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Has Trump's 'Jewish wingman' found his match in porn star Stormy Daniels?

$130,000 payment puts the president's personal lawyer Michael Cohen in the spotlight

    Composite: Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels
    Composite: Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels (Photos: Getty Images)

    He has been described as Donald Trump’s “Jewish wingman”, with a voice that sounds like the president “with the volume turned down from 11 to around seven”.

    However, Michael Cohen and the man he loyally served for a decade as his personal lawyer may have finally met their match in a porn star.

    This week, Stormy Daniels appeared on CBS’s 60 Minutes to tell the story of an alleged affair with Mr Trump that began shortly after his wife gave birth to their son, Barron, in 2006.

    It is a story for which great effort – and a great deal of money – has apparently been spent to keep it under wraps. As one US commentator suggested on the eve of Ms Daniels’ primetime appearance, it is the star of such masterpieces as Lust on the Prairie and Dirty Deeds, not Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who may ultimately spell Mr Trump’s doom.

    It was in January revealed that Mr Cohen paid $130,000 (£92,000) to Ms Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, days before the 2016 election. In return, she signed a non-disclosure agreement – which contained concocted names for all those involved – prohibiting her from talking about the alleged affair.

    It remains a mystery why Mr Cohen might have paid money to a woman who both he and the White House vehemently deny had a relationship with Mr Trump.

    The president’s lawyer says neither the Trump Organisation nor the campaign was involved in the payment, but it has not gone unnoticed that Mr Cohen did not rule out that Mr Trump may have been. Nor is the ultimate source of the $130,000 clear, given that the lawyer admits only to having “facilitate[d]” the payment with his “own personal funds.”

    Subsequently, the Wall Street Journal has claimed Mr Cohen privately complained both that he has not been reimbursed for the payment and that he struggled to reach Mr Trump while the agreement was being negotiated. The story, if true, would implicate the president in the payment to Ms Daniels.

    Over the past month, both Ms Daniels and Mr Cohen have been involved in a fierce legal battle. She has gone to court arguing that the “hush agreement” is invalid because Mr Trump did not sign it.

    Mr Cohen, in turn, has sought a temporary restraining order against Ms Daniels prohibiting her from revealing “confidential information” related to the nondisclosure agreement. He has also warned that he could seek up to $20 million (£14 million) from Ms Daniels for breaches of the 2016 deal. Ms Daniels’ legal team has countered that she will happily return the $130,000.

    Ms Daniels’ interview – in which she suggested that threats from Mr Cohen led her to sign a statement in January which again denied any relationship – thus represents a massive “put up or shut up” challenge to the president’s lawyer.

    He denies threatening her.

    But that is not the only challenge Mr Cohen faces. Complaints filed with the Federal Election Commission allege that the payment to Ms Daniels was timed to influence the election and thus represents an undisclosed in-kind contribution to Mr Trump’s campaign.

    Mr Cohen has denied he broke campaign finance laws.

    Last week, former Playboy centrefold Karen McDougal, who also claims to have had a relationship with Mr Trump, suggested Mr Cohen was involved in a deal struck before the 2016 election in which a tabloid newspaper purchased her story.

    After she signed a confidentiality agreement, the newspaper – which is owned by a friend of Mr Trump’s – declined to publish the story.

    A lawsuit filed by Ms McDougal argues that her-then lawyer worked secretly with the publisher and Mr Cohen as “part of a broad effort to silence and intimidate” her. The White House has denied the affair.

    Mr Cohen is said to bring out the president’s scorched-earth tendencies. On this occasion, however, they may be playing with fire.

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