The clash between Stormy Daniels and President Trump intensified Monday in the aftermath of the porn star’s “60 Minutes” interview, with each side claiming the other is lying about an alleged sexual encounter in Lake Tahoe.
The spectacle of an adult entertainer recalling the time she spanked a future president with a magazine featuring his face on the cover was a major draw for CBS on Sunday night; more than 21 million viewers tuned in.
Tawdry details aside, the legal stakes — and political trouble for Trump — mounted Monday as Daniels filed a defamation claim against the president’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.
Cohen in effect called Daniels a liar last month in a public statement challenging her comments about having sex with Trump, her complaint said.
He “made the statement knowing it was false or had serious doubts about the truth,” Daniels charged in papers filed in Los Angeles federal court.
The complaint, expanding on a lawsuit she filed against Trump on March 6, accused Cohen of breaking federal law when he set up a shell corporation to pay her $130,000 in hush money 11 days before the November 2016 presidential election.
Former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who was also paid during the campaign to stay quiet about an alleged 10-month romance with Trump, has filed a similar lawsuit. Both suits say the payments were meant to influence the election by keeping Trump’s extramarital affairs from voters and thus were illegal campaign donations.
Cohen, who had dinner with Trump over the weekend at the president’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, did not respond to emails seeking comment. He has denied the payments to the women had anything to do with Trump’s run for president.
Trump maintained his uncharacteristic silence about Daniels on Monday, letting White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah speak for him. Shah declined to say whether the president watched her on “60 Minutes,” but attacked Daniels’ credibility on his behalf.
“The president doesn’t believe that any of the claims that Ms. Daniels made last night in the interview are accurate,” Shah said.
Daniels, he said, had no corroboration for her charge that a man threatened her with physical harm if she were to go public with her story about Trump.
Daniels, 39, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, told CBS that the man confronted her and her infant daughter in a Las Vegas parking lot in 2011 after Cohen learned she had told a magazine reporter about having sex with Trump.
The man warned Daniels not to talk about her relationship with Trump. He glanced at her baby and said, “It’d be a shame if something happened to her mom,” according to Daniels.
Cohen’s lawyer demanded a retraction and apology from Daniels, saying she’d suggested on “60 Minutes” that Cohen was behind that threat.
Although Daniels did not accuse Cohen of arranging the threat, her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, said on television networks Monday that it had to have been Cohen or someone else involved with Trump.
In a letter to Avenatti, Cohen’s lawyer, Brent H. Blakely, said statements blaming Cohen for the threat were false and defamatory.
“In truth, Mr. Cohen had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with any such person or incident, and does not even believe that any such person exists, or that such incident ever occurred,” Blakely wrote.
Blakely called on Daniels and Avenatti to make clear through the media “that you have no facts or evidence whatsoever to support your allegations that my client had anything whatsoever to do with this alleged thug.”
Avenatti responded by taunting Cohen.
“Will this guy ever come clean with the American people or is he more interested in trying to role play Ray Donovan (badly),” Avenatti told the Los Angeles Times in a text message, referring to the television show about a shady fixer.
Daniels’ lawsuit seeks to void the October 2016 confidentiality agreement that bars her from talking about the alleged affair. The pact requires Daniels to pay Trump $1 million each time she violates the terms.
Lawyers for Trump say she had already done so at least 20 times even before the “60 Minutes” interview. She could be liable for more than $20 million in damages, they say.
Trump’s legal team has requested a court order forcing Daniels to settle the dispute in private arbitration, as required by the confidentiality agreement.
In her updated legal complaint, Daniels argues that requirement was specifically designed “to prevent public disclosure of an illegal campaign contribution.” It also suppresses speech on a matter of enormous public concern about a presidential candidate, her legal papers say.
At the White House, Shah declined to comment on allegations that Cohen broke federal law when he arranged payment of the hush money.
“The campaign or Mr. Cohen can address anything with respect to their actions,” Shah said.
More broadly, Shah said, Trump “strongly, clearly and has consistently denied these underlying claims, and the only person who’s been inconsistent is the one making the claims.”
Trump actually has never spoken publicly about Daniels, leaving the task to Cohen and White House press aides.
As for the rationale for the $130,000 payment, Shah said: “False charges are settled out of court all the time. You have to ask Michael Cohen about the specifics.”
Trump is also facing legal trouble in New York, where former “Apprentice” contestant Summer Zervos is suing him for defamation.
A few weeks before the presidential election, Zervos accused him of trying to force himself on her in his bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 2007. He called her a liar, prompting her lawsuit.
With the surge of news on the sex scandals, a spokeswoman for First Lady Melania Trump urged the media to stop mentioning the couple’s son, Barron.
At the time of Trump’s alleged extramarital affairs in 2006, Barron, who turned 12 last week, was a baby.
The first lady remained at Mar-a-Lago when the president returned to the White House on Sunday night after a weekend getaway at the estate in Palm Beach, Fla.
Cohen has a history of using aggressive tactics on Trump’s behalf.
NBC anchor Megyn Kelly, who sparred with Trump when he was running for president, posted a sample Sunday night on Twitter: Cohen’s 2015 threats against Tim Mak, then a reporter at the Daily Beast.
Mak asked Cohen about a deposition by Ivana Trump in which the president’s first wife alleged that Trump raped her in 1989.
“I will make sure that you and I meet one day while we’re in the courthouse. And I will take you for every penny you still don’t have,” Cohen responded, according to the Daily Beast.
With a burst of profanity, Cohen warned Mak to tread lightly, because he was going to do something disgusting to the reporter.
“You write a story that has Mr. Trump’s name in it, with the word ‘rape,’ and I’m going to mess your life up … for as long as you’re on this frickin’ planet,” Cohen told Mak, adding, “you’re going to have judgments against you, so much money, you’ll never know how to get out from underneath it.”
When Ivana Trump’s statement about rape became public after the couple’s 1991 divorce, she said the incident had made her feel “violated,” but did not want her accusation interpreted “in a literal or criminal sense.”
Avenatti also sought to draw attention to Cohen’s threats against the Daily Beast. “This is a man who has a history of thuggish behavior, using intimidation tactics, and trying to step on little people,” Avenatti said on “CBS This Morning.”
“And as it relates to my client, it’s going to come to an end, and we’re going to show the American people exactly who Michael Cohen is.”