Does it even matter if Stormy Daniels had an affair with Donald Trump?
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Does it even matter if Stormy Daniels had an affair with Donald Trump?

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Michael Cohen, President Trump's longtime attorney and self-titled "fixer," has pleaded guilty to making an illegal campaign donation in the form of hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels. The Daniels story is salacious and indicates a culture of corruption surrounding the president. Yet with questions about the Trump campaign's ties to Russia still swirling, is a $130,000 payoff to a porn star what the public should be focusing on? What do you think?

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The official White House line remains that the president has not been charged with any crimes yet and therefore should not be held responsible for Michael Cohen's behavior. In a press briefing the day after Cohen's plea, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders maintained that the president had done nothing wrong. Per The Washington Post:

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday it was “ridiculous” to accuse President Trump of lying after he reversed course on whether he knew about a $130,000 payment by his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, to adult-film star Stormy Daniels in the days before the 2016 election.
“I think that’s a ridiculous accusation,” Sanders said when asked whether the president had lied to the American people. “The president in this matter has done nothing wrong, and there are no charges against him.”

As no charges have been filed yet against the president, Daniels' story remains a salacious anecdote for Trump. 

However The Washington Post's "Fact Checker" column took the unprecedented step of labelling Trump's statements on Cohen's payments to Daniels "lies." The column typically labels his statements as "false" or "misleading," "as it is difficult to document whether the president knows he is not telling the truth." But with the Daniels story, there is now evidence showing he was aware of every step in the process of the pay off.

The lie evolves: Cohen made the payments on his own
Feb. 13: Cohen tells the New York Times he used his own funds to pay Daniels. “Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly,” he says. “The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful, and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone.”
What we know now: Cohen, in pleading guilty to two felony violations of campaign finance law, said he was reimbursed by the Trump Organization. Court filings showed that the company “grossed up” the payments to cover Cohen’s taxes and added a bonus, for a total of $420,000 in payments, according to the criminal information.

No longer does the public have to wonder what the president knew and when he knew it, Cohen has testified under oath that Trump knew at every step what was happening. His knowledge of the dealings and his persistent efforts to cover them up make Daniels' story a critical key to determining whether Trump himself has committed any crimes.

But the president has yet to be charged with any crimes. While he is assumed to be the candidate Cohen referred to in his plea, he was never actually named. Some argue this story, remains, merely a distraction. In an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune from March 2018, writer Dahleen Glanton argues the Stormy Daniels story is keeping the public from focusing on the important, hard work at hand.

I’d rather use my energy in a more productive way — keeping the heat turned up on Trump for his backsliding policies that do nothing to lift the middle class, raise families out of poverty, keep our children safe from mass shootings, protect the environment, provide health coverage for all or offer a pathway for law-abiding immigrants to become legal citizens.
There is still much work ahead to convince voters in every corner of the country that America cannot afford another two years, much less another four years, of Trump and his enablers at the helm.
While we might get a kick out of watching Trump sweat a little over the details of his sexual prowess, it doesn’t get us anywhere.

Cohen's statement is not only a big step in the federal investigation into President Trump. Naming Trump as an unindicted co-conspirator in campaign finance violations could give Michael Avenatti and Daniels the leverage they need to further their civil suit against the president. Per The Washington Post:

Legal experts said Cohen’s statement could strengthen Daniels’s primary case and accelerate its movement through a federal court, creating the opportunity for Avenatti to depose Trump.
“My sense is that Avenatti is going to be able to get his white whale,” said Andy Wright, a former litigator and an associate White House counsel in the Obama administration.
Daniels is suing Trump to void the 2016 nondisclosure agreement that formally binds her from speaking about their alleged affair. She is also bringing a defamation case over a Trump tweet accusing her of a “con job” after Daniels said she was threatened in 2011 to keep silent about their relationship.
...“If the NDA was part of a criminal conspiracy, then that’s going to very strongly bolster the idea that the contract itself might be void. . . . The NDA was basically the instrument of the payoff in the illegal scheme to protect the electoral interests, under that theory,” he said.

Cohen's admission of guilt could be the motivation the Los Angeles judge overseeing Daniels' case needs to rule that Trump must sit for a deposition. Judges typically refrain from ordering sitting presidents to appear for depositions. Trump would become only the fifth president to be ordered to do so. With a deposition, the chance of the president committing perjury increases dramatically.

“They’ve been operating under this idea that it’s not a crime to lie to the American people,” he said. “That may be true, but when you have a [deposition] transcript out there showing that you made statements contrary to what you said in the past, you have exposure to perjury.”
No matter what Trump says in a deposition, “even if he says the absolute, 100 percent truth,” he could still be at risk of a perjury indictment, given his past statements, Wright said.

Daniels' case could be the first to put the president in actual legal peril.

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