Watching the parade of porn stars, reality-TV contestants, and former Playboy models lining up to lambaste the president of the United States, as well as the daily trove of stories of wife-beating, naked nepotism, gambling, and official corruption among his cabinet members and White House staff, I was reminded of a story Bill Buckley once told.
He had been nominated by the Nixon administration to serve as one of our delegates to the United Nations. The FBI called around to his friends and colleagues, and one, William Rusher, groaned that he had already answered all of their questions when Buckley had been nominated for an earlier assignment. The agent replied: “I know, but it is my duty to ask whether Mr. Buckley might have done anything since 1969 to embarrass the president.” The sly Rusher responded, “No, but the Nixon administration has done a great deal to embarrass Mr. Buckley.”
Imagine the FBI interviews with nominees like Governor Nikki Haley or General James Mattis. “Have you done anything that could embarrass President Trump?” It’s mind-bending. They are honorable people with stellar careers and he is a failed casino magnate, serial adulterer, swindler of ambitious naïfs (see Trump University), sexual predator, and all-around louse. Yes, he’s the president, but is he even capable of embarrassment?
You might say that Trump isn’t pretending to be a saint, and that he’s tough and strong and ready to be “our” son of a b**** (to paraphrase FDR’s supposed description of a Latin American despot), but it’s not quite that cut and dried. Trump maintains his innocence, which is where things get confusing.
Trump vehemently denies the accusations of groping and affairs, but this week it seems that the elaborate and expensive efforts he has undertaken to conceal his behavior are unraveling a bit. The resulting prurient press party was entirely predictable.
Stormy Daniels alleges that she had an affair with Trump. At first, the world yawned. But since then we’ve learned that Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen paid her $130,000 in hush money in October 2016. (Such nice lawyers Mr. Trump hires!) That may be a violation of campaign-finance laws if Trump did not report it as an in-kind contribution. Beyond that, it reveals the contempt with which Trump treats the public. There was no affair, but Cohen had a sudden urge to make a charitable contribution to Stormy? And now Trump is suing Daniels — in the amount of $20 million — for breach of the confidentiality agreement, though the official Trump position is that the agreement doesn’t exist. Got that?
Some are attempting to link this to the #MeToo movement — women must speak “their truth,” lawyer Gloria Allred explained — but it’s a safe bet that Stormy is thinking finances, not feminism. Mr. Trump, who stresses that winning is the only virtue he upholds, should admire that.
The same cannot be said of Summer Zervos, one of the 16 women who accused Trump of groping after the release of the Access Hollywood tape. If you recall, Trump claimed that all of the women were lying and that he would sue them after the election. Zervos, who was a contestant on The Apprentice, has now received the go-ahead from a judge for her lawsuit to proceed. She said he groped. He called her liar. She is suing for defamation. Trump’s lawyers had argued that his depiction of Zervos as a liar was “political speech clearly protected by the first amendment.” The judge rejected that argument and, citing the Paula Jones precedent, noted that no president is immunized against suits for purely private acts. This could open the door to sworn depositions, and possible further suits.
And because character is destiny, yet another Trump acquaintance, Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model, is also attempting to invalidate her secrecy agreement. Thanks to Donald Trump, we’ve learned that the gossip magazines have a practice called “catch and kill” for stories they want to suppress. The parent company of the National Enquirer apparently performed this service for Trump, paying McDougal $150,000 for the rights to her story.
Nevertheless, McDougal seems ready to tell her tale, and Daniels will tell hers (including allegations of threats emanating from Trump world). And perhaps, just perhaps, as they settle in this weekend to watch 60 Minutes, the party of family values will wonder whether they really wanted to sign up for all this.
— Mona Charen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.