© 2021 WKSU
Public Radio News for Northeast Ohio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Michael Isikoff On Trump's Alleged Affairs

NOEL KING, HOST:

Two women who say they had affairs with Donald Trump are stepping into the media spotlight. We expect to hear from Stormy Daniels this weekend. She's the adult film actress who says she had an affair with Trump starting in 2006. "60 Minutes" is expected to air the first interview with Daniels since this story became public.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The second woman is Karen McDougal, who says her relationship with Trump started about the same time as Daniels'. McDougal talked with CNN last night.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ANDERSON COOPER 360")

KAREN MCDOUGAL: What everyone sees on TV, I didn't see in that man because that man was a very sweet, very respectful, very loving, very kind and caring. Like, that's the man I saw.

INSKEEP: McDougal and Daniels both signed contracts saying they would not talk about their alleged affairs, but they're both suing to have those restrictions lifted.

KING: Back in the 1990s, journalist Michael Isikoff was the first person to report on claims made by Paula Jones that Bill Clinton had sexually assaulted her. Now, that story led to the uncovering of Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky and to Clinton's brush with impeachment.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: A lot of people didn't take it seriously. It seemed to be some sort of tabloid exercise that was a diversion from what people were focused on at the time, which was the Whitewater investigation.

KING: That's right.

ISIKOFF: Nobody imagined that the Paula Jones case was going to come back and haunt the president. And yet, in fact, that posed the far greater danger to President Bill Clinton than the underlying issues in the Whitewater investigation itself.

KING: Let me ask you, though, specifically about Monica Lewinsky.

ISIKOFF: Sure.

KING: Because those exploits, if we can call them that, happened while Bill Clinton was president, right? President Trump was...

ISIKOFF: Yes.

KING: ...Not president when any of this happened, and I just wonder, do you still see a parallel there?

ISIKOFF: Monica Lewinsky emerged in the course of the Paula Jones lawsuit because the judge in the Jones case determined that the president's relations with other federal and state employees were a valid issue for the Jones lawyers to pursue to show a pattern and practice. Here, the issue is the pattern and practice of paying off women to keep them silent.

KING: That is different. That is different than Clinton, frankly.

ISIKOFF: It's different than Clinton, but if the pattern and practice of payoffs to keep women silent is at issue, then all of that could be explored. How many Stormy Daniels are there out there? How many women have been paid off by Donald Trump and his handlers?

KING: Is the case of Donald Trump and these alleged affairs more or less complicated than Bill Clinton?

ISIKOFF: These are more complicated because the lawsuits involve multiple parties - Michael Cohen, the lawyer who facilitated the transfer of money, the - in the case of Karen McDougal, the role of the National Enquirer. So you have multiple parties at play here, all of whom will have their own lawyers. This could be quite a mess.

KING: Let's talk about Stormy Daniels...

ISIKOFF: Yes.

KING: ...Stephanie Clifford. Is there something in this alleged affair, in this relationship, that is illegal? Or is it just unethical? We don't like the idea of a guy cheating on his wife...

ISIKOFF: Right.

KING: ...And it feels wrong. But is she or her legal team alleging that he did anything illegal?

ISIKOFF: There are potential legal issues here for the president because of the fact that the payoff to Stormy Daniels - the $130,000 that she got, facilitated by Michael Cohen, the president's lawyer - took place in the context of the 2016 presidential election. This was the closing weeks of the presidential election. This was after the "Access Hollywood" tape had come out, putting Donald Trump's relationships with women at play. And the claim that some have made here is that the fact that Stormy Daniels was paid to keep silent in the closing weeks of the campaign was, in effect, a campaign contribution. And...

KING: I see - an illegal campaign contribution.

ISIKOFF: An unreported campaign contribution at a minimum. If - what we don't know is where the money came from. Michael Cohen says he facilitated the payoff with his own resources. It's a little unclear what he means by that. That could mean he just used his own money to set up the shell company through which the money flowed.

But if the money came from Donald Trump himself, then it was an unreported campaign contribution. It could be an unreported campaign contribution. That would be a violation of federal election law that requires all campaign contributions to be reported. Donald Trump had every right to spend as much money as he wanted on his campaign, so it would not necessarily be an illegal contribution itself - just the fact that it wasn't reported would violate campaign law. But if the money came from some other party, some outside party, that could be an illegal campaign contribution.

KING: You broke the story of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. Do you see any parallels here with President Trump?

ISIKOFF: I do. I see many parallels.

KING: Tell me a little bit about this.

ISIKOFF: I mean, if these lawsuits proceed, it is entirely possible that the president could be required to be deposed, just as Bill Clinton was deposed in the Paula Jones case. Once you're under oath in a deposition, plaintiff's lawyers could have a great deal of latitude to ask Donald Trump, the president, about other matters that might relate - other women who he may have paid off money to, other women who he may have had affairs with.

In an odd way, if the president has a long-standing practice of paying off women to keep silent, that could save him from the most serious legal issue he could face in this, which is that the money paid to Stormy Daniels was an illegal campaign contribution. Because in order for the complaint about campaign contributions to prevail, you have to show that the payment was made for the purpose of keeping her silent during the campaign. If he has a long history of paying off women regardless of whether he's running for president or not, then the Stormy Daniels payoff may not stand out. It may be much harder to show it was done for the purpose of keeping her silent during the campaign.

KING: Mike, thanks so much for coming in.

ISIKOFF: Thank you.

KING: Michael Isikoff is chief investigative reporter for Yahoo News. He's co-author of the new book "Russian Roulette." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.