Voices: Stormy Daniels is smart, fierce, articulate – and she’s about to bring down Trump’s house of cards
It was an inauspicious start to Donald Trump’s defence. The former president making a fat-fingered spelling mistake on his own social media, screaming in his trademark block capitals on Truth Social that he had been “INDICATED” by “Radical Left Monsters”.
He hadn’t (unless that’s some kind of QAnon cult shorthand), but he has been “indicted”. British readers start here: that means he will face criminal charges. The first US president in history to do so.
So what happens now? Do the allegations make sense, and will the evidence stack up?
The charges, as I write, are still under seal. In other words, no one has yet seen what New York district attorney Alvin Bragg actually has on Trump, but rumours suggest that the indictment relates to the possible falsification of his business records – which in turn could raise questions over campaign financing.
The investigation centres around hush money Trump paid to Stormy Daniels in the days before the 2016 election, to stop her from talking about the sex she had had with him a decade earlier.
Daniels was silent then. But not for long. I interviewed her in 2018, when she went into curiously specific detail about the shape of the presidential penis. She was smart, fierce, articulate and funny. And she had basically decided it was “checkmate” time for the president once he’d leaked her name into the public domain.
What a beloved irony: that the woman he paid to shut up may actually end up bringing down his whole house of cards. That little bit of his anatomy doing even more reputational damage than the aforementioned fat finger.
As news of the indictment broke – the details are still under wraps – Trump acolytes were quick to call it a political witch hunt.
Even senior Republicans seeking to take on Trump in the presidential primaries worded their indignation with care.
Florida governor Ron DeSantis called it a “weaponisation of the legal system”. Nikki Haley, who walks a tightrope in her love and loathing for Trump, pronounced it “more about revenge than justice”. Mike Pence, a man who served Trump as his vice-president yet found himself fighting for his life against marauding protesters inside the Capitol building, called the indictment “outrageous”.
None of these remarks, you will note, suggests that Trump himself is innocent.
This is the political crux: those who seek the Republican nomination for president in 2024 believe they must tether themselves to a Maga base. A base that believes the system is against it, and that all attempts to hold Trump accountable are political persecution. It’s what Trump has told his supporters, after all.
But endorse the former president too forcefully and you send them right into his arms. That’s not what the potential nominees want, either. Some – cannily – have chosen to maintain complete silence for now.
And even Democrats who scoff at the idea of a witch hunt will admit to their own insecurities about the New York DA’s move. Of all the things to level at Trump, they will think inwardly – the attempted insurrection, the move to overthrow democracy, the begging for fake votes in Georgia – you bring this up?
Is this the hill to die on – an actor, a few thousand dollars and a dodgy business deal? It has the whiff of Al Capone: a way to catch mobsters, not autocratic charlatans.
And yet, they must put their faith in this indictment. You have to start with the evidence you have, not the evidence you wish you had. And this evidence, don’t forget, has already indicted, convicted and incarcerated one man – Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen.
They didn’t come for Trump last time because he was a sitting, serving president. This time he’s not.
Much has been made of the political capital Trump stands to reap from this move. He can play the martyr! Seize the headlines! Paralyse his opponents so that they are unable to move against him!
Yet this overlooks one fairly major thing: Trump does not want to be sent to prison. He really doesn’t. He’s evaded indictment for the past 40 years, one way or another. It was never the plan.
A man who knows how to woo the voter, schmooze the press, please the crowds and glamourise a trip down an escalator is no longer in control of events. He’s in the hands of a grand jury and a judge. And that doesn’t sit easily with a control freak.
And Trump’s political opponents know they must proceed with caution. Any attempt to expand a charge of misdemeanour to a criminally significant charge of felony must be watertight.
Any Democrat who believes in the rule of law cannot start with a presumption of guilt. And any move that humiliates the president – a perp walk, a mug shot – could backfire into protest.
You have to go back 20 years to find the advice that should now serve as the prosecutors’ bible. A time when reality TV meant the gritty drama of The Wire, not the flashy guilt of The Apprentice. It was Omar who warned then:
“[When] you come at the King, you best not miss.”