When Donald Trump went to a party in Hollywood to celebrate his new vodka brand in 2007, he allegedly had two dates. Neither one was his wife.
The payments were actually illegal campaign donations, according to a Department of Justice case that had nothing to do with the alleged affairs and mirrors the charges that legal observers are expecting to come out of the New York grand jury.
The two women, Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, are part of a long series of professional women to take strikes at Trump’s altar of power. Their stories may have dealt the harshest blow yet, the first sign that Trump could fall from grace in the post-#MeToo era similarly to Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose and Bill O’Reilly.
Over the years, several women sought to keep Trump out of the White House in the first place for sexual assault and harassment, or used their platforms to hold him accountable for the Jan. 6, 2021 attack at the U.S. Capitol. The men closest to Trump have often stood by his side as his biggest defenders, helping him weather the storm.
Meanwhile, women who have taken him on have faced sexist attacks on their reputations. In the cases of Daniels and McDougal, salacious details of the affairs have filled full segments on late night television shows, while news stories focus on their work histories with adult films and nude magazines instead of accounting and finance.
“The truth or falsity, the affair, and the sexual relationship, really is completely beside the point for the purposes of the DA meeting their burden of proof,” said Danya Perry, a criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York.
Lorraine Bayard de Volo, a professor of women and gender studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said she often thinks to herself, “Oh, another woman,” when she sees someone speak out against the Trump administration. She also notices they present themselves in a “very grounded” way.
“Maybe it’s a moral grounding that they know that they are in the right and they feel compelled to do what they already know is the right thing,” Bayard de Volo said. “So regardless of the political costs that they incur, they’re not ready to kind of sit with themselves if they don’t do the right thing.”
Jessica Leeds, Jessica Drake, and Miss Teen USA contestants took on Trump
The moment for women to line up and accuse then-candidate Trump of sexual assault and harassment came about a year before the formal #MeToo movement started, amid bipartisan about a leaked Access Hollywood tape.
Trump bragged on the tape about how he aggressively pursued women for sex, including grabbing their genitals without their consent, prompting women to share stories detailing that pattern of behavior. He and his team responded with a combination of denials and attacks on the women.
After Jessica Leeds told the New York Times that month that Trump groped her on a plane in the 1980s, he implied at a rally that she was not attractive enough for him to pursue. “Believe me, she would not be my first choice,” he said, and referred to her as “that horrible woman.”
After Jessica Drake accused Trump of grabbing her and a group of women with her and then kissing each of them without asking for permission, Trump emphasized on a radio show that she was a “porn star,” quipping, “Oh, I’m sure she’s never been grabbed before.”
After Miss Teen USA contestants Mariah Billado and Victoria Hughes said Trump walked in on them while they were changing during the 1997 pageant, his campaign denied the allegations. But Trump had a decade earlier told Howard Stern on his radio show how he could go places other men couldn’t because he owned the pageant, prompting Stern to say, “You’re like a doctor.”
Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels entered the scene during the 2016 campaign
McDougal, often only referred to in newspapers as a former Playboy model, had been trying to sell the story of her 2006 to 2007 affair to a tabloid since June 2016, according to court filings. By that August, the tabloid, at the behest of Cohen, paid $150,000 for the rights to her story. Cohen entered an agreement to reimburse $125,000 of that, but the tabloid’s chairman called off the deal.
The Wall Street Journal published a story on the affair, which she has described as consensual, four days before the 2016 election about how the National Enquirer shielded Trump from news of the affair with McDougal. She talked about the fear she dealt with in discussing the affair in 2018.
“At this point I feel I can’t talk about anything without getting into trouble, because I don’t know what I’m allowed to talk about,” she told the New Yorker, speaking about a contract she signed to keep quiet. “I’m afraid to even mention his name.”
Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, almost joined the pre-election chorus. Although she has not alleged a lack of consent in the affair from 2006 to 2007, she did attempt to sell her story in October 2016 to a tabloid, only to have Trump lawyer Michael Cohen jump in to buy her silence for $130,000, according to the Department of Justice.
She dealt with extensive sexual harassment after going public with the details of the affair and payment in 2018. In her book, “Full Disclosure,” she wrote, “I sometimes think my job in porn prepared me for all this, because you can call me any name in the book and I’ve heard it from some other judgy loser.”
Michael Cohen took the heat while Donald Trump weathered the storm
Cohen would plead guilty to federal charges partially related to the scheme —illegal campaign donations, lying to a bank to get a loan to fund the payments, and illegally setting up a company to move the money around, among other things.
Federal law at the time limited campaign contributions from individual people to $2,700 per election, and prohibits corporations from directly funding campaigns. (They need to set up political action committees.) But according to the Department of Justice, Cohen’s company reimbursed him for the payment to Daniels, and Cohen planned to reimburse the tabloid for the payment to McDougal.
Although Cohen would spend nearly three years in prison, Trump’s career survived in the short-term: He won the presidential election against Hillary Clinton, preventing the election of the country’s first woman head of state. When the Department of Justice investigated his own role in the case, while he was president, the prosecutors chose not to bring charges.
Women led the Republican backlash to Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack
Women lined up against Trump again in the aftermath of the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. The evidence has been shared with the Department of Justice, which has appointed a special counsel to decide if charges are warranted, but no charges have been brought. Once again, women have faced reputational attacks.
The first cabinet-level member of the Trump administration to announce her departure was Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. She said the event “deeply troubled me in a way that I simply cannot set aside.” Trump now targets her with racist monikers like “Coco Chow.”
At lightning speed, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., back in power after a 2018 deluge of women running for office, led her members to impeach Trump, alleging he incited the attack. Despite the effort, Trump weathered the storm again. He was not convicted in what was the second impeachment of Trump she brought while he was president. In November, he called Pelosi an “animal” at an Ohio rally, decrying, “She impeached me twice for nothing!”
Former Congresswoman Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., went further than other lawmakers who broke with the Republican Party after the attack when she took a position as vice chair of the committee investigating the issue. She said her most important responsibility was to keep Trump away from the White House, even if she lost re-election. (She did.)
“Liz Cheney has daddy issues,” Trump ally Rudy Giuliani wrote during one of the committee hearings. “The other members should resign in protest.”
Trump team told bombshell witness Cassidy Hutchinson: ‘You were a secretary’
The committee’s bombshell witness was Cassidy Hutchinson, a 25-year-old former White House aide who worked under Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. While Meadows was one of several men close to Trump fighting subpoenas to appear before the committee, Hutchinson fired her Trump-funded lawyer and hired her own before giving live testimony in front of television cameras.
Stefan Passantino, Hutchinson’s Trump-funded lawyer, had told her she didn’t know much about the events surrounding Jan. 6, 2021, according to a transcript of her deposition. The reasoning? “You were a secretary,” Hutchinson said Passantino told her. “You had an administrative role. Everyone’s on the same page about this.”
Trump wrote on his Truth Social page, “I hardly know who this person, Cassidy Hutchinson, is, other than I heard very negative things about her (a total phony and ‘leaker’).” He alleged that he rejected her from coming to Florida after the administration was over and called her “bad news.”
Cheney took on the gender dynamics facing Hutchinson when she told ABC News, “The committee is not going to stand by and watch her character be assassinated by anonymous sources and by men who are claiming executive privilege.”
Alyssa Farah Griffin, a former Trump aide who has spoken out on cable news channels since leaving the administration, wrote on Twitter in support of Hutchinson: “Women who speak out against Trump will be smeared, defamed, threatened, & harassed in a way men never will.”
Trump now faces accountability related to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal
The Manhattan grand jury’s indictment is the most tangible accountability Trump has faced so far related to his relationships with women, even if the charges experts have been expecting will be related to finance and accounting.
Perhaps Trump’s luck ran out due to the fortitude of Daniels and McDougal, whose work experience exposed them to sexism in a way even politics doesn’t. Or maybe the issue got an assist when two men — Manhattan’s top prosecutor Alvin Bragg and lawyer Cohen who testified in front of the New York grand jury — decided they wouldn’t back down from the fight.
Perry, the former prosecutor, said Trump will face an uphill battle in fighting what she expects to be charges related to business fraud, “There’s really no question that these payments were mischaracterized in the books. I don’t even think you have to believe Michael Cohen for this. This was not a retainer for Michael Cohen’s services, and that seems pretty cut and dry.”
Daniels and McDougal still face reputational attacks.
“The first time it was like ‘golddigger,’ ‘slut,’ ‘whore,’ whatever,” Daniels told the Times of London on Friday about the vitriol she faced from the public after her payment was made public in 2018. “And this time it’s like, ‘I’m going to murder you.’”
In the interview, Daniels said she was frightened for her safety.
And those are just the direct attacks.
Juliet Williams, the chair of the social science interdisciplinary program at UCLA, said she’s seeing the term “porn star” appear in every major media outlet describing the case against Daniels. “It’s absolutely atrocious and is something that needs to be reckoned with — why that terminology is even considered appropriate. Who cares what her profession is?”
Bayard de Volo said: “You wouldn’t see in the title, ‘Debbie Smith, insurance company middle manager,’ or ‘Stephanie Clifford, director of sales at Denver window company.’ It’s only mentioned because that’s more interesting than just saying her name.”
Changing the narrative around Stormy Daniels?
Williams criticized, “this whole notion that what’s scandalous here is that he had an extramarital affair with a large-breasted woman as opposed to the effort to manipulate the election outcome,” adding, “there are other narratives that are available to us in the 21st century.”
Daniels offered one in her 2018 book, where she wrote about how women come to her shows at gentlemen’s clubs with anger toward Trump “who seems to be a stand-in for any man who’s ever bullied them,” and how she built relationships with people in the gay community based on a mutual interest in standing up to bullies.
“I started stripping in high school and still graduated with honors as the editor of the school paper,” she wrote. “I won the respect of a male-dominated industry as a screenwriter and director. And despite everything I did to stay out of it, I ended up in the middle of one of the biggest political scandals in American history.”