The news that President Donald Trump personally directed then-personal attorney Michael Cohen to seek a restraining order against Stormy Daniels to keep the porn star from telling her story of an alleged affair between the two is the latest example of just how little of what Trump and Cohen initially said about Daniels is actually true.
"Don't worry, I'll pay for everything," Trump told Cohen in February, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter speaking to CNN's MJ Lee. (The Wall Street Journal first reported that Trump had instructed Cohen on how to handle Daniels.)
That phone call came almost two months BEFORE Trump issued a total and complete denial of any knowledge of the Daniels situation -- while aboard Air Force One. Asked whether he knew about the $130,000 payment Cohen made to Daniels to ensure her silence just 11 days before the 2016 election, Trump responded, "no." A follow-up question about where Cohen got the money to make the payment elicited this response from Trump: "You'll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney. You'll have to ask Michael."
Cohen eventually told prosecutors all he knew about the payment -- as part of a plea deal in which he pleaded guilty to two counts of campaign finance violations tied to the hush money payments he made to Daniels and ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal. And what he said was this: That he organized the payments "in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office." That candidate is, obviously, Trump. And, reminder: Cohen testified to Trump's involvement in the payoff scheme under oath -- where lying is a little thing called a felony.
(Sidebar: We also know that the money to pay off Daniels came to Cohen from Trump. How do we know? Because Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani told us, of course!)
What's abundantly clear here is that the answers Trump gave in April about what he knew regarding Cohen, Daniels and the payoff were simply not accurate. At all. By the time Trump said he knew nothing about the $130,000 or where it came from, Trump had, according to Cohen's sworn testimony, already coordinated the payment. And thanks to this new reporting, we also know that just two months before that April Air Force One chat, Trump had specifically directed Cohen to pursue a restraining order to keep Daniels from talking about the affair.
There's zero question then that Trump was purposely misleading and elusive when asked about the Daniels situation. He went out of his way to portray himself as a bystander in all of this, when he was, we now know, directing the entire thing along with Cohen.
At this point, it's clear that Trump -- and his legal team -- want this whole Stormy Daniels thing to disappear. Earlier this month, lawyers for both Cohen and Trump moved to dismiss the lawsuit brought by Daniels suggesting that Trump had defamed her via Twitter. Daniels would be free to tell her story as long as she returned the $130,000, according to Cohen's lawyer.
Michael Avenatti -- Daniels' lawyer, in case you have been living on a different planet for the last year -- resisted the move, writing: "Defendants' sudden desire to escape having to defend this action without any meaningful consequence reflects a profoundly troubling reality -- that Defendants have been shamelessly deceiving this Court and the American public for more than six months." (The presiding judge seemed to suggest late last month he might be willing to dismiss Daniels' suit.)
What seems likely to happen is that Daniels will be free to tell the story of her alleged affair with Trump in the mid-2000s. And Trump will, again, deny it ever happened. Whether people believe Daniels or Trump, many will simply shrug: We didn't vote for Trump because we thought he was the world's most moral guy. So even if the Daniels' story is true, who cares? We elected Trump to make American great again -- and he's doing it!
Which, I mean, I guess. But to me, the Stormy Daniels story is less about whether Trump did it or not than it is about the ways in which the President of the United States went way out of his way to keep the truth of his involvement in the entire thing from the general public.
And what's true beyond a shadow of a doubt now is that Trump knew more than he let on about Daniels, Cohen, the hush money and the restraining order. A whole lot more.