The scandal over Donald Trump and his alleged sexual affair a decade ago with adult film star and director Stormy Daniels, and the $130,000 payoff sent to Daniels by Trump's lawyer just weeks before the 2016 presidential election to purchase her silence about the liaison, may help shed light on Trump's possible collusion with Russia in the election. According to at least one member of congress, the Daniels affair should be part the Russia investigation run by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
"I think it's part and parcel of the Mueller investigation as to what was going on with the Trump team," Hawaii representative Mazie Hirono told CNN on Friday. "There may be allegations that have to do with campaign spending violations, various things like that."
Writing in the Washington Monthly magazine, journalist Martin Longman also connected the firestorm over the 38-year-old Daniels — whose real name is Stephanie Clifford — to the Russia collusion scandal.
"If this story has real legs, it's more for what it reveals about Trump's ability to brazenly lie and his strategies from dealing with crisis," Longman wrote on Thursday. "If we can't believe him about Stormy Daniels, and we surely cannot, then we have less reason to believe him about Russia."
The same Trump confidant, Michael Cohen, his longtime personal lawyer and self-described "fix it guy," has emerged as a key player — perhaps the key player — in both the Daniels and Russia imbroglios.
It was Cohen who, by his own admission, made the $130,000 payment to Daniels, claiming on Friday that he obtained the money by taking out a loan against his house. Cohen claims that he acted completely on his own, without any knowledge of involvement from Trump or the Trump Organization. But, according to an NBC News report on Friday, Cohen used his official Trump Organization email account not only to arrange the $130,000 money transfer between banks, but also to correspond with Daniels' previous lawyer when he made arrangements to pay off the adult video performer.
Cohen has also allegedly served as Trump's fixer in the president's relations with Russia. In fact, the Trump-Russia dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, say that Cohen also arranged payoffs to Russian hackers who "infiltrated and leaked emails from the campaign of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee," according to the dossier.
Nonetheless, emails between Cohen and Felix Sater, a Russian-born, Brooklyn-raised businessman with alleged organized crime ties show that the two at least planned to take part in a conspiracy to "engineer" Trump's election as president with Russian government help. Sater and Cohen were attempting to work together on the proposed Trump Tower Moscow real estate project that remained active as late as February, 2017, weeks after Trump's inauguration.
"I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected," Sater wrote to Cohen in November of 2015. "Buddy our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putin's team to buy in on this."
Cohen's apparent willingness to "engineer" secret conspiracies on Trump's behalf, even — according to the dossier allegations — making secret payments to Russian hackers, parallels his alleged activities in what appears to be his attempted cover-up of Trump's affair with Daniels. That's not the only echo of the Russia scandal in the Daniels affair.
A key allegation in the Steele dossier, one which several witnesses have at least partly supported, is that Trump is subject to blackmail by the Russian intelligence agencies who possess evidence of what the dossier calls his "personal obsessions and sexual perversion."
While Trump has scoffed at the sexual allegations in the dossier, the payoff to Stormy Daniels demonstrates that he, or at least his "fix it guy" Cohen, is willing to pay large sums of money to keep potentially damaging information about Trump's sexual behavior out of the public sphere.
"What the Daniels saga demonstrates is that the White House officials' unwillingness to disclose their sordid pasts has compromised the security of the United States," wrote former Obama White House official Alyssa Mastromonaco in the Huffington Post on Friday. "What other secrets might individuals or foreign governments be able to use to get the president of the United States to do what they want?"