Days before election, Daniels threatened to cancel deal to keep alleged affair with Trump secret

Published March 2
Updated March 2

The 2016 election was less than a month away, and Donald Trump’s attorney had blown the deadline for paying Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about her alleged affair with the future president.

In an Oct. 17 email, an attorney for Daniels — a porn star whose real name is Stephanie Clifford — threatened to cancel the nondisclosure agreement by the end of the day.

That very morning, Trump’s attorney, Michael Cohen, had created a limited liability company, public records show, that ultimately would serve as a vehicle for Daniels’ payoff. But the money had not arrived. A second email to Cohen, a short time after the first, said Daniels was calling the deal off.

"Please be advised that my client deems her settlement agreement canceled and void," Daniels’ lawyer, Keith Davidson, wrote in the email, which the Washington Post obtained.

Ten days later, the $130,000 payment arrived, according to another email reviewed by the Post. Daniels’ story about her sexual encounter with Trump a decade earlier would remain under wraps long past Election Day.

The account of how the deal came together — and how it briefly fell apart — adds a dimension of brinkmanship to the public understanding of the transaction. On the day that Daniels canceled the deal, protesters gathered in front of Trump Tower in New York City to express outrage over week-old revelations that the Republican presidential nominee had once bragged about grabbing women by the crotch, news that was prompting a number of women to come forward with stories of alleged sexual misconduct by the candidate.

"The media is trying to rig the election by giving credence — and this is so true — by giving credence to false stories that have no validity and make it the front page," Trump told supporters that Oct. 17 night in Green Bay, Wis. "They take a story with absolutely nothing, that didn’t exist, and they put it in front-page news because they want to poison the minds of the voters."

Reached by phone late Friday, Cohen asked that questions be sent to him by email and then did not respond to them.

The White House and representatives of the Trump campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

The timing of the Oct. 27 payment, 13 days after the initial deadline and just 12 days before the election, could be significant. Two complaints filed with the Federal Election Commission argue that the payment was intended to influence the Nov. 8 election and violated campaign finance law because it was not reported as an in-kind donation.

In one complaint, the progressive research group American Bridge argues that had Trump been interested only in protecting his reputation, he could have secured Daniels’ silence in 2011, when she first spoke with reporters about the alleged affair. Instead, the complaint says, Cohen waited until October 2016.

The second complaint was filed by Common Cause, a government watchdog group.

"The fact that this payment was made immediately before the presidential general election strongly supports Common Cause’s claim that the payment was about the election and to influence the election," said Paul S. Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation at Common Cause.