Wait, back up a minute. We just zoomed past a story that would have been a five-alarm scandal for any other administration, with weeks of screaming front-page headlines: “The President and the Porn Star.”
The Wall Street Journal had the scoop Jan. 12: “A lawyer for President Donald Trump arranged a $130,000 payment to a former adult-film star a month before the 2016 election as part of an agreement that precluded her from publicly discussing an alleged sexual encounter with Mr. Trump, according to people familiar with the matter.”
The porn star in question is Stormy Daniels. The alleged affair took place in 2006, a year and a half after Trump married his third wife, Melania, and just months after their son Barron was born.
Whoa. You’d think Trump’s supporters in the evangelical movement would finally call him out for his loose — or nonexistent — morals. Instead, however, they have suddenly turned into a bunch of Left Bank cafe intellectuals, scoffing at silly American Puritanism as they sip absinthe and flick ashes from their unfiltered Gauloises.
“We kind of gave him, all right, you get a mulligan. You get a do-over here,” said Tony Perkins, president of the right-wing Family Research Council. For the full effect, imagine that quote spoken in a heavy French accent. A doo-ovair.
Evangelist Franklin Graham tarnished the legacy of his father, Billy, by also defending Trump, saying that while “he is not President Perfect,” he does “have a concern for Christian values.”
When there’s not a porn star around, apparently.
I can’t pretend to be shocked, shocked that conservative political activists who cloak themselves in gaudy religiosity turn out to be rank hypocrites. That’s nothing new. I do feel sorry, though, for the millions of Christians who look to figures such as Perkins and Graham for moral leadership. They must be terribly confused.
After all, Perkins’ predecessor at the Family Research Council, Gary Bauer, said this when Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky was revealed in 1998: “Character counts — in a people, in the institutions of our society, and in our national leadership.”
Apparently, it only counts when a Democrat is in the White House, not a Republican. I’m still looking for the Bible verse that spells out this distinction, but it must be in there somewhere.
The story itself is of more than merely prurient interest. Trump and lawyer Michael Cohen deny everything. But Daniels gave a 5,000-word interview to In Touch magazine in which she described her sexual encounter with Trump in convincing detail. And the Journal, in a follow-up story, gave a step-by-step account of how Cohen allegedly made the hush-money payment.
According to the newspaper, Cohen formed a Delaware company — taking advantage of the state’s no-tell privacy laws — called Essential Consultants LLC on Oct. 17, 2016. He then used a bank account linked to the company to pay the $130,000 into an account controlled by a lawyer representing Daniels.
As the Watergate source “Deep Throat” never actually said to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward: “Follow the money.”
Where did the cash come from? One thing we learned about Trump during the campaign is that he is loath to spend his own money when he can spend somebody else’s instead. And one thing we learned from Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury” is that another Trump lawyer “took care” of “a hundred” women during the campaign, according to Steve Bannon, the campaign’s chief executive.
Let’s assume Bannon was exaggerating and “a hundred” really means “several.” If I were special counsel Robert Mueller, I’d want to know how much money was paid in total to the women and I’d want to make sure that no campaign funds were used, since that would be illegal.
Remember the context: On Oct. 7, 2016, the Post reported on and published the “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump boasted of sexually harassing and assaulting women. Ten days later, according to the Journal, Trump’s lawyer created the shell company that was allegedly used as a conduit for money to buy Daniels’ silence.
Something tells me Mueller’s all-star team of white-collar prosecutors will find out if any other phantom companies were formed, if any other paramours were paid to keep quiet, and where any such money came from. And that is only the lesser of Trump’s worries about the Stormy Daniels Affair.
The greater is that Melania Trump may not be as indulgent of Trump’s behavior as the sanctimonious preachers who enable him.
Eugene Robinson is a columnist for The Washington Post.