Before Stormy Daniels became synonymous with Donald Trump’s sexual indiscretions, the 39-year-old was an American porn star, director, screenwriter, and mother. Born Stephanie Clifford in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, she started stripping at the age of 17. In 2000, Clifford entered the adult film world under a colorful stage name: Stormy Daniels.
Of course, today Daniels’s story is closely tied to that of another public figure: the President of the United States.
In January 2018, The Wall Street Journal released a report alleging that Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid Daniels $130,000 in exchange for her silence one month ahead of the 2016 election. The reason? An affair she carried on with Trump in the summer of 2006 (he married Melania in 2005).
The report was quickly met with a swift denial from White House officials: “These are old, recycled reports, which were published and strongly denied prior to the election.” Cohen, too, responded, releasing a statement reading, “President Trump once again vehemently denies any such occurrence as has Ms. Daniels.”
In a statement from Daniels (provided by Cohen), Stormy also called the reports false. “My involvement with Donald Trump was limited to a few public appearances and nothing more," she wrote. “When I met Donald Trump, he was gracious, professional and a complete gentleman to me and EVERYONE in my presence. Rumors that I have received hush money from Donald Trump are completely false. If indeed I did have a relationship with Donald Trump, trust me, you wouldn't be reading about in the news, you would be reading about it in my book. But the fact of the matter is, these stories are not true."
Naturally, WSJ’s report was not the only piece to corroborate the claim. Soon after the reports picked up media attention, InTouch Weekly released the full transcript of an interview with Stormy Daniels conducted in 2011. In said interview, Daniels described meeting Trump in Lake Tahoe and dining with him in his hotel room. During dinner, Trump brought up the idea of having her on Celebrity Apprentice—assuring her he could get her on the show. Later, they had sex. “I was like, ‘Please don’t try to pay me,’” Daniels told InTouch, “And then I remember thinking, ‘But I bet if he did, it would be a lot.’”
In late January, hours before Daniels was to appear on Jimmy Kimmel Live, a Buzzfeed reporter tweeted an “Official Statement of Stormy Daniels,” reading, “I am not denying this affair because I was paid ‘hush money’ as has been reported in overseas owned tabloids. I am denying this affair because it never happened.”
When Daniels appeared on the late night talk show, however, Kimmel pointed out that her previous signatures did not match up with the one obtained by Buzzfeed. “That doesn’t look like my signature, does it?” Daniels said.
When asked if she knew where the statement and signature came from, Daniels responded, “I do not know where it came from.”
During her appearance, Daniels also addressed the InTouch article, telling Kimmel she did do the interview, but “not as it was written.”
On Feb. 14, Cohen released a statement to the The New York Times addressing the alleged payment to Daniels.
“Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly,” he said. “The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful, and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone.”
Cohen refused to reveal whether Trump knew about the payment, nor why it had been made.
On March 6, the plot thickened once more. Daniels filed a lawsuit against Trump, maintaining that her nondisclosure agreement was rendered null because he never signed it. Daniels’s lawyer, Michael Avenatti, appeared on the Today show the next day, confirming that his client and Donald Trump had a sexual relationship.
The following week, Daniels offered to return the “hush money” in exchange for an end to her silence.
Days late, Avenatti appeared on CNN and revealed that six other women with stories similar to Daniels have reached out—two of whom also have nondisclosure agreements.
“We have not vetted these stories to any great degree,” he told Anderson Cooper, “However, the initial information we’re receiving indicates that there are some striking similarities between their stories and that of my client, Ms. Clifford.”
On Sunday, March 25, Cooper will speak with Daniels on 60 Minutes in the first full-length interview with the actress to air on national television since The Wall Street Journal issued their initial report in January. The broadcast will air on CBS at 7 p.m. and will be available for streaming on CBSN.