After weeks of frenzied speculation, Stormy Daniels finally made landfall Sunday on “60 Minutes.” And if the adult film star’s interview with Anderson Cooper appeared to be less destructive than some had hoped (or feared) — it was more a nasty squall than a Category 5 hurricane — the full extent of the damage might not be known for some time.
The heavily anticipated interview inspired a giddy hashtag, #StormyDanielsDay, and brought the storied newsmagazine its highest ratings in a decade. The dramatic buildup was intensified by an NCAA basketball game that went into overtime and delayed the broadcast by a half-hour on the East Coast. By the time the report started airing around 7:30 ET, CBS had released a full transcript to the media, and the more outrageous details of Daniels’ account were reverberating on Twitter, inevitably taking some of the bite out of the televised report.
In the two-part sit-down, Daniels, now 39, recalled meeting Trump, then the star of NBC’s “The Apprentice,” at a golf tournament in Lake Tahoe in 2006 and said that a brief affair allegedly ensued. Five years later, she agreed to tell all in a tabloid magazine, but the story was allegedly killed thanks to pressure from Trump’s attorney, Michael Cohen. When rumors of her alleged dalliance with Trump began to resurface shortly before the 2016 election, Daniels agreed to a $130,000 payout in exchange for her silence.
“I was concerned for my family and their safety,” Daniels said of the decision.
In possibly the most newsworthy and certainly the most disturbing detail of the interview, Daniels alleged that in 2011, around the time she was attempting to sell her story, she was threatened “Sopranos”-style by a man while on her way to a fitness class with her infant daughter. “‘Leave Trump alone. Forget the story,’” she recalled being told. “And then he leaned around and looked at my daughter and said, ‘That's a beautiful little girl. It'd be a shame if something happened to her mom.’”
At least for those who’ve followed the saga closely so far, the interview otherwise included little in the way of new information. Daniels mostly confirmed sordid details that had been reported elsewhere: Yes, she alleges she spanked Trump — gave him “a couple swats,” to be precise — with a magazine that had his picture on the cover. Yes, he made her watch “Shark Week” for several hours. No, she says, he didn’t use protection.
What Daniels didn’t do, despite tweets by her attorney Michael Avenatti suggesting she would, was provide definitive evidence of a liaison with Trump. When asked by Cooper if she’d turned over photos, videos, text messages or emails related to Trump, as required by the nondisclosure agreement she signed in 2016, Daniels declined to answer — a nondenial that seems bound to fuel further speculation about the existence of compromising evidence.
To some extent, Daniels herself was the interview’s biggest revelation.
Throughout the interview, the woman otherwise known as Stephanie Clifford was blunt, funny, smart and self-aware, coming across as “a woman to be reckoned with,” as Trump allegedly described her back in 2006. She recalled mocking Trump for talking about himself too much, suggesting he deserved a spanking for being so self-involved, and imitated the way he “perched” on the edge of the bed as a way to signal his interest in having sex.
Daniels came across as a shrewd businesswoman whose trade just happens to be sex. She was candid and unapologetic about pursuing her financial interests, remembering how she sat through four hours of a “Shark Week” documentary in hopes of landing a role on “The Celebrity Apprentice.” She was also unfazed by charges of opportunism.
“Yes, I'm getting more job offers now,” she told Cooper, “but tell me one person who would turn down a job offer making more than they've been making, doing the same thing that they've always done?”
Yet she also argued that she settled primarily to protect her family and that she could have negotiated a much larger payout, given the circumstances.
“I did not want my family and my child exposed to all the things that she's being exposed to right now. Because everything that I was afraid of coming out has come out anyway. And guess what? I don't have a million dollars,” she said, before gently razzing Cooper. “You didn't even buy me breakfast.”
The interview with Daniels aired just three days after Cooper’s sit-down with former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who said she had a more extensive affair with Trump during the same period. While the style of their deliveries varied dramatically, both women’s accounts align in ways that make them difficult to dismiss. Each recalled a rendezvous in a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel and vague suggestions that Trump and his wife, Melania, who’d recently given birth, led largely separate lives. Most cringe-inducing was when they also both said that Trump compared them to his daughter, Ivanka.
Unlike the 19 women who’ve accused the president of sexual misconduct, both McDougal and Daniels said their relationships with Trump were consensual. Yet aspects of their accounts also echo those of women who’ve come forward against men like Harvey Weinstein — the dinner dates that without warning end up taking place in luxury hotel rooms, the unfulfilled promises of financial or professional gain, the powerful enablers who helped bury the stories.
Where the narratives depart most dramatically is in their feelings for the man who would become president: Daniels told Cooper she wasn’t physically attracted to Trump, who at 60 was more than twice her age at the time of their alleged encounter — an admission that has to rankle someone famously concerned with maintaining a virile image. Having declined his subsequent overtures, Daniels seemed to look back on her professed one-night-stand with Trump with bemusement, unable to quite explain what compelled her to hook up with someone she saw as a buffoonish, aging reality star, other than the sense that once she’d entered his hotel room there was no turning back.
In contrast, McDougal described Trump as a “nice-looking man” and a gentleman with charisma to spare. She told Cooper she eventually fell in love with the real-estate developer even though he’d allegedly tried to pay her after their first night together. She was tearful and contrite, apologizing to Melania Trump for the relationship. She made pains not to come across as a “woman scorned,” repeatedly telling Cooper she was a “die-hard Republican” who’d voted for Trump.
With his high-low pedigree, Cooper proved well-suited to the Daniels story, a tawdry tabloid tale that also happens to have potentially enormous political ramifications. He treated Daniels respectfully and not as a punchline, describing her work in matter-of-fact terms and without the condescension or judgment that has marked some media coverage. But he also pushed when it came to the question of her credibility, particularly after she previously denied the affair in a signed statement in January. He also pressed Daniels’ publicity-friendly lawyer, Avenatti, about his previous work as a Democratic political operative.
Roughly half of the “60 Minutes” report focused on the potential legal fallout from the scandal — a sound journalistic decision that almost certainly disappointed a few viewers who were hoping for more dirt. Campaign finance expert (and former regular on “The Colbert Report”) Trevor Potter argued that Cohen could potentially face legal trouble for reportedly paying $130,000 out of his own pocket to Daniels. This in turn could make him an ideal target of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who could pressure Cohen to share other information about Trump, the report suggested.
On Monday, Daniels continued to dominate the headlines, announcing that she planned to sue Cohen for defamation as her combative lawyer made the TV rounds in her defense and boasted about “60 Minutes’” ratings on Twitter. Other than an oblique tweet about “fake news,” the president himself maintained an uncharacteristic social media silence about Daniels, an adversary who rivals his ability to suck up all the media oxygen and fired off a provocative parting shot Sunday night: “He knows I'm telling the truth.”