Inside the Stormy Daniels hush money case that led to Trump’s arrest
Former President Donald Trump has been out of office for two years, and is already itching to go back.
But one figure from his first run for president has refused to go away, and has ended up being a major headache for him as he pursues a third White House bid.
We’re talking, of course, about adult film star Stormy Daniels, also known by her real name, Stephanie Clifford. Ms Daniels made headlines in 2018 when she came forward with an allegation that she had been in a romantic extramarital relationship with the president in 2006, and had been threatened and later bribed to keep her mouth shut.
At the time, the basis of her claim took on an interesting angle thanks to a lawsuit she filed against then-President Donald Trump. Alleging that the hush agreement was invalid because Mr Trump had not signed it, she sued him and triggered what would become a years-long investigation into whether the scheme was legal at all points.
On 30 March 2023, a Manhattan grand jury voted to indict Mr Trump on criminal charges over the hush money payments.
He is now scheduled to appear in Manhattan Criminal Court for his arraignment on the afternoon of Tuesday 4 April where the charges will be unsealed.
With this historic moment, let’s go back to the beginning, and look at the major milestones of the Trump-Stormy relationship:
The first journalists to latch on to the Stormy Daniels story did so long before it ever came out. It’s still unclear exactly how many news outlets contacted Ms Daniels prior to the 2016 election, but at least one, Fox News, is known to have killed a story on the supposed affair with just days to go in the presidential race. Because none of the stories ever made it to print, Ms Daniels escapes broader public notice.
More than a year later, the story finally makes it to print in a flurry of media activity. The Wall Street Journal reveals the initial story, detailing the payment made by Trump fixer Michael Cohen. He admits to the payment on 14 January, before denying that the affair itself occurred.
Moving along, CNN breaks the story about Fox killing its pre-election article on the affair on 16 January. A day later, a 2011 interview with InTouch Weekly in which Ms Daniels repeats the same allegations to the letter is revealed by the magazine, which adds to the shocking news that its editors had Ms Daniels take and pass a polygraph test.
The cat is now officially out of the bag.
Two months later and Donald Trump’s fixer is still fighting on his behalf, this time by filing an arbitration case against Ms Daniels and alleging that she violated her nondisclosure agreement. He threatens her with legal penalties for speaking about the affair further.
March also marked the first appearance of one of the strangest characters to be elevated by this scandal: Attorney Michael Avenatti, the brash, combative lawyer who frequently wowed cable news hosts with his fiery statements and fondness for media appearances; Mr Avenatti would eventually go on to be sued by Ms Daniels for cheating her out of money and sentenced to prison for stealing millions from his clients, but not before being raised to near-diety status by excited liberal pundits.
News coverage of the Stormy Daniels case explodes in interest with the addition of Mr Avenatti. Mainstream and left-leaning news outlets are consumed by coverage, culminating in a vivid description of the situation by Ms Daniels herself during a 60 Minutes interview with Anderson Cooper.
The White House also addresses the news for the first time, with press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders denying at a press conference that Mr Trump had paid Ms Daniels any money. The issue of whether Mr Trump reimbursed his attorney for the hush payment remains open.
As part of an unrelated investigation headed up by Robert Mueller into the Trump campaign and Russian election interference in 2016, Cohen’s New York office is raided by the FBI. Mr Mueller’s team eventually gets Cohen to plead guilty to lying to Congress about plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow; Mr Cohen says he was directed to lie by the president.
Mr Trump also addressed the case personally for the first time, denying knowledge of the $130,000 payment Cohen made to Ms Daniels purportedly on his behalf.
At the time, it is thought that federal prosecutors had begun a separate investigation into the Daniels matter. That is later confirmed.
Joining the president’s legal team, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani would go on to have a years-long legal relationship with Mr Trump that resulted in the aging politician causing far more harm than good.