This story is the stuff of tabloids. “Porn star,” “President,” and “lawsuit” are words we expect to show up next to other high profile journalism like “Jesus Action Figure Heals the Sick!” (an actual headline). Unfortunately, this is no joke. Adult film star Stormy Daniels (real name Stephanie Clifford), winner of F.A.M.E.’s “Favorite Breasts” in 2006, 2007, and 2009, is suing the President of the United States of America. The details in this case call into question Trump’s actions, and, because of that, the validity of his election as a whole.

Quick refresher: according to Daniels, she and Trump met in 2006 and had sex once. They continued talking, and he offered her a possible spot on The Apprentice, only to later rescind the offer. They parted ways amicably a couple of months afterwards, though they still continued to communicate occasionally. Five years later, In Touch Magazine offered Daniels $15,000 to tell her story, but, hearing about this proposal, Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, allegedly hired someone to threaten her in front of her child. Reports of the affair surfaced on The Smoking Gun website in 2016 but gained little traction. Aware of the harm this could do to Trump’s election bid, Cohen established a limited liability corporation—Essential Consultants, LLC—to pay Daniels $130,000 to sign a non-disclosure agreement. The Wall Street Journal finally published the full story in January, 2018, and Daniels sued Trump in March to void her non-disclosure agreement (NDA), citing that he had not officially signed it.
While it is easy to get caught up in the scandal of this story, the particularly damning details lie not in the sordidness of Trump’s weird fetishes but in the legality of NDA signings, so-called damages, and campaign funding (sexy!).

Let’s start with the NDA. Both Trump and Daniels used aliases on the agreement: David Dennison and Peggy Peterson. At the bottom of the agreement, there are three spaces provided for both Trump and Daniels’ names, as well as one for “Essential Consultants, LLC.” Cohen signed that space and Daniels used her real name, but Trump’s name is conspicuously absent—according to Daniels, so he could deny involvement if the document surfaced later.
Does that invalidate the NDA as a whole? That is what Daniel’s lawsuit addresses. When enforcing an NDA, a fine (in this case, $1 million) is exacted if the person discloses information. Unfortunately for Trump, Daniels’s arbitration—what Cohen ordered after Daniels revealed the details of the affair to get the courts to give her a temporary restraining order against Trump and restrict her ability to talk about him—was issued by “Essential Consultants, LLC.” As a fake company, the LLC didn’t incur any damages from Daniels’ disclosures. Cohen would be hard pressed to argue that it did. In order to make the argument that he has suffered damages because of her breach, Trump would have to start a suit in his own name.
Even if Trump decides to press charges against Daniels, it would still be difficult for him to argue that she owes him millions. Trump’s lawyers say that Daniels owes $1 million for every time she breached confidentiality and that she has done so more than twenty times. Put bluntly, this is a nonsensical argument. Contract law requires that the breaching party has to “right” damages for the other party, either by a paid sum or an agreed-upon action. However, it’s hard to quantify the damages that Trump incurs from Daniels telling her story. Afterall, it has not cost him a job, and, with a fixed salary, it has no effect on his pay (the Trump family’s profits might be another story). Additionally, the twentieth time Daniels tells this story does not “damage” Trump as much as the first, so demanding the same amount of payment is absurd. There’s a reason it is not possible to issue an NDA on information that is already publicly known.
The third conundrum in this comedy of errors is the issue of using campaign funds to buy someone’s silence. By saving the Trump campaign money and paying Daniels himself, Cohen made a $130,000 in-kind contribution to the Trump campaign, which is, according to the former chairman of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) Trevor Potter, “about $126,500 above what he’s allowed to give.” In other words, an individual can’t give more than $2,700 to a candidate (to avoid buying elections) and they must be reported to the FEC. Did Cohen do that? Of course he didn’t. Of all the sordid things he could have gotten charged with in this case, Cohen got caught not reporting election contributions to the FEC. As a result, federal investigators recently raided Cohen’s office and seized many (unreported) files, bringing to light more of his shady dealings.
Finally, the topics raised here bring into question the legitimacy of Trump’s candidacy. While advocating for impeachment is impractical given that he has not yet been convicted of breaking the law, there are fundamental issues with the fact that the American people did not know of this situation during the election. Would that knowledge have changed his vote count? Is this just the tip of the iceberg of people Trump has paid off to keep quiet? This fiasco brings to light a lot of what Trump and Cohen aren’t telling the American people. Karen McDougal, anyone?