WASHINGTON ― The fallout from then-presidential candidate Donald Trump ― or one of his aides ― paying off a former adult film actress in 2016 to keep quiet about their alleged sexual relationship has dominated cable news for weeks. But there’s one group of people in Washington who don’t seem all that interested in the Stormy Daniels scandal: Democratic leaders.
When House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was asked about the topic Thursday, she sidestepped the question, saying Democrats are more concerned about the president’s policies than his personal life.
“I don’t know that we necessarily have to get involved on any of that,” Pelosi said ― though she noted that “you can be sure, if any of that were happening with a Democrat, the Republicans would be very involved in it.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) also passed on a question about Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, and the $130,000 payment connected to a nondisclosure agreement for her silence.
“I’m not going to comment on that issue,” Schumer said Wednesday. “We want to stick to infrastructure.”
Democratic leaders are seemingly so sensitive about Trump’s alleged relationship with Daniels, and the subsequent payment to her, that they struggle even to refer to it in conversation. Pelosi said Thursday that Americans are worried about the economy, rather than “whatever category you want to place the president’s, um ― rumors about the president’s personal life.”
In fairness, the story needs no help staying in the headlines. And Democrats’ reluctance to comment on it may be more a matter of strategy than propriety. “You never want to hold up traffic when there’s a car wreck,” one Democratic leadership aide told HuffPost on Thursday. “Let Donald be Donald.”
Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen expressed a similar sentiment. “I think this is one of those good cases of, if your opponent is blowing himself up on an issue, get out of the way,” she said. “Go Stormy!”
But the topic is potentially much larger than the president’s “personal life.”
For one thing, it’s a precarious situation to have a president who’s apparently susceptible to blackmail. If Trump is paying off people to stay quiet about affairs, what if that information got in the hands of a foreign adversary?
For another, there are a host of questions about the money Daniels received in October 2016 to stay quiet. Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, has suggested he personally paid the porn actress, which could constitute an excessive in-kind donation. The payment came about a decade after the alleged affair, so it was clearly intended to influence the presidential election, meaning it likely should have been reported as a campaign expense. And if Trump did pay off Daniels with his own money, he may have been reimbursed through the campaign, with the Trump Organization charging the campaign for rent and other activities.
If the money came from the Trump Organization, that would also be a problem, as corporations can’t make contributions to candidates.
On top of those legal issues, there’s also a potent moral case that Democrats apparently refuse to make. Trump, a candidate embraced by the Christian right, is credibly accused of cheating on his wife with an adult film star. He then apparently paid her off to stay quiet, and has been less than forthcoming about the questions surrounding that payment.
Meanwhile, Democratic leaders can’t even bring themselves to call it an “affair.”
Igor Bobic contributed reporting.