Sex, Shark Week, and Hush Money: A Trump and Stormy Daniels Timeline
By his own account, Donald Trump is expecting to be indicted this week by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.
The anticipated (and unprecedented) criminal charges against the 45th president don’t relate to Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election by unleashing a bloodthirsty mob on the U.S. Capitol. Rather, they stem from a more tawdry scandal: Trump allegedly directed payment of hush money to an adult film actress ahead of the 2016 election to suppress a damaging allegation of a past affair.
More from Rolling Stone
Fox News Struggles to Defend Trump's Stormy Daniels Hush Money
Trump’s entanglement with Stephanie “Stormy Daniels” Clifford allegedly began with a sexual relationship in the George W. Bush era, when the married Trump starred on The Apprentice, and Clifford hoped to land a spot on reality show. When Trump later campaigned for the White House, Clifford was about to spill the tea to the press in an “October surprise” — but was instead convinced to sign a non-disclosure agreement in exchange for a $130,000 payment from Trump’s fixer Michael Cohen, who was later generously repaid by the Trump Organization.
Pointing to Trump’s more grievous actions on Jan. 6, some have questioned the seriousness of the crime for which Trump is expected to be indicted. But it’s notable that Cohen has already served federal prison time for the “illegal campaign contribution” of the payment to Clifford, and Trump may soon face such repercussions himself.
Below we unpack the salacious twists and turns in the timeline that appears to have brought Trump to the edge of a historic indictment.
2006: Once Upon a Golf Tournament
Stephanie Clifford and Donald Trump meet at a July celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, and allegedly have sex in his hotel suite. (Trump has denied any tryst, which would have begun shortly after the birth of his fifth child, his first with third wife Melania.) Clifford, who performs under the name Stormy Daniels, has described the affair in lurid detail in a tell-all book Full Disclosure — writing about Trump as having [content warming]: “Yeti pubes and a dick like that mushroom character in Mario Kart.” She described the infamous playboy’s endowment as “not freakishly small” and the intercourse as among the “least impressive sex I’d ever had,” lasting “two to three minutes.”
2007: Sex, Shark Week, and Hillary Clinton
The affair allegedly continues, as Clifford angles for a spot on The Apprentice. Clifford also recalls a strange moment in a Beverly Hills hotel room with Trump watching Shark Week, when Trump received a phone call from Hillary Clinton, then locked in a contest with Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination. Clifford recalled Trump’s discussing “our plan” with Clinton, but that his attention was diverted by the sharks.
2011: Gossip Mag Intrigue
Clifford dishes on the affair to In Touch Weekly magazine. The tabloid has her take a polygraph test to confirm her story. Longtime Trump fixer Michael Cohen, threatens legal action on behalf of his client, then at the height of The Apprentice fame, should the interview be published. The article is shelved.
October 2016: The Hush Money
To secure Clifford’s silence in the late stages of the presidential election, Cohen makes a payment on Trump’s behalf to Clifford of $130,000. The hush money, secured by Cohen through a home-equity loan, is paid through a shell corporation called “Essential Consultants.”
Daniels had reportedly been shopping the story to national news outlets, and backed out of a collaboration with The Daily Beast days before the election. Fox News also shelved an in-depth account of the affair shortly before Election Day.
2017: The Payback
According to the Justice Department, the hush money is repaid to Cohen — along with bonuses and other enhancements for a total of $420,000 — through The Trump Organization. The payback is accounted for as “legal expenses” and delivered in monthly installments of $35,000.
Jan. 12, 2018: The Exposé
The Wall Street Journal breaks news of the payment under the headline: “Trump Lawyer Arranged $130,000 Payment for Adult-Film Star’s Silence.”
Jan. 13-14, 2018: The Loyal Soldier
Michael Cohen insists to various news outlets there was no affair — but admits that he did pay off Daniels. Cohen claims he provided the six-figure settlement out of his own funds in order to prevent her from going public. In the background, rumors continue to swirl of Trump’s involvement with the payment.
Feb. 13, 2018: Who Paid Whom?
Cohen claims that neither the Trump Organization or Trump’s 2016 campaign reimbursed him for the money spent buying Daniels’ silence.
April 5, 2018: Deny, Deny, Deny
Trump, answering questions from reporters on Air Force One, denies any knowledge of the payment to Daniels, why Cohen did it, or where the funds came from.
April 9, 2018: FBI Raid
Federal law enforcement raids Cohen’s office and hotel residence.
May 2, 2018: Rudy!
In an appearance with Sean Hanity on Fox News, Rudy Giuliani completely blows up Trump’s story. Guiliani reveals that Trump did reimburse Cohen for the $130,000 payment, but claims that because the payment was “funneled through [a] law firm,” it was legal and did not amount to an illegal campaign contribution. (Trump would contradict Giuliani in the coming days.)
May 5, 2018: Live From New York, It’s Saturday Night!
Daniels appears in a Saturday Night Live sketch mocking Cohen and Trump.
This really just happened.
Stormy Daniels on the SNL cold open. pic.twitter.com/nyTSlhd3cy
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) May 6, 2018
Aug. 21, 2018: Cohen Guilty
The Justice Department announces that Cohen pleaded guilty to numerous felonies, including “unlawful campaign contributions” made in the form of hush money to a woman “who otherwise planned to speak publicly about” an alleged affair “with a presidential candidate, thereby intending to influence the 2016 presidential election.”
Aug. 22, 2018: Sing Like a Canary
The New York Times reports that following his arrest Cohen pointed the finger at senior executives in the Trump Organization as having coordinated the payment. In his statements to investigators, Cohen said he had personally conferred with Trump regarding the payment to Daniels, and had been asked to “get it done.”
Aug. 23, 2018: Trump Talks to Fox News
On Fox & Friends, Trump claims the funds to pay Daniels came from his own personal wealth, and not his campaign. Trump also contradicts Cohen’s sworn testimony regarding Trump’s knowledge of the payments, claiming he had only learned about them “later on.”
Dec. 9, 2018: Individual-1
In Cohen’s sentencing memo, prosecutors write that the fixer had acted “in coordination with and at the direction” of “Individual-1” – the moniker assigned to Trump.
Dec. 13, 2018: Deny, Deny Again
Trump tweets: “I never directed Michael Cohen to break the law.”
Feb 27, 2019: “He Knew About Everything”
Cohen, under oath before a House committee, testifies that Trump knew about the payment to Clifford, Cohen’s subterfuge to hide its origins, as well as the complex scheme to reimburse him: “He knew about everything.” Asked why Trump didn’t just pay Clifford directly, Cohen testifies: “His concern was that there would be a check that has his very distinct signature onto it … proof positive on exactly what took place. So here the goal was to keep him far away from it as possible.”
May 6, 2019: Jailbird
Cohen reports to Otisville federal prison in New York to begin a three-year term.
July 17, 2019: Case Closed?
Despite having evidence of Trump’s connection to Daniels’ and other hush money payments, federal investigators announce they are ending the probe into Cohen. Trump’s lawyers celebrate the decision as a victory for the president.
Aug, 1, 2019: Case Opened?
Then-Manhattan DA Cy Vance issues a subpoena demanding records regarding the Daniels payment from the Trump Organization.
Sept. 11, 2019: The Art of the Deal
Cohen negotiates an agreement with Manhattan prosecutors seeking his testimony regarding Trump’s involvement in the Daniel’s payment.
June 25, 2020: Lowering the Barr
A New York Times report reveals that Trump Attorney General William Barr made fruitless overtures to overturn Cohen’s conviction, and challenged prosecutors’ use of campaign finance laws in the case.
November 2020: Not to Bragg
In an interview with CBS News Alvin Bragg, then a candidate for Manhattan district attorney, said that while he couldn’t pre-judge, given the publicly available information about the case it was likely prosecutors viewed the case as “charge ready.”
Feb. 5, 2021: It’s “Dead”
Sources tell the Associated Press that a federal investigation into Trump’s involvement in the Daniels payment is “dead” and that prosecutors are unlikely to bring charges against him — even though Trump is no longer in office. The previous stalling of the case largely rested on arguments that the president is subject to immunity while in office, a protection that ended after Trump’s 2020 reelection loss.
May 16, 2021: The Fellas at the FEC
The Federal Elections Commission drops an inquiry into the Daniels payment after a 2-2 party line vote failed to move the investigation forward.
Nov. 2, 2021: New Sheriff in Town
Alvin Bragg is elected Manhattan district attorney, replacing Vance. Earlier in his career, he helped oversee New York state litigation that resulted in shuttering the Trump Foundation.
Nov. 22, 2021: Cohen Freed
Let out of prison upon completion of his sentence, Cohen tells the media: “My release today in no way negates the actions I took at the direction of and for the benefit of Donald J. Trump.”
Nov. 21, 2022: Case Open!
Newly minted Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg moves to revive and refocus the investigation, which had been stranded in the prosecutorial doldrums, onto Trump. According to The New York Times, prosecutors were seeking to expand the scope of the probe beyond just the hush money in order to build a stronger case.
Jan. 30, 2023: Facts of the Case
The Manhattan DA begins presenting its findings before a grand jury tasked with determining if criminal charges can be filed against Trump.
Jan 31, 2021: President Poster
Trump and Daniels trade words on social media after the former president blows up on Truth Social regarding the investigation. “With respect to the ‘Stormy’ nonsense, it is VERY OLD & happened a long time ago, long past the very publicly known & accepted deadline of the Statute of Limitations,” Trump wrote.
Feb. 3, 2023: The Melania Defense
Sources tell Rolling Stone that advisers to Trump, including his legal counsel, have suggested he invoke his wife Melania as a tactic to avoid criminal charges. The proposed plan involves arguing that Trump didn’t pay off Daniels in order to protect his campaign, but rather to avoid a fight with his spouse.
March 9, 2023: Invite Only
Trump is offered the opportunity to testify before the Manhattan grand jury, a signal that prosecutors are considering charges against him. Trump declines the offer.
March 15, 2023: Stormy Plays Ball
Stormy Daniels meets with Manhattan prosecutors to answer questions and make herself available as a witness.
March 17, 2023: Arrest Report
Fox News reports that the Manhattan DA’s office and the Secret Service are in negotiations for how to effectuate an unprecedented arrest of a former president.
March 18, 2023: Trump’s Revealing Rant
In a Truth Social rant, Trump reveals he expects to be “arrested” this Tuesday, calls for mass protests to “TAKE OUR NATION BACK!”
March 20, 2023: Security Measures
The NYPD is seen erecting barricades around the Manhattan Criminal Court, presumably in anticipation of the former president’s arrest.
Best of Rolling Stone
The Useful Idiots New Guide to the Most Stoned Moments of the 2020 Presidential Campaign