11:47, March 08 84 0 theguardian.com

2018-03-08 11:47:04
Stormy Daniels and Trump: an open secret and ongoing legal headache

The story of Donald Trump’s alleged relationship with the pornographic actor Stephanie Clifford – aka Stormy Daniels – is an open secret. Longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen has admitted paying Clifford $130,000.

But at the same time, the story is the object of an ongoing, almost slapstick behind-the-scenes scramble by Cohen to keep a lid on the whole thing, involving alliterative pseudonyms, a shell company, secret arbitration, threats and at least one active lawsuit.

It’s unclear to what extent the affair is consuming the attention of the US president. The White House says Trump has addressed the matter “directly”, which is not true, and treats it as settled.

Meanwhile a watchdog group has claimed in a lawsuit that the payment to Clifford, which was made just before the 2016 presidential election, violated campaign finance laws.

The latest twist came on Wednesday night, when the New York Times obtained a temporary restraining order issued by a private arbitrator in Los Angeles on 27 February precluding one Peggy Peterson from disclosing “confidential information” as defined in an earlier secret agreement.

Peggy Peterson is Stephanie Clifford, according to a separate lawsuit brought by Clifford days later, while Trump, for the purposes of his legal dealings with Clifford, “was referred to by the alias ‘David Dennison’ or ‘DD’.”

The restraining order sought to bar Clifford from following through on her perceived intention of telling the story of an “intimate relationship”, as court documents brand it, with Trump in 2006 and 2007.

But the restraining order, which lists as the claimant EC LLC, a limited liability corporation formed by Cohen that wired money to Clifford, instead seems to have prompted Clifford to sue the president on Tuesday.

The suit, which accuses Cohen of not observing due process, seeks a court order that would void a hush agreement between Trump and Clifford.

Clifford’s lawyer, Michael Avenatti, told the Times his client would not accept any money to settle the suit, saying, “at this point, we are well beyond that – this is a search for the truth”.

Avenatti told NBC News on Wednesday that Cohen had used a second lawyer to threaten Clifford that day.

“Earlier today, Mr Cohen through his attorney, Mr Rosen, further threatened my client in an effort to prevent her from telling the truth about what really happened,” Avenatti said. “We do not take kindly to these threats.”

Clifford’s lawsuit against the president accuses Cohen of initiating “a bogus arbitration proceeding” and says “considerable steps have been taken by Mr Cohen in the last week to silence Ms Clifford through the use of an improper and procedurally defective arbitration proceeding hidden from public view”.

The lawsuit accuses the president of direct involvement in Cohen’s machinations.

“The extent of Mr Trump’s involvement in these efforts is presently unknown,” the suit says, “but it strains credulity to conclude that Mr Cohen is acting on his own accord without the express without the express approval and knowledge of his client Mr Trump.”

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