AP NEWS

Enquiring Mind Didn’t Want To Know Stormy

November 14, 2018

Every organization has its rules. The Mafia forbade the killing of law-enforcement officials, so when Dutch Schultz (nee Arthur Simon Flegenheimer) planned to kill Tom Dewey, the New York special prosecutor, the mob killed Schultz instead. A similar rule seems to have guided David Pecker, publisher of the National Enquirer, who apparently was willing to have his company pay off one woman who alleged a sexual moment or two with Donald Trump, but not Stephanie Clifford — DBA Stormy Daniels — on the grounds that she is a porn star. This man has his rules. This tidbit in the unfolding tale of Trump and his alleged extramarital affairs comes to us from The Wall Street Journal, the good cop of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire — Fox News being the bad cop. According to the Journal, Pecker’s unanticipated moment of propriety severely complicated the life of Trump and his then-lawyer Michael Cohen. They then had to figure out how to get $130,000 to Clifford some other way — and that, I am here to tell you, is not easy. In contemporary America, cash is harder to come by than honesty. Even a billionaire doesn’t have much hanging around. So, when Pecker allegedly balked at paying off Clifford for providing a story that was never going to be published, Trump had to cough up the cash himself. Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, then came up with the money by drawing from his home-equity line and transferred the payment to Clifford and her lawyer. In return, Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, reimbursed Cohen for his service, booking the transaction as “legal fees.” This, if true, is almost certainly illegal. Paying off alleged paramours for the purpose of winning an election is not deductible. Of course, Trump — and initially Cohen — denied that Trump ever had done so much as shake hands with Clifford. The first statement came from Hope Hicks, who said the allegations were “absolutely, unequivocally” untrue. There then followed a cascade of Oval Office waffling culminating with Trump personally denying the stories and referring the press to Cohen. “Michael is my attorney,” he said, possibly for the last time. The Journal’s story is important for several reasons. The first is that it is not all that complicated. It’s about an alleged payoff, not something smoky like collusion with Moscow or money laundering. Second, it’s partly about a tax case, which is not all that hard to prove. Next, it’s about sex, which unaccountably is more interesting to the average person than, say, soybean tariffs. And, finally — and refreshingly novel — it’s something that the new Democratic House majority can look into. The game now has new rules. Trump so far has proved impervious to scandal or exposé. Bob Woodward’s book “Fear” detailed a White House much like Stalin’s court, but it barely dented Trump’s approval rating. It was published Sept. 11, when Trump had an approval rating of 40 percent, according to Gallup’s weekly poll. Five days later, it stood at 38 percent, then returned to 40 percent a week after. Similarly, Michael Wolff’s nearly as coruscating “Fire and Fury” did not really budge the president’s approval rating. It stood at 39 percent on Jan. 5, the date the book was published, and was down an inconsequential one point by the end of the month. Trump’s approval went up just a couple weeks after James Comey’s “A Higher Loyalty” came out. Like the previously mentioned books, it was a best seller. Newspapers fared no better. The Washington Post broke the story of Trump’s gamey “Access Hollywood” tape on Oct. 8, 2016. Exactly a month later, he was elected president. Earlier this year, The New York Times disgorged several thousand words alleging Trump played cute with his taxes. That was Oct 2. Within a week, Trump’s approval was up 1 point. Up to now, the other shoe never has dropped on Trump. That’s because the entire government has been controlled by Republicans: the amoral Trump, the vaporous House Speaker Paul Ryan and the oleaginous Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell oozing moral indifference. Relevant parts of government have reposed inert, morally lobotomized and cowed, unwilling to take up where journalism had left off. Come January, however, this will change. Democrats will be running the House and its investigative committees. A feast awaits its investigators who will scan the press for tips. They could start with the Journal’s tale of how Trump personally supervised the transfer of $130,000 to Stephanie Clifford. It entails alleged lying, possible tax evasion, campaign-finance violations —and the delicious opportunity of getting Clifford to testify. As Trump has learned, she has her rules, too. RICHARD COHEN writes for The Washington Post. cohenr@washpost.com.

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