David Dennison and Peggy Peterson — the same names used in the Stormy Daniels NDA — and was otherwise very similar to the Trump-Daniels agreement.
According to this newly revealed NDA, Dennison agreed to pay Peterson $1.6 million, in exchange for Peterson’s promise not to reveal the affair or her claim that Dennison had impregnated her. This NDA, like the Trump-Daniels document, was negotiated by attorneys Keith Davidson, on behalf of Peterson, and Michael Cohen, on behalf of Dennison. Payments were also delivered through Essential Consultants LLC, the same LLC created by Cohen to facilitate payments in the Stormy Daniels deal.
Whatever source revealed the existence of this NDA to the Journal also disclosed that, according to another document in Cohen’s office, the Dennison in this agreement was not Donald Trump but rather Elliott Broidy, a top Republican fundraiser, while Peterson was Shera Bechard, Playboy’s Miss November 2010. Apparently, Bechard had been Broidy’s mistress until he got her pregnant, at which point she hired Davidson, who contacted Cohen to demand the payment of hush money.
By a stroke of good fortune, Cohen already had a sex-scandal-with-an-adult-entertainer-hush-money-NDA template in his hard drive, since he had recently drafted at least one for Donald Trump. Indeed, Cohen didn’t even bother to change the pseudonyms. (That economical use of attorney resources explained away what otherwise could have been a very awkward detail in the narrative.)
This is the story that was leaked to the Journal — and to the New York Times, and CNN, which the Journal beat to the punch by publishing it first. It has since been repeated as fact by just about every major media outlet in the country. But there are good reasons to consider whether it might not be yet another audacious lie from Trumpworld.
Let me offer an alternative explanation of the affair and the payoff. It is still just a hypothesis, but, I would argue, it fits more comfortably with what we know about the various players than the reported version of events: Donald Trump, not Elliott Broidy, had an affair with Shera Bechard. Bechard hired Keith Davidson, who had negotiated both Playboy playmate Karen McDougal’s deal with the National Enquirer and Stormy Daniels’s NDA with Trump. Davidson called Cohen, and the two of them negotiated a $1.6 million payment to Bechard.
At this point Cohen needed to find a funding source. Cohen asserts he took out a home equity loan to come up with a mere $130,000 to pay off Stormy Daniels, so it seems clear he couldn’t have fronted the $1.6 million for the Bechard deal himself. So Cohen reached out to Elliott Broidy, a very rich Republican fundraiser with several pending and highly lucrative business deals with foreign governments: deals that hinged on whether Broidy could convince the U.S. government to take various actions. By stepping up to take responsibility for the affair and to fund the seven-figure settlement, Broidy was ensuring that he could continue to peddle his influence with Trump to governments around the world.
Which is to say, it was a cover-up concealing a bribe. Indeed, it turns out that Broidy not only has a history of bribing public officials, but of bribing them in an uncannily similar fashion to the method which I hypothesize he employed in this case.
So, according to this hypothesis, when Cohen’s office was raided by federal prosecutors, they found documentation of what was actually a fabricated affair, concocted by Cohen and Davidson to create a justification for funneling Broidy’s money to Bechard, while creating a paper record designed to protect Trump from further exposure.
This account — as bizarre as it may seem at first glance — is actually more plausible than the story leaked to the Journal, the New York Times, and CNN.
We, of course, do not know what actually happened. But it is worth noting that, two weeks after the story broke, Michael Avenatti, the lawyer Stormy Daniels hired to replace Davidson, hinted to Mika Brzezinski on MSNBC that the real story might be quite different from that which had been reported so far: “I think at some point we are going to find out, if in fact the client in connection with the [$1.6 million] settlement was, in fact, Mr. Broidy,” Avenatti said. “I’m going to leave it at that.”
When I laid out the alternative scenario presented in this article to Avenatti, he had this to say: “There are considerable and serious questions as to this alleged settlement. Many things about it simply do not appear to add up or pass the smell test.”
Note too that this alternative account presents a narrative in which the behavior of all of the primary parties in this matter — Trump, Cohen, Broidy, and Bechard — is fundamentally consistent with their well-documented personal histories, unlike the story reported by the media.
The New David Dennison Sounds Exactly Like the Old Donald Trump
David Dennison slept with a Playboy playmate, impregnated her, and then had Cohen negotiate a hush-money deal. Trump has a well-documented history of having unprotected sex with women in the adult-entertainment industry, and then subsequently buying their silence via proxies. Trump also has a history of being obsessed specifically with Playboy playmates. Trump had a long-standing close friendship with Hugh Hefner, and often visited the Playboy mansion, to which he brought contestants from his television show The Apprentice. One such contestant noted:
Toward the end of the evening, I found myself in a small circle, conversing with Trump, Hefner, and another contestant. With a wry smile, Trump looked at Hefner and said, ‘It’s hard for me to tell which of these girls are yours and which ones are mine.’
Bechard was actually at one time Hefner’s girlfriend, while Trump and Hefner’s friendship mysteriously came to an end in 2016.
In November of 2016, it was revealed that McDougal, another Playboy model, had been paid $150,000 to sell her story of an affair with Trump to the National Enquirer, so that the tabloid, whose publisher is a major Trump supporter, could kill the story rather than publish it. McDougal was represented in this transaction by none other than Keith Davidson. (Davidson has since been fired by McDougal, Daniels, and Bechard, as all three women have apparently come to the all too plausible conclusion that Davidson was actually working with Michael Cohen to protect Trump, rather than independently representing their interests, as he was legally required to do after he accepted them as clients.)
While having sex with Playboy playmates might be a common enough fantasy among certain older married men, history suggests that the combination of reckless narcissism and personal shamelessness necessary to actually pursue it and then pay the various costs associated with fulfilling it is rarer. How many sex scandals involving Playboy playmates and men not named Donald Trump can you recall?
Elliott Broidy Seems Exactly Like Someone Who Would Pay $1.6 Million to Protect a Lucrative Influence-Peddling Business
Broidy has a history of bribing public officials to enhance the economic prospects of his business ventures. In 2009, he pleaded guilty to bribing New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi. As part of a plea deal which led to the convictions of seven of his co-conspirators, Broidy admitted he made more than $1 million in illegal payouts and gifts to New York pension authorities. The payoff for these bribes came when the New York State Retirement Fund invested $250 million with Markstone Capital, Broidy’s private equity firm. As part of the plea deal, Broidy also agreed to pay back $18 million in investment fees that the state pension fund had paid to Markstone.
Remarkably enough, as Andrew Prokop pointed out this morning, one of Broidy’s bribes even involved paying off the girlfriend of one of the officials he was bribing:
In March 2018, the previously obscure Broidy was the subject of a slew of national stories regarding his remarkably aggressive influence-peddling in the wake of Trump’s election. For example, the Journal reported that Broidy was slated to make tens of millions of dollars by getting the Justice Department to drop a probe into a multibillion-dollar bribery scandal involving 1MDB, the Malaysian state investment fund. One email revealed a plan to pay Broidy and his wife $75 million if they could successfully lobby the DOJ to drop the probe into 1MBD.
A few days later, the New York Times published an extensive account detailing how Broidy was “marketing his Trump connections to politicians and governments around the world,” by, for example, “suggesting to clients and prospective customers of his Virginia-based defense contracting company, Circinus, that he could broker meetings with Mr. Trump, his administration and congressional allies.” Other stories detailed Broidy’s partnership with Trump-allied businessman George Nader, in which both men tried to influence White House policy in favor of Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. (Nader has since become a co-operating witness in Robert Mueller’s independent counsel investigation.) According to these accounts, Nader dangled the prospect of more than $1 billion in contracts for Circinus before Broidy, as he assiduously cultivated Broidy’s influence with “the Chairman,” a.k.a. Donald Trump.
Who Is Shera Bechard More Likely to Date?
While Broidy’s business dealings are the epitome of the sort of swampy sleaze that Trump promised to drain from federal government decision-making, his home life is by contrast extremely stable, and, to all appearances, quite conventional. Broidy is 60 years old, and has been married for over 25 years to a woman of about his own age, with whom he has had three children. His wife is an attorney who was previously a senior vice-president at 20th Century Fox (she has reportedly been involved in some of Broidy’s more questionable business dealings). While of course it’s not impossible that Broidy chose to pursue a dangerous liaison with Miss November 2010, his biography is not that of a man who has the appearance of a likely candidate to have an affair with a Playboy playmate several decades younger than himself. He is not, in other words, a thrice-married serial adulterer with an established record of sleeping with models, playmates, and porn stars.
It Doesn’t Make Sense That Davidson Would Have Reached Out to Cohen
Several parts of the story leaked to the media make no sense at all. Consider Cohen’s involvement. The official story is that Davidson reached out to Cohen, who then contacted Broidy. Why in the world would Davidson tell Cohen about an illicit affair involving Broidy? Cohen was Trump’s lawyer, not Broidy’s. Cohen didn’t represent Broidy at that time and therefore had no duty of confidentiality or loyalty to Broidy (or Bechard for that matter). And the information that Broidy had an affair with Bechard was extremely sensitive, as Bechard was set to make seven figures for agreeing to keep that information private.
Spilling the beans to Cohen, who would then have been free to tell anyone else what Davidson had told him, would risk Bechard’s payoff in two ways. If Cohen failed to keep Broidy and Bechard’s affair confidential, the settlement value to Broidy of a potential nondisclosure agreement could have been greatly diminished or even completely destroyed. Also, Cohen merely knowing about Broidy’s supposed affair could have jeopardized both Broidy’s position as co-chair of the Republican National Committee’s finance committee — a position he actually shared with, of all people, Cohen — and his elaborate and ongoing influence-peddling with the government. (Someone who has had conversations with Davidson about this matter says that, according to Davidson, Broidy did not even know Cohen before he contacted him about Bechard.)
Simply put, Davidson communicating with Cohen about Broidy had no conceivable legal justification, and was profoundly counterproductive to Davidson’s client’s interest. In short, while it is possible that Davidson could have suggested to Broidy that he contact Cohen himself, given Cohen’s experience with sex scandal NDAs, the idea that Davidson unilaterally decided to tell Cohen about Bechard’s affair with Broidy is absurd on its face.
The Sum of the Settlement Is Fishy
The size of the payment to Bechard — $1.6 million — is also a little weird. Broidy was a largely anonymous person in late 2017, when the NDA was signed. His biggest claim to fame at the time was a felony conviction for corruption. Why would a man in his position need to pay $1.6 million to keep Bechard quiet about an affair to which the public at large would be completely indifferent? (And if the explanation for the massive payment is that Broidy was desperate to keep this secret from his family and the RNC, why, as detailed below, did he admit to the affair the very first time a journalist asked him about it?) Furthermore, according to the Journal, Bechard provided no proof to Broidy that she was pregnant by him, or indeed pregnant at all. Under these circumstances, a seven-figure hush-money payment seems hard to explain.
Consider that Trump and the National Enquirer collectively paid less than one-fifth of that amount to keep both Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal quiet about affairs with a major-party presidential candidate.
By contrast, while it seems unlikely that Broidy would pay $1.6 million to hush up Bechard, it is eminently understandable that Trump would do so — or, more accurately, find someone else to. After all, by the time Bechard demanded payment for her silence Trump was already president. And, if anything could shake Trump’s crucial core support among Evangelical Christians, a brand-new affair (many of those supporters forgive Trump’s many previous sins on the grounds that he is now a “baby Christian”) with a Playboy playmate, who then aborted what these supporters would consider Trump’s unborn child, might produce that outcome.
Are We Really Supposed to Believe That Broidy Wanted Cohen to Represent Him?
Elliott Broidy is a very wealthy and legally sophisticated man, who has hired the best legal talent over the years to deal with his many complex business entanglements. Yet we are supposed to believe that, when he gets an out-of-the-blue phone call from Cohen, revealing that he somehow knows about Broidy’s affair with Bechard, Broidy’s reaction is to hire Cohen? That is, to retain a man who is barely even a lawyer, and who obviously has a disturbingly close working relationship with Bechard’s own attorney — rather than seeking top-shelf independent legal representation to deal with this serious personal and financial crisis? (The fact that Cohen has admitted in court that Broidy was his “client” is perfectly compatible with a narrative in which Broidy agreed to allow Cohen and Davidson to paper up the record with a fraudulent NDA.)
Broidy’s Actions Don’t Add Up
Broidy’s behavior following the raid is simply inexplicable. The current assumption is that Broidy knew that his payments to Bechard (through the LLC) would eventually become public, given that they were now in the possession of the Feds. But in fact, it was far from certain that they would. Cohen’s lawyers and Trump’s lawyers were fighting to keep Cohen’s attorney-client communications confidential, and it is quite possible that Broidy’s payments would never come to light. And even if they did, he could surely deny to the press that they were his. Broidy claims to have paid $1.6 million to keep his affair with Bechard quiet. Why throw away that entire investment at the first sign that this secret might eventually be exposed? By reacting in the manner he did, Broidy ensured that what was still at the time only a worst-case scenario became an immediate certainty, as opposed to remaining a down-the-line possibility.
If this theory is correct, the press bears some of the blame for allowing a self-serving and corrupt lie to enter the public record as news. At the bottom of this whole tangled situation, there are two undeniable facts: Trump has a habit of having sex with women exactly like Bechard, and then paying them off to stay silent, and Broidy is a man who pays large sums of money, legally and illegally, to influence powerful politicians. That convergence should have set off alarm bells in the minds of journalists when someone decided, immediately after Cohen’s office was raided, to reveal the existence of an NDA between Broidy and Bechard.
But those alarm bells apparently never went off in the offices of the WSJ, the Times, or CNN. And it’s easy enough to understand why: Broidy’s confession seemed, at least under the pressures of deadline journalism, like a classic example of what lawyers call an admission against interest, that is, a statement that should be treated as presumptively true.
But what if Broidy was actually faced with the choice of either falsely confessing to impregnating Bechard or, in the alternative, candidly confessing to having paid a seven-figure bribe to the president of the United States? That would certainly explain his otherwise remarkable willingness to instantly confess to a reporter the very secret he had supposedly paid so much money to keep out of the public eye.
What is most striking about this affair is that the story leaked to the media has no evidence to support it, other than the assertions of people who have every reason to lie about it. Consider what the narrative would look like if, when the story broke, the public had learned that Cohen’s office had a copy of another NDA, that provided for the payment of $1.6 million to a Playboy playmate to buy her silence about an affair, and that Broidy had agreed to pay that sum into the very same LLC that Cohen had created to funnel the money paid to hush up Trump’s liaison with Stormy Daniels. Would anyone believe Broidy’s after-the-fact protestations that, despite all appearances, he wasn’t paying off yet another of Trump’s mistresses, as a quid pro quo to his beleaguered patron? At a minimum, one would hope the veracity of Broidy’s confession would actually have been investigated. (According to the Journal’s story, Bechard claimed that Broidy had been paying her for an exclusive sexual relationship that lasted one to two years. Such an arrangement should be easy to document.)
Again, we do not know if this alternative account, or something like it, is true. What we do know is that the White House’s version of the story got into print without any apparent journalistic inquiry into whether that account was accurate, or an elaborate ruse. If it turns out that Trump had an affair with Bechard, and that Broidy paid a massive bribe to the president to help cover the affair up, this will prove to be another instance of the administration’s perverse ability to generate fake news about a scandal, in order to obscure the even more scandalous truth.