House Democrats are expanding their impeachment investigation to include a stepped-up probe into whether President Trump broke the law through alleged involvement in a payment scheme to silence two women from revealing their affairs with him before the 2016 election.
But congressional investigators are leaning toward not calling for testimony the would-be star witness in that probe: Stormy Daniels.
Daniels, the former porn star who was paid $130,000 to stay silent about her alleged 2006 affair with Trump in the run-up to the 2016 election, said on Sept. 3 that she would be willing to testify before Congress. “I have no fear of being under oath,” she tweeted.
However, it is highly unlikely that Daniels would be asked to testify, according to someone with knowledge of the investigation. And Democrats on the committee don’t seem too bothered by that prospect.
“Obviously, the campaign finance violations are serious, but I would say in the context of all the evidence and all the witnesses we intend to bring forward for the committee, she wouldn't be on the top of my list,” said Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), a member of the Judiciary Committee. “I just think some of the other corruption is easier to demonstrate and will be more powerful testimony."
Publicly, so far, the relevant stakeholders are staying mum about a Daniels invite, or lack thereof. No Democratic lawmaker or aide would or could confirm that there are ongoing talks with Daniels about a possible appearance in front of Congress. And Daniels’ attorney, Clark Brewster, told The Daily Beast that he was unable to make a statement confirming whether any discussions are taking place between his client and Democratic lawmakers.
Privately, however, House Democrats have been weighing the possible impact of testimony from Daniels as they plan out a series of hearings focusing on Trump’s alleged campaign finance violations. The hearings are set to take place in October in the House Judiciary Committee.
An appearance by Daniels before that panel would undoubtedly supercharge public interest in Democrats’ oversight efforts, which are flagging after Robert Mueller’s investigation came to a conclusion and amid mixed messaging from the party on whether to start impeachment proceedings. But testimony from this particular witness—who is unique in combining a Mueller-level public profile with some inherently salacious subject matter—would also create a spectacle that Democrats fear could easily become an out-of-control circus.
That calculus has divided Democrats on Capitol Hill: some argue that Daniels’ appearance would be a disaster no matter what, while others counter that their oversight campaign is in need of lifeblood. Others still say that her testimony wouldn’t offer much that the public doesn’t already know, though if it became clear that new information could be gathered, their calculus might change.
If Daniels is needed as a fact witness, she should “absolutely” be brought in, said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), another Judiciary member. “I'm not sure if we need her, but if we do, we should bring her in,” he added. “Otherwise, it’s just part of the spectacle.”
Some Democrats are worried that the GOP members of the Judiciary panel—which includes some of Trump’s staunchest defenders—would feast on the spectacle of Daniels’ testimony to score political points and degrade Democrats.
“In the interest of preventing a political circus from happening, I doubt that's in the best interest of the committee,” said a Democratic aide. “We already have Michael Cohen's reimbursement checks, one signed by the president himself. With her political baggage, I don't see how her testimony helps us any more than it helps Republicans at this point.”
Congressional testimony has, indeed, already implicated Trump in campaign finance violations through the hush money payments. In February Cohen, the president’s former fixer and attorney, appeared before the House Oversight Committee, where he testified that Trump directed him to pay off the women and presented a copy of a check showing Trump reimbursed Cohen for the payouts. Cohen also said Trump instructed him to lie in February 2018 that he had no knowledge of any hush money. Several members of Congress said they were satisfied with what Cohen’s testimony established and doubted Daniels could offer more—aside from salacious details about Trump.
And Cohen may yet reveal more: multiple news outlets reported Wednesday that from his current home in an upstate New York federal prison, Cohen entered into an agreement with prosecutors in the Southern District of New York who are investigating the Trump Organization’s role in the hush money payments.
For some Democrats, that remains the trail to follow. But for others, the thought of Daniels coming to the Hill to explain her role in the affair may be too politically tempting to resist. As one Democratic aide put it, sometimes “you need a circus to fight a circus.”