Stormy Daniels Takes the Stand

Stormy Daniels Takes the Stand

The trial isn’t about Trump’s bad behavior but committing business crimes to win an election. It’s a shame that Daniels’s story is being ruled largely irrelevant in the courtroom.


First things first: Donald Trump made a big mistake when he didn’t sign Stormy Daniels up for Celebrity Apprentice on NBC in 2005. She wanted stardom; he wanted sex; it seems he could have enjoyed both (even if she says now the sex was tawdry and regrettable). She’s a charismatic character, even as Trump’s defense tried to cast doubt on some of the details she provided on the witness stand Tuesday.

For now, she’s the star of Trump’s Manhattan criminal trial, which centers on how and why he paid Daniels “hush money” to cover up their brief affair before the 2016 election. She came off as strong all day; it’s still hard to know how much the defense pushback dinged her. The questioning continues Wednesday.

“You remind me of my daughter” has to be one of the worst come-on lines in history. But Trump used it on Daniels, comparing her to his beloved Ivanka. After some bantering in his enormous hotel suite, where he showed up in pajamas though he had asked her out for dinner, she used the bathroom. She came out and found him on the bed in his underwear. She asked about his wife; he told her he and Melania didn’t even sleep in the same room. (Their son Barron was just four months old.) Daniels tried to leave; he stood up and blocked the door. Somehow, she wound up on the other side of the bed, in the “missionary position,” shoes off, and sad about it, she told the jury. Trump did not use a condom. When she left, he called her “honeybunch.”

Daniels admits that she continued to occasionally see Trump, still hoping for a shot at a Celebrity Apprentice slot, but that she took pains to only see him in public. Trump’s attorneys tried to make her look like a hustler working all her angles; when no television job materialized, she’d sell her story of their one night together, especially once he was a top contender for the presidency. Having said she took the money from then–Trump lawyer Michael Cohen in 2016 because she too wanted to make sure the story stayed private, Daniels then had to explain why she decided to go public with it not quite two years later. (The Wall Street Journal actually revealed the sexual encounter, and the hush money, in January 2018.) Trump attorney Susan Necheles made her out to be a gold digger, looking for an even bigger payday.

The sad thing is, for Daniels, that payday never arrived; grifting attorney Michael Avenatti defrauded her of several hundred thousand dollars of her book advance, and also filed a defamation suit against Trump that Daniels lost; she still owes the wealthy mogul legal fees for that.

“You’ve been making money by claiming that you had sex with Donald Trump for more than a decade,” the defense attorney charged. Daniels shot back, “I was making money by telling my story about what happened to me.”

“That story has made you a lot of money, right?” Necheles continued.

“It has also cost me a lot of money,” Daniels replied.

Some of Daniels’s testimony might have cost the prosecution points with the judge, and perhaps the jury. Justice Juan Marchan occasionally seemed disturbed by the detail she provided, though he denied the defense’s move for a mistrial. “There were some things that would have been better left unsaid,” the judge said. He also noted that Trump was audibly “cursing” at points during her testimony, and warned him to stop. Courtroom observers said some jurors seemed uncomfortable as well.

Some legal analysts suggested that the details about Melania and Ivanka Trump, for instance, were unnecessary; I’m not a lawyer, but I think the details spoke to his character. Describing him stripping down to his underwear while his unsuspecting dinner date used the restroom, which at least one juror winced at, gives us such an unpleasant picture of his louche entitlement. (Don’t worry, she did not describe his penis, which she has previously said resembled “the mushroom character from Mario Cart.”) Necheles asked her directly: “You hate Trump, don’t you?” She gave a curt “Yes.”

Stormy Daniels was an adult—an adult film star. She insisted that she consented to sex with Trump, though she didn’t want to. So this trial isn’t about his bad sexual behavior but about committing business crimes to win an election. It struck me as a little sad that her story, as she experienced it, is being ruled largely irrelevant in the courtroom. Her bravado doesn’t mean she wasn’t hurt by what Trump did to her. (The damage is very clear in the Peacock documentary Stormy.) Many of us who paid close attention to E. Jean Carroll’s civil suits against Trump recognize some of this: a strong woman who thinks she should have resisted more and is not willing to see herself as a victim. What will it take to make horrible men realize it’s so much more lovely when a woman enjoys your advances? But maybe it’s not, for some horrible men. Certainly not for Trump.

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