The saga of Donald Trump and Stormy Daniels ultimately has very little to do with sex, and in a sense is only incidentally about Stormy Daniels at all. The most important figure in the new 60 Minutes report on the episode is Michael Cohen, Trump’s lawyer and fixer. Cohen might be facing significant legal jeopardy, and this could expose Trump himself as deeply as anything related to Russia.
As Daniels and her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, recount, Cohen was the point of contact in Trump’s negotiations to keep Daniels quiet about their affair. Cohen paid her $130,000 to sign a nondisclosure agreement. This could well be an illegal campaign expenditure on Trump’s behalf — Cohen was paying Daniels for the purpose of aiding Trump’s campaign. Cohen claims he paid the money out of his own pocket, which would make Cohen the perpetrator of the campaign finance violation. But Avenatti has documents showing that the payment was sent to Cohen at his Trump Tower location, and communicated through his official Trump Organization email. That strongly indicates, and perhaps even proves, Cohen was making the payment on Trump’s behalf.
A second aspect of the story contains even more danger for Trump. Daniels describes being approached by a man in a parking lot who threatened her:
I was in a parking lot, going to a fitness class with my infant daughter. T– taking, you know, the seats facing backwards in the backseat, diaper bag, you know, gettin’ all the stuff out. And a guy walked up on me and said to me, “Leave Trump alone. Forget the story.” And then he leaned around and looked at my daughter and said, “That’s a beautiful little girl. It’d be a shame if something happened to her mom.” And then he was gone.
Daniels says she would recognize the man if she saw him again, but does not know who it was. There is a lot of reason to suspect Cohen had something to do with the threat. Cohen is a Trump cultist, whose legal skills, such as they are, compose a small portion of his value to the Trump organization. His true value is as a goon. “If somebody does something Mr. Trump doesn’t like, I do everything in my power to resolve it to Mr. Trump’s benefit,” Cohen said in 2011. “If you do something wrong, I’m going to come at you, grab you by the neck and I’m not going to let you go until I’m finished.” In 2015, he told a reporter, “I’m warning you, tread very fucking lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting. You understand me?”
Intimidating and threatening people who get in Trump’s way seems to be a recurring theme in his business interactions. There are many documented instances of this behavior. One victim of Trump’s shady financial maneuverings in Atlantic City received a phone call and was told, “My name is Carmine. I don’t know why you’re fucking with Mr. Trump but if you keep fucking with Mr. Trump, we know where you live and we’re going to your house for your wife and kids.”
The Washington Post has already reported that Robert Mueller “has requested documents and interviewed witnesses about incidents involving Michael Cohen.” What could those incidents involve? The Stormy Daniels episode suggests the list starts with campaign finance violations and may end with making threats, or ordering others to do so. When Trump’s allies warn that Mueller is conducting a “Gambino-style roll-up” of his organization, this is the sort of thing they may have in mind.
It may be difficult to imagine Cohen, the ultimate Trump loyalist, turning on his patron and idol. But mafiosos turn on their friends and mentors all the time. And Trump’s organization was run in many respects like a crime family, with a sprawling web of shady and probably illegal activity, including but not limited to dealings with Russia. If Stormy Daniels’s account holds up, then it opens a vast new avenue for potential risk to Cohen, and ultimately Trump.