A Trump trial puzzle

[UPDATE: I read this article today by a former federal prosecutor that also makes the point that lying about his liaisons with Daniels and McDougal was a bad strategy.

But it’s also clear that Trump’s lawyers are pursuing a flawed and risky strategy. Why? Most likely it’s not them, but him. Trump is the client, and he gets the final word on major decisions. So far as I can tell, this team has managed to stay on Trump’s good side by indulging — perhaps necessarily — his worst traits and instincts. It may be their downfall.

Most devastatingly, lead attorney Todd Blanche, in his opening statement, repeated Trump’s claim that he never had a sexual encounter with Stormy Daniels. That was followed by days of testimony last week that — if you believe Daniels’ very persuasive account — effectively demonstrated that a central plank of Trump’s defense is a lie and has been a lie for years, and that the jury cannot trust even Trump’s lead counsel to tell them the truth.

A bunch of Trump-supporting legal commentators have claimed that Daniels’ testimony was irrelevant to the case — a truly baffling interpretation of events given what actually happened. Prosecutors had no choice but to put Daniels on after Blanche affirmatively called her a liar in his opening statement, and they had to elicit considerable detail about the sexual encounter in order to establish her credibility in response to Blanche’s attack inside the courtroom and Trump’s years of attacks outside of it. Not only was that the appropriate way for the government to defend the integrity of its investigation and its witness, it was also an unmissable opportunity for them to tank the credibility of Trump’s entire legal defense.

But the author does not speculate as to the motive behind this poor choice of strategy.]

We are in the fourth week of the trial of serial sex abuser Donald Trump (SSAT) and it has been as tawdry as expected. The main (but not only) charge is that SSAT falsified business records to claim that $130,000 given to his former fixer Michael Cohen was a retainer for legal services when it was actually reimbursements to Cohen for payments made to suppress damaging information emerging just before the 2016 election. The latter reason would constitute an illegal campaign contribution. The statement issued by Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg when the indictments were first announced in April 2023 has the following:

In one instance, American Media Inc. (“AMI”), paid $30,000 to a former Trump Tower doorman, who claimed to have a story about a child TRUMP had out of wedlock.  

In a second instance, AMI paid $150,000 to a woman who alleged she had a sexual relationship with TRUMP. When TRUMP explicitly directed a lawyer who then worked for the Trump Organization as TRUMP’s Special Counsel (“Special Counsel”) to reimburse AMI in cash, the Special Counsel indicated to TRUMP that the payment should be made via a shell company and not by cash. AMI ultimately declined to accept reimbursement after consulting their counsel. AMI, which later admitted its conduct was unlawful in an agreement with federal prosecutors, made false entries in its business records concerning the true purpose of the $150,000 payment. 

In a third instance – 12 days before the presidential general election – the Special Counsel wired $130,000 to an attorney for an adult film actress. The Special Counsel, who has since pleaded guilty and served time in prison for making the illegal campaign contribution, made the payment through a shell corporation funded through a bank in Manhattan.

Paying money to someone to keep quiet about a sexual encounter is not illegal. What is illegal is falsifying business records and doing it to influence an election outcome.

One thing that puzzles me is SSAT’s defense that the encounter with Stormy Daniels never happened. That creates two problems for him. He now has to explain why he made the payments at all. The other is that by accusing her of lying, it opened the door for the prosecution to bring in Daniels as a witness to testify to the details of the encounters she had with him, though thankfully we were spared descriptions about his genitalia. The other woman that is involved is Karen McDougal and she may also be called to testify later. Unlike with Daniels where it seems to have been a single occasion in which they had sex, McDouglas claims that she had an extended affair with SSAT.

I suspect that few people doubt that SSAT had sexual encounters with Daniels and McDougal. I also doubt that it will damage him with his MAGA cult followers and may possibly raise him in the esteem of some of them. So why deny it? Daniels’s testimony and the corroborating evidence makes that lie hard to sustain. We still have to see if McDougal testifies and how credible she is on the stand. It would have been more plausible for SSAT to admit the liaisons but that the payments were meant to keep the information from his wife. The jury might well have believed that. But saying that nothing happened is a much harder sell and opens him up to having all the lurid details laid out in open court to contradict his claim. If, as seems likely, the jury concludes that he is lying about these two women, that makes it easier for them to conclude that he is lying about all other things as well, making it easier to convict.

If I had to hazard a guess as to his motivation for denying what seems to be undeniable, I think it is because he is scared of what would happen with his wife Melania. It is not uncommon in marriages for a wife to tolerate occasional infidelity by her husband as long as it is kept on the down low. She can then pretend to her friends and relatives that it is not happening and they can sustain the fiction that she does not know and the whole topic can be avoided. But if his liaisons are openly acknowledged, then she has to deal with the question of why she continues to stay in a marriage with someone who repeatedly cheats on her.

So perhaps that is why SSAT felt that he had to make these denials. Admitting it would risk forcing Melania to decide to leave him, which would be politically damaging. It may also be financially damaging, depending on what their pre-nuptial agreement says. She would probably get a hefty financial settlement in return for not criticizing him in public.

Of course, all this is pure speculation on my part. Trying to fathom SSAT’s logic is also fraught with difficulty. But I cannot see any other good reason for him to deny his affairs.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    Trying to fathom SSAT’s logic is also fraught with difficulty.

    Trump™ has a very consistent pattern of Delay. Pay nothing. Pay less. Pay later. That’s his art of the deal (per a rawstory.com recap of a twit-thread from Daily Beast writer Jose Pagliery).

    “If Trump repaid Pecker… if he paid Stormy right away… if he’d simply reimbursed Cohen… none of this would’ve happened,” he [Pagliery] concluded.

  2. jenorafeuer says

    I think you’re giving him too much credit for forethought on this. He’s great with knowing what his base want to hear, but actually telling consistent fabrications isn’t one of his abilities, he’s more about throwing out chaff and making it impossible for anybody else to know what the truth might be. You’ll notice that there are claims both that he didn’t have sex with her, and that the hush money payments were just to spare Melania’s feelings, and that’s kind of a ‘both of these can’t be true at once’ situation.

    This is a guy who is used to being able to just out-stubborn and out-bully the opposition whenever his lies get exposed, after all. (Just look at how much he kept coming back to insisting that the crowds at his inauguration were bigger than Obama’s despite photographic evidence and the fact that it was ultimately a completely pointless argument.) He’s even handled most previous courtroom situations that way, just stonewalling until the other side gives up or compromises. Now that he’s sitting in a courtroom for a criminal case where he’s not being allowed to do that anymore, and he’s long since driven away any lawyers that would actually be able to tell him to shut his mouth, he’s reduced to scrambling and trying to sow confusion in hopes that they can claim ‘reasonable doubt’ in the end.

  3. Dennis K says


    …he’s reduced to scrambling and trying to sow confusion in hopes that they can claim ‘reasonable doubt’ in the end.

    For his base, this strat works well with little effort.

  4. steve oberski says

    By accusing Stephanie A. Gregory Clifford (Stormy Daniels) of lying T**** also opens the door to a civil defamation lawsuit.

    Now on the hook for $83.3 million to E. Jean Carroll for defamation you would think he would have figured this out by now.

  5. says

    Given his historie, if Trump says something the default assumption should be that it’s a lie.
    At this point in time it would be news if he told the truth, really.

    I really hope Stormy Daniels files a civil defamation lawsuit. The more his lies are exposed, the better.

  6. moarscienceplz says

    Mary Trump explained this in her first book. Both SSAT and his father were devotees of Norman Vincent Peale who promoted Positive Thinking, where you work hard to imagine yourself performing better in future endeavors than you have in the past. As such, PT is a fairly benign practice that may well help towards self-improvement, but Fred Trump was such a a sociopath that all his children have very poor self-esteem, so SSAT has twisted PT into a tool to deny the reality of anything he does being anything short of perfect. Remember the phone call to Volodymyr Zelenskyy demanding dirt on the Bidens in exchange for weapons and the call to Georgia demanding Brad Raffensperger “find” just enough votes for SSAT to win the state? How does he characterize those calls? Most people in a similar situation might call them ‘perfectly ordinary’ or ‘nothing untoward’, but SSAT calls them “perfect” because he made them. Or his recent gloating that he won both the regular championship AND the seniors’ championship at one of his golf resorts. Not only is it gouache to accept an award from the club one owns, but it is doubly tacky to enter both the regular and the seniors competitions, but SSAT crowed about it to the world, even though every non-MAGA person is sure he cheated. He has to constantly tell himself he is the best, because deep in his heart he knows he is a fraud. He will never admit that he lost a fair election, not because it is a way to keep his base riled up, but because he HAS to be a winner, and he will never admit he cheated on his marriage, because he HAS to be the finest husband.

  7. jenorafeuer says

    (And he’s convinced himself that everybody else cheats, too, so is it really cheating when he does it?)

  8. moarscienceplz says

    That was a fun article. It had several tidbits I’ve not heard before. I especially liked the opening quote/epigram:
    “How you do one thing is how you do everything. You loaf in practice, you’re gonna loaf in the game. You cheat on your tests, you’re gonna cheat on your wife.”
    Pretty on the nose, eh?

  9. KG says

    We are in the fourth week of the trial of serial sex abuser Donald Trump (SSAT) and it has been as tawdry as expected. -- Mano

    But, thanks to Stormy Daniels, much more amusing!

  10. KG says

    But I cannot see any other good reason for him to deny his affairs.

    Obviously, out of chivalrous concern for the women concerned!

  11. says

    I doubt that SSAT is at all concerned about Melania’s reaction, particularly since the rest of the (non-MAGA) world knows the accounts are true. SSAT hates to admit he is wrong about anything and since his initial reaction was to lie, he just keeps it up. He is still whining about the completely debunked, idiotic claims about the 2020 election. And millions of people swear they waz robbed.

  12. John Morales says

    I concur with joelgrant, above.

    Fake it all the way. Don’t go out of character, in public.

    (cf. “the Secret”)

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