An assistant general counsel at the president’s flagship holding company intervened in arbitration proceeding in California to enforce a nondisclosure deal with former porn star
Documents marked “HIGHLY CONFIDENTIAL PROCEEDING” for the first time tie President Donald Trump’s flagship holding company to the continuing effort to silence a former adult-film actress who says she had an affair with Mr. Trump.
.. A Trump Organization lawyer, Jill A. Martin, is listed as counsel in an arbitration demand for Essential Consultants LLC, a Delaware company formed by Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer and used to pay $130,000 to Stephanie Clifford in exchange for her silence, according to Feb. 22 arbitration documents filed in Orange County, Calif.
.. Mr. Cohen, who was employed by the Trump Organization when he brokered the deal with Ms. Clifford shortly before the 2016 presidential election, has maintained he was acting on his own and has called it a “private transaction.”
.. Proving any violation would require evidence of coordination between Messrs. Cohen and Trump or his campaign, campaign-finance experts say.
.. Ms. Martin emailed a statement from the company that said she facilitated the filing “in her individual capacity” until a New York-based lawyer gained approval to practice in California. “The company has had no involvement in the matter,” the statement said
.. The arbitration filings, revealed by Michael Avenatti, Ms. Clifford’s attorney, show a direct connection between Mr. Trump’s company and the nondisclosure agreement with Ms. Clifford.
.. Ms. Martin signed a declaration listing her office address as One Trump National Drive, which is at the Trump Organization’s Trump National Golf Club in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.
.. She was a lead attorney for the Trump Organization in lawsuits alleging Mr. Trump’s real-estate seminars, Trump University, had defrauded customers.
.. Ms. Martin vouched for his character in media interviews during the 2016 campaign, after several women accused him of sexual harassment and assault
.. “Thousands of women have worked for him, including myself, and he’s treated us with nothing but respect and appropriately. And he’s always been someone who none of us would ever imagine he would do something like this,”
.. Mr. Cohen said he hadn’t been reimbursed by the Trump Organization or by Mr. Trump’s campaign, but declined to say if he had been reimbursed by Mr. Trump or anyone else.
.. He was listed as “David Dennison,” also a pseudonym,
As any longtime legal hand in the capital remembers well, it was a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by an Arkansas state employee, Paula Jones, against Bill Clinton that led to his impeachment for lying about his affair with Monica S. Lewinsky.
.. The case of the adult film actress, Stephanie Clifford, who uses the stage-name Stormy Daniels, may not get past even the first considerable obstacles. But if her court case proceeds, Mr. Trump and his longtime personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, may have to testify in depositions
.. Ms. Clifford’s agreement with Mr. Cohen stipulated that they would resolve disputes in the confidential arbitration proceedings. Assuming she does not blink — and her lawyer has said she won’t — it will fall to a judge in Los Angeles, where the suit was filed, to decide whether to compel Ms. Clifford to return to arbitration or allow the case to go forward in court
.. “A lawsuit opens the door, and judges almost always allow for a plaintiff to have a fishing expedition,” said Robert S. Bennett, the Washington lawyer who represented Mr. Clinton in the Paula Jones case. The questions could include, “Have you paid other people money?” he said.
.. perhaps intending to broaden it later to include claims that Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen coerced her into silence. “If that happened,” he said, “they certainly could seek to depose Trump.”
And in that case, he said, “I can certainly imagine how it might get broader.
And if it did, the wide array of Trump’s sexual interactions could be addressed
.. Ms. Clifford’s signature on the contract, and acceptance of the money, could count as a clear sign of agreement.
.. But other legal experts were struck by the sweeping nature of the nondisclosure agreement Ms. Clifford signed, and expressed skepticism that it would hold up in court. Beyond the circumstances of the alleged sexual relationship, the agreement barred her from doing anything, even indirectly, to “publicly disparage” Mr. Trump... Ms. Clifford has claimed that she met Mr. Trump at a celebrity golf tournament in 2006 and began a relationship that included sex and promises from Mr. Trump to get her on his NBC show “The Apprentice” and to give her a condominium... Mr. Avenatti argues that because Mr. Trump did not sign it himself, the agreement is invalid — a point Mr. Super, the Georgetown professor, basically agreed with and Mr. Noble said might have merit... The extent to which Mr. Cohen was acting on his own in striking the agreement with Ms. Clifford and paying her is crucial.. Important factors in the case would include just how closely Mr. Cohen coordinated the payment to Ms. Clifford with Mr. Trump and whether it was intended to help the campaign avoid negative publicity... But in her suit, Ms. Clifford tries to implicate Mr. Trump in the transaction, saying the offer of money was intended to buy her silence to help “ensure he won the presidential election.”.. It could have simply been a personal matter, he said, of Mr. Trump wishing to keep a secret from his wife.
.. Under federal law, banks are required to flag transactions that have no business or apparent lawful purpose or that deviate inexplicably from a customer’s normal bank activity.
.. The one-year lag between the payment by Mr. Cohen and the bank inquiry is unusual. It suggests that City National received new information that prompted it to take a fresh look at the transaction
.. Mr. Cohen’s role in a proposal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow in late 2015 and early 2016, the Journal has reported. In a September 2017 statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mr. Cohen said the proposal was “solely a real estate deal and nothing more” and noted it was terminated “months before the first primary.”
they are serving in the least ethical administration in our history? The “our” is important, because there have been more crooked regimes — but only in banana republics. The corruption and malfeasance of the Trump administration is unprecedented in U.S. history. The only points of comparison are the Gilded Age scandals of the Grant administration, Teapot Dome under the Harding administration, and Watergate and the bribe-taking of Vice President Spiro Agnew during the Nixon administration.
.. tweet from President Trump: “Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the Inspector General to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse. . . . Why not use Justice Department lawyers? DISGRACEFUL!” Translation: Trump is exercised that the Justice Department is following its normal procedures.
Sessions fired back: “As long as I am the Attorney General, I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor.” Translation: The president is asking him to act without“integrity and honor.”
.. This is part of a long pattern of the president pressuring the “beleaguered” Sessions — a.k.a. “Mr. Magoo” — to misuse his authority to shut down the special counsel investigation of Trump and to launch investigations of Trump’s political foes. Because Sessions won’t do that, Trump has tried to force him from office. The president does not recognize that he is doing anything improper. He thinks the attorney general should be his private lawyer.
.. The poor man has no idea of what the “rule of law” even means
.. he said: “Take the guns first, go through due process second.” This from a supposed supporter of the Second Amendment.
This is a president, after all, whose
- communications director quit on Wednesday after admitting to lying (but insists her resignation was unrelated); whose
- senior staff included an alleged wife-beater; whose
- former national security adviser and deputy campaign manager have pleaded guilty to felonies; whose
- onetime campaign chairman faces 27 criminal charges, including conspiracy against the United States; whose
- attorney paid off a porn star; and whose
- son mixed family and government business on a trip to India.
One woman’s account of clandestine meetings, financial transactions, and legal pacts designed to hide an extramarital affair.
.. At the time of the party, Trump had been married to the Slovenian model Melania Knauss for less than two years; their son, Barron, was a few months old. Trump seemed uninhibited by his new family obligations. McDougal later wrote that Trump “immediately took a liking to me, kept talking to me – telling me how beautiful I was, etc. It was so obvious that a Playmate Promotions exec said, ‘Wow, he was all over you – I think you could be his next wife.’ ”
.. Purchasing a story in order to bury it is a practice that many in the tabloid industry call “catch and kill.” This is a favorite tactic of the C.E.O. and chairman of A.M.I., David Pecker, who describes the President as “a personal friend.”
.. Six former A.M.I. employees told me that Pecker routinely makes catch-and-kill arrangements like the one reached with McDougal. “We had stories and we bought them knowing full well they were never going to run,”
.. George said that Pecker protected Trump. “Pecker really considered him a friend,” George told me. “We never printed a word about Trump without his approval.”
.. Pecker also used the unpublished stories as “leverage” over some celebrities in order to pressure them to pose for his magazines or feed him stories. Several former employees said that these celebrities included Arnold Schwarzenegger, as reported by the Los Angeles Times, and Tiger Woods.
.. McDougal wrote that Trump impressed her. “I was so nervous! I was into his intelligence + charm. Such a polite man,” she wrote.
.. All three women say that they were escorted to a bungalow at the hotel by a Trump bodyguard, whom two of the women have identified as Keith Schiller.
.. Over the course of the affair, Trump flew McDougal to public events across the country but hid the fact that he paid for her travel. “No paper trails for him,” she wrote. “In fact, every time I flew to meet him, I booked/paid for flight + hotel + he reimbursed me.”
.. In July, 2006, McDougal joined Trump at the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship, at the Edgewood Resort, on Lake Tahoe. At a party there, she and Trump sat in a booth with the New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, and Trump told her that Brees had recognized her, remarking, “Baby, you’re popular.”
.. During the Lake Tahoe tournament, McDougal and Trump had sex, she wrote. He also allegedly began a sexual relationship with Clifford at the event.
.. Another adult-film actress, whose screen name is Alana Evans, claimed that Trump invited her to join them in his hotel room that weekend. A third adult-film performer, known as Jessica Drake, alleged that Trump asked her to his hotel room
.. During Trump’s relationship with McDougal, she wrote, he introduced her to members of his family and took her to his private residences. At a January, 2007, launch party in Los Angeles for Trump’s now-defunct liquor brand, Trump Vodka, McDougal, who was photographed entering the event, recalled sitting at a table with Kim Kardashian, Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., and Trump, Jr.,’s wife, Vanessa, who was pregnant.
.. At one point, Trump held a party for “The Apprentice” at the Playboy Mansion, and McDougal worked as a costumed Playboy bunny. “We took pics together, alone + with his family,” McDougal wrote. She recalled that Trump said he had asked his son Eric “who he thought was the most beautiful girl here + Eric pointed me. Mr. T said ‘He has great taste’ + we laughed!”
.. In Trump Tower, McDougal wrote, Trump pointed out Melania’s separate bedroom. He “said she liked her space,” McDougal wrote, “to read or be alone.”
.. McDougal’s account, like those of Clifford and other women who have described Trump’s advances, conveys a man preoccupied with his image. McDougal recalled that Trump would often send her articles about him or his daughter, as well as signed books and sun visors from his golf courses.
.. Trump also promised to buy McDougal an apartment in New York as a Christmas present. Clifford, likewise, said that Trump promised to buy her a condo in Tampa. For Trump, showing off real estate and other branded products was sometimes a prelude to sexual advances.
.. The decision was reinforced by a series of comments Trump made that McDougal found disrespectful, according to several of her friends. When she raised her concern about her mother’s disapproval to Trump, he replied, “What, that old hag?” (McDougal, hurt, pointed out that Trump and her mother were close in age.)
.. friend mentioned a relationship she had had with an African-American man. According to multiple sources, Trump remarked that the friend liked “the big black dick” and began commenting on her attractiveness and breast size. The interactions angered the friend and deeply offended McDougal.
..Crawford said, referring to Trump. “I said, ‘You know, if you had a physical relationship with him, that could be worth something about now.’ And I looked at her and she had that guilty look on her face.”
“The thing seems so weird that it invites an inquiry into what you’re doing,” he said. “Lawyers don’t go around giving $130,000 to strangers, benefiting their clients, without billing their clients.”
.. Keith Davidson, a Los Angeles lawyer who represented Ms. Clifford in the 2016 transaction, issued a statement Wednesday declaring that Mr. Cohen had told him at the time that the $130,000 payment was coming from his own funds.
“I represented Stephanie Clifford in the Michael Cohen/Stephanie Clifford transaction,” Mr. Davidson’s statement said. “I read today that Michael Cohen reports that the source of the $130,000 paid to Ms. Clifford was from his own personal funds. That assertion is in complete harmony with what he informed me of at the time of the transaction.”
.. Ms. Clifford believes that Mr. Cohen, in making his statement, has breached a nondisclosure agreement she signed in connection with the payment, releasing her from the confidentiality commitment, according to Gina Rodriguez, her manager. Ms. Clifford, she said, is now offering to sell her story to media outlets so that she can tell her version of events.
.. Last month, Mr. Cohen sent Wall Street Journal reporters a written statement in Ms. Clifford’s name denying that she had had “a sexual and/or romantic affair” with Mr. Trump or “received hush money from Mr. Trump.” He also issued his own statement saying that Mr. Trump “vehemently denies” any affair with her.
If evidence emerged showing that those statements were false and that Mr. Cohen knew they were false, his role in disseminating them could violate Rule 8.4, several legal ethics specialists said. It prohibits lawyers from engaging “in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.”
.. “Lawyers are not allowed to lie,” with some exceptions, said Lisa Lerman, a legal ethics professor at the Catholic University of America, and they are “also not allowed to induce other people to engage in conduct that they are prohibited from.”
But Stephen Gillers, a New York University professor of ethics law, said that in practice, the ethics rule against dishonesty is generally not interpreted so broadly as to cover facilitating a lie to the public or to journalists.
Here’s some of what Cohen said Tuesday:
In a private transaction in 2016, I used my own personal funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000 to Ms. Stephanie Clifford [Daniels’s real name]. 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. The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone.
You might notice there is one main Trump-related entity that Cohen doesn’t deny was “party to the transaction” or reimbursed Cohen, and that’s Trump.
It’s also noteworthy that Cohen uses the word “facilitate” — a word that seems to leave open to the possibility that the chain doesn’t end at the use of “my own personal funds.”
It’s difficult to dismiss either as a coincidence, given Cohen is a lawyer and has carefully parsed his comments throughout this situation. He has regularly offered what seemed to be denials but didn’t totally deny the details of what the Journal had reported.
.. Cohen offered a denial that didn’t directly address whether he had made the payment; instead, he focused on whether the affair happened. “This is now the second time that you are raising outlandish allegations against my client,” he told the Journal. “You have attempted to perpetuate this false narrative for over a year; a narrative that has been consistently denied by all parties since at least 2011.”
.. that sounds a lot like a denial, but he’s denying something very specific — and turns out it wasn’t the payment.
.. he suggests that he was merely combating the rumors of an affair: “Just because something isn’t true doesn’t mean that it can’t cause you harm or damage. I will always protect Mr. Trump.”
.. Cohen again offered a non-denial denial. “You’re [sic] obsessive drive to prove a false narrative, one that has been rebuked by all parties, must come to an end,” Cohen wrote.
But the lion’s share of that “narrative” has now been confirmed by Cohen himself.
.. suggesting that he wasn’t serving as a conduit
.. The big question is whether Cohen served as a conduit for anyone else — especially Trump.
.. Cohen emphasizes that he used his own personal funds to “facilitate” the payment, but he doesn’t directly say that he wasn’t reimbursed by anyone. Indeed, the word “facilitate” means to make something easy or less difficult, which could be read to describe serving as a middle man for such payments.
.. then says he doesn’t “plan to provide any further comment” — is tough to dismiss as a coincidence.
.. Almost as tough as it is to believe that Cohen would make such a payment without Trump having any knowledge of the situation.