On Wednesday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was fielding questions on steel and aluminium tariffs and on an abnormal exodus of White House staffers.
In each instance, she praised the achievements of the White House and President Trump. And then she let slip something that had, until then, been unknown to the public: Trump had scored a legal victory over a former adult film actress who allegedly had an extramarital affair with the president a decade before he ran for office, according to Sanders.
“This case has already been won in arbitration,” she told reporters, when asked about the alleged affair.
It was another defense of the president, but it also turned out to be an acknowledgement that Trump has been kept updated on and actually involved in the legal battle to prevent actress Stephanie Clifford from saying whatever it is she wants to say.
Until that moment, the White House had said very little about what Trump knew and when with regard to the nondisclosure agreement and the $130,000 payout from his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, to Clifford, whose screen name is Stormy Daniels.
The emergency order, issued by an arbitration judge in California, prevents Clifford from revealing any details about the nondisclosure agreement in the media or court filings. It also precludes her from encouraging anyone else to talk about the contract.
If she violated the deal, Clifford would face onerous financial penalties; it is possible she could be fined $1 million for each breach of the contract.
As NPR’s Tamara Keith reported, what was notable about Sanders’ statement that the arbitration was won “in the president’s favor” is that Trump is not technically named in the nondisclosure agreement or the restraining order. Cohen used aliases for Trump and Clifford throughout the document. That makes Sanders’ press briefing statements the first time the White House acknowledged the president is a party to the effort to keep Clifford quiet.
CNN reported Trump is upset with the press secretary for her remarks about the arbitration ruling.
On Wednesday, Michael Avenatti, Clifford’s attorney, responded to Sanders’ comments on MSNBC’S The Last Word.
“Any claim by the administration that Donald Trump won in arbitration is no different than me claiming that I won the Super Bowl a few weeks ago,” he said, adding that it was “nonsense” and “complete hooey.”
Clifford, who wants to go public with her story, is contesting the legality of the confidentiality agreement.
On Tuesday, she filed a civil suit against Trump alleging the contract she signed just days before the 2016 election is invalid because it’s missing Trump’s signature. The suit alleges Trump “purposely did not sign the agreement so he could later, if need be, publicly disavow any knowledge of the ‘Hush Agreement’ ” or the affair.
Clifford also confirms details about the supposed affair with Trump. She says she began an “intimate relationship” with him years before his political aspirations took shape and more than a year into his marriage to now-first lady Melania Trump. She says that it began in the summer of 2006 in Lake Tahoe and that it lasted “well into 2007.”
The White House and Cohen, who drafted the agreement, have repeatedly denied the alleged sexual encounter. And the complaint alleges Cohen used “intimidation and coercive tactics” to force Clifford into signing a false statement denying the extramarital affair with Trump.
Avenatti told The New York Times earlier this week that he does not consider the emergency arbitration decision valid. Clifford intends to pursue the civil suit in open court.
“This should be decided publicly,” he told the Times.
Perhaps by “publicly,” Avenatti meant over the airwaves. On Wednesday afternoon, he tweeted a photo of himself, Clifford and Anderson Cooper standing in front of what looks like a camera set. There is no message apart from Twitter handles: @michaelavenatti @StormyDaniels @andersoncooper @60minutes