Giuliani May Have Exposed Trump to New Legal and Political Perils


By the end of the day, the president and his advisers had done little to clarify the confusion that Mr. Giuliani had set in motion a night earlier.

Mr. Giuliani did not consult every member of the president’s legal team, or the network of lawyers around Washington whose clients have been entangled in Mr. Trump’s legal disputes, according to several people close to the team. Emmet T. Flood, a lawyer hired by Mr. Trump on Wednesday, was not involved in Mr. Giuliani’s plans to reveal the payments to Mr. Cohen during an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News, one of the people said.

The abrupt disclosure — which even caught Mr. Hannity, a confidant of the president’s, by surprise — set off a flurry of calls between Mr. Trump’s lawyers as they sought to determine whether Mr. Giuliani meant to reveal the president’s reimbursement. Witnesses and lawyers around Washington scoured transcripts, watched television clips and called each other in an effort to grasp the consequences of what Mr. Giuliani had said.

The president’s other lawyers ultimately determined that Mr. Giuliani had consulted with Mr. Trump, people close to them said, but were left speechless about why he decided to make the disclosure in such a high-profile way and without any strategy to handle the fallout.

Mr. Giuliani recognized the situation was problematic, two people close to him said, because Mr. Trump had previously said on Air Force One that he was unaware of the hush payments to Stephanie Clifford, the actress who performs as Stormy Daniels. However, Mr. Trump and his aides see lying to or misleading the news media as far less troublesome than lying to investigators, they said.

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Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, recently joined Mr. Trump’s legal team.

Credit
Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Even some of the president’s advisers said they were skeptical of Mr. Giuliani’s statements that Mr. Cohen entered into a settlement, made payments to a pornographic film actress and was reimbursed by the president all without Mr. Trump’s knowing why.

Mr. Giuliani’s disclosure is a sign of how Mr. Trump’s reshuffled legal team — which now includes a highly paid Washington lawyer, a famous former mayor, a constitutional lawyer who specializes in religious cases and former federal prosecutors — will function in the coming weeks as they sort out who takes the lead on representing the president.

Mr. Giuliani has said he is the lead lawyer dealing with the special counsel’s investigation in Washington. But his statements on Wednesday night related to the continuing investigation in New York that is examining the conduct of Mr. Cohen. People close to the president are concerned that Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani may create more problems for themselves if they consult only with each other and leave out the other lawyers who may know more about the nuances of the cases.

Mr. Trump faces a two-front battle with the Justice Department: one investigation in New York into Mr. Cohen and the special counsel investigation in Washington.

Whoever runs the president’s legal defenses will almost certainly adopt a more aggressive strategy than the previous team, which was led by the Washington lawyers John Dowd and Ty Cobb.

Despite the president’s desire to take on the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and the Justice Department, Mr. Dowd and Mr. Cobb persuaded Mr. Trump to buy into their strategy of cooperation. The more helpful the president was, Mr. Dowd and Mr. Cobb told him last year, the more likely the investigation would conclude by year’s end.

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Michael D. Cohen, the president’s personal lawyer, paid $130,000 in hush money to Ms. Clifford, who says she had an affair with Mr. Trump.

Credit
Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

Instead, the investigation has intensified, and the president has concluded that approach was a mistake, according to people close to him. Convinced that the investigation is a growing threat to his presidency, he has resorted to his initial inclination to fight.

Mr. Trump appears to hope that Mr. Giuliani, a like-minded political street fighter from New York, will aid his combative approach. Mr. Giuliani’s comments on Wednesday and Thursday were an attempt to do just that.

His aggression carried risks. Besides revealing that the president had reimbursed Mr. Cohen, Mr. Giuliani appeared to admit that the payment to Ms. Clifford just before Election Day in 2016 was made because of concerns about the coming vote. That could be used to argue that it was an illegal campaign contribution.

“Imagine if that came out on October 15, 2016, in the middle of the, you know, last debate with Hillary Clinton,” Mr. Giuliani said on the Fox News program “Fox & Friends.” “Cohen didn’t even ask. Cohen made it go away. He did his job.”

Violating campaign finance laws can be serious. John Edwards, a former Democratic senator and presidential hopeful, was charged with corruption for his role in trying to hide details of his affair with a videographer during his 2008 bid for the White House. Mr. Edwards’s trial ended in an acquittal on one count with the jury unable to reach a verdict on five others.

Mr. Giuliani’s comments also raised fresh questions about the president’s relationship with Mr. Cohen. As Mr. Giuliani told it, Mr. Cohen entered into a legal agreement with Ms. Clifford and paid her without Mr. Trump’s knowledge. Mr. Giuliani described that as commonplace, saying he performed similar services for his own clients. But legal ethics experts said such an arrangement was highly unusual and would only expose Mr. Cohen to new questions.

The Trump Team’s Conflicting Statements About the Payment to Stormy Daniels

From complete denial to acknowledging involvement, what President Trump and his lawyers said about the $130,000 paid to the pornographic film actress.


Lawyers are required to keep their clients fully informed of their activities and are generally prohibited from advancing money to or on behalf of their clients, said Deborah L. Rhode, a scholar on legal ethics at Stanford Law School. “This is a guy who says he’ll take a bullet for the president,” she said. “And what they’re giving him is the legal ethics equivalent of a bullet.”

“Giuliani thinks he’s serving President Trump’s interest,” she said. “President Trump’s interest is not the same as Michael Cohen’s interest.”

In his tweets on Thursday, Mr. Trump contradicted his earlier statements that he knew of no payment to Ms. Clifford. Mr. Trump said he paid a monthly retainer to Mr. Cohen and suggested that the payment to the actress could not be considered a campaign contribution.

Government watchdog groups warned that willfully violating the financial disclosure laws can be punished by a fine of up to $50,000 and a year in prison. Although federal officials who lie on the forms are also typically charged with other, more serious offenses such as bribery or fraud, more than 20 officials or former officials have been charged in the past 12 years with making false statements to federal officials, a felony offense. An Environmental Protection Agency official who failed to report a source of income on the form, for instance, was convicted and sentenced to probation.

“Mr. Giuliani did his client no favors,” said Norman L. Eisen, the chairman of the good-government group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Mr. Cohen had worked for Mr. Trump for a decade and has said he would “take a bullet” for him. Mr. Trump, however, treated Mr. Cohen poorly over the years, people familiar with their relationship have said.

Ms. Clifford is suing Mr. Cohen to try to be released from the nondisclosure agreement. And Mr. Cohen is under federal investigation into possible bank fraud, raising concerns in the president’s inner circle that Mr. Trump’s longtime personal lawyer will cooperate with the government. Federal agents raided Mr. Cohen’s office and home last month and seized documents that included information about payments to Ms. Clifford.

Mr. Cohen recently invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in Ms. Clifford’s lawsuit.

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R.N.C. Official Who Agreed to Pay Playboy Model $1.6 Million Resigns


He lamented that the issue had become a national news story, which he attributed to the publicity surrounding the federal investigations of Mr. Cohen. He said that the lawyer “reached out to me after being contacted by this woman’s attorney, Keith Davidson,” and that he hired Mr. Cohen after Mr. Cohen “informed me about his prior relationship with Mr. Davidson.”

In fact, the contract used in Mr. Broidy’s case included the same aliases that were used in the 2016 contract relating to Mr. Trump and Ms. Clifford — David Dennison and Peggy Peterson — according to a person familiar with it.

A spokesman for Mr. Davidson said he could not confirm or deny the details of the agreement. In a statement, Mr. Davidson said, “I’ve always acted in my client’s best interest, and appropriately in all matters.”

Mr. Cohen declined to comment.

Mr. Davidson’s relationship with Mr. Cohen forms part of the basis for a lawsuit brought by Ms. McDougal, who is seeking to get out of her contract with A.M.I., the owner of The National Enquirer, which never ran her story after buying it in August 2016.

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Keith M. Davidson, the Playboy model’s lawyer in the arrangement, also represented two women who were paid to remain silent about alleged affairs with Mr. Trump.

In the lawsuit, she contends that Mr. Cohen played a secret role in the negotiations for that deal, which allegedly involved only herself and the tabloid media company. The Times reported earlier this year that Mr. Cohen and Mr. Davidson discussed the deal the day before Ms. McDougal signed the contract.

Mr. Broidy was a major fund-raiser for George W. Bush, but he is particularly connected in Mr. Trump’s orbit.

He got his start in business as an accountant and then as an investment manager for Glen Bell, the founder of Taco Bell. He was a vice chairman of Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee, has met frequently with top White House officials and had an Oval Office meeting with the president in October, according to documents obtained by The Times.

During the wide-ranging October meeting, Mr. Broidy raised numerous topics high on the agenda of the United Arab Emirates, a country that has given his security company a contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars. He pitched the president on a paramilitary force his company was developing for the U.A.E. and urged Mr. Trump to fire Rex W. Tillerson, then the secretary of state, whom the U.A.E. believed was insufficiently tough on its rival Qatar.

The documents show that Mr. Broidy has worked closely with George Nader, an adviser to the U.A.E. and a witness in the special counsel’s investigation, to help steer Trump administration policy on numerous issues in the Middle East. Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, is examining Mr. Nader’s possible role in funneling Emirati money to finance Mr. Trump’s political efforts. There is no indication that Mr. Mueller’s team is looking into Mr. Broidy.

In 2009, Mr. Broidy pleaded guilty to charges that he made nearly $1 million worth of illegal gifts to New York State officials in order to win an investment of $250 million from the state’s public pension fund. Among the gifts were trips to Israel and Italy, payouts to officials’ relatives and girlfriends and an investment in one relative’s production of a low-budget movie called “Chooch.”

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Raid on Trump’s Lawyer Sought Records on ‘Access Hollywood’ Tape


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Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s personal lawyer, in Manhattan on Wednesday.

Credit
Seth Wenig/Associated Press

The F.B.I. agents who raided the office and hotel of President Trump’s lawyer on Monday were seeking all records related to the “Access Hollywood” tape in which Mr. Trump was heard making vulgar comments about women, according to three people who have been briefed on the contents of a federal search warrant.

The search warrant also sought evidence of whether the lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, tried to suppress damaging information about Mr. Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.

It is not clear what role, if any, Mr. Cohen played regarding the tape, which was made public a month before the election. But the fact that the agents were seeking documents related to the tape reveals a new front in the investigation into Mr. Cohen that is being led by the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan.

The disclosure comes a day after it was revealed that the authorities also sought documents from Mr. Cohen related to payments made to two women who claim they had affairs with Mr. Trump, Karen McDougal and Stephanie Clifford, as well as information on the role of the publisher of The National Enquirer in silencing the women.

The new details from the warrant reveal that prosecutors are keenly interested in Mr. Cohen’s unofficial role in the Trump campaign. And they help explain why Mr. Trump was furious about the raid. People close to Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen regard the warrant as an attempt by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, to pry into Mr. Trump’s personal life — using other prosecutors as his proxy.

Mr. Mueller’s spokesman declined to comment.

Stephen Ryan, a lawyer for Mr. Cohen, referred to his earlier description of the raid as “completely inappropriate and unnecessary.” He has described it as an overreach by prosecutors into the privileged communications between Mr. Cohen and his client, Mr. Trump.

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Michael Cohen, ‘Ultimate Trump Loyalist,’ Now in the Sights of the F.B.I.


Mr. Trump values few things more than loyalty, but secrecy is one of them. For years, to keep the circle of people involved as small as possible, he chose to have Mr. Cohen serve as his legal attack dog from a perch inside Trump Tower in Manhattan instead of having outside counsel deal with his problems, according to two people familiar with their relationship.

In private, Mr. Cohen has compared himself to Tom Hagen, the smooth consigliere to the mafia family in the movie “The Godfather.” His detractors have used other descriptions, with one longtime Trump associate saying that the words “finesse” and Mr. Cohen have rarely been yoked together in a sentence.

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The Federal Bureau of Investigation raided Mr. Cohen’s office in Manhattan on Monday.

Credit
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

If nothing else, the federal investigation, which has also drawn in a tabloid company friendly to Mr. Trump, has cast a harsh light on a partnership that, until recently, at least, worked out well for both Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump. Mr. Cohen, who met Mr. Trump nearly two decades ago when he bought units in several Trump buildings in New York, later played the role of point man and adviser on some of Mr. Trump’s efforts to expand his brand internationally.

Mr. Cohen also became his boss’s go-to guy for cleaning up messes, from local zoning disputes to negative stories. The lawyer seemed to relish his reputation as Mr. Trump’s “pit bull” and embraced an aggressive — some say bullying — approach to solving problems.

Though Mr. Cohen has been sidelined from the Trump inner circle since the election — he never got a senior administration job, which people who know him say he expected — he has remained devoted to the president. On Twitter, he regularly speaks up on his behalf and assails critics. On Sunday, the day before the F.B.I. raid on his office, Mr. Cohen posted a quote about the importance of loyalty, adding: “I will always protect our @POTUS.”

One such attempt at protection was his effort in July 2015 to quash a Daily Beast article about an old complaint that Mr. Trump’s first wife, Ivana, had made during their divorce, in which she claimed marital rape. She later withdrew the allegation. Mr. Cohen told a reporter for the website that marital rape was not legally possible, and threatened the reporter if the story went forward.

After that, he mostly kept out of the public eye, helping the campaign build African-American and religious coalitions and raising money.

In recent months, Mr. Cohen’s efforts to protect Mr. Trump from claims by two women of extramarital affairs have emerged as a major distraction — and possibly worse — for the White House.

Mr. Cohen’s efforts to silence the pornographic actress Stephanie Clifford, known as Stormy Daniels, began as early as 2011, when he threatened legal action against a tabloid website that tried to publish her story. During the 2016 campaign, he says, he decided on his own to draw $130,000 from a home equity line of credit and pay Ms. Clifford to keep quiet, channeling the payment through a limited liability company.

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Stephanie Clifford, the pornographic actress known as Stormy Daniels. Mr. Cohen paid her to keep quiet about a sexual encounter she said she had had with Mr. Trump.

Credit
Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images

Mr. Cohen has repeatedly denied any impropriety around the efforts to restrain Ms. Clifford from speaking out. And he has maintained that he was simply trying to deal with a potentially damaging story even though, he said, it was false.

What is more, Mr. Cohen has also insisted that he made the payment to Ms. Clifford without consulting Mr. Trump. Asked recently whether he knew about the payment, Mr. Trump told reporters he did not, and referred questions to Mr. Cohen.

Still, Mr. Cohen’s claim that he struck a nondisclosure agreement with Ms. Clifford by himself, coupled with his effort to force her to comply with it, has exposed Mr. Trump to possibly having to testify about his knowledge of what his lawyer was up to. Ms. Clifford sued Mr. Trump last month, and her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, has filed court papers seeking to depose the president.

“As we predicted and as the F.B.I. raid shows,” Mr. Avenatti tweeted on Tuesday, “Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump are in a lot of trouble.”

In a text message on Tuesday, Mr. Cohen said the investigation had been difficult.

“This has not been easy and has taken a terrible toll on me, my wife and children,” Mr. Cohen said.

Another payment that the F.B.I. is said to be investigating, for $150,000, was made by American Media Inc., the parent company of The National Enquirer. The tabloid business bought the rights to the former Playboy model Karen McDougal’s story alleging an affair with Mr. Trump and never published it. David J. Pecker, now the chairman of A.M.I., was the chief executive of Hachette in the 1990s and for a time published Mr. Trump’s in-house hotel magazine.

Mr. Trump, who was from Queens, and the Bronx-born Mr. Pecker viewed themselves as outsiders looking in at an elitist Manhattan establishment. First at Hachette and later, when he took over chairmanship of A.M.I., Mr. Pecker acquired a reputation for buying and burying stories in ways that protected associates like Mr. Trump.

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Mr. Trump with Felix Sater, right, in 2005. Mr. Sater discussed a possible Trump Moscow project with Mr. Cohen.

Credit
Cyrus McCrimmon/The Denver Post, via Getty Images

Several people close to A.M.I. and Mr. Cohen have said that the lawyer was in regular contact with company executives during the presidential campaign, when The Enquirer regularly heralded Mr. Trump and attacked his rivals. The Times reported in February that A.M.I. had shared Ms. McDougal’s allegations with Mr. Cohen, though the company said it did so only as part of efforts to corroborate her story, which it said it could not do. Ms. McDougal’s lawyer at the time, Keith Davidson, and Mr. Cohen communicated around the time as she and A.M.I. were finalizing their deal.

The agreements for Ms. McDougal’s and Ms. Clifford’s silence formed the basis of complaints by the public interest group Common Cause to the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission. The group claims the payments amounted to improper campaign contributions.

On Monday, as news of the F.B.I. raids broke, The Times reported that the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, was looking into a $150,000 donation to Mr. Trump’s charitable foundation from a Ukrainian billionaire that was solicited by Mr. Cohen during the 2016 campaign. In addition, Mr. Mueller has examined Mr. Cohen’s postelection role in forwarding to the administration a Ukraine-Russia peace proposal pushed by a Ukrainian lawmaker.

And Trump-Russia investigators have also examined the 2015 Moscow deal that Mr. Cohen pushed at a time when his boss was campaigning for the Republican nomination for president.

Mr. Trump’s long-held desire to build a Trump property in Russia found new life when Felix Sater, a friend of Mr. Cohen’s and a longtime associate of Mr. Trump’s, surfaced with a fresh proposal. He exchanged emails and phone calls with Mr. Cohen in late 2015 saying that he had a prospective developer lined up, and that he could use his contacts in Russia to garner Kremlin support for the project.

Mr. Cohen wasted no time, arranging for Mr. Trump to sign a letter of intent for the Moscow tower deal. But the project seemed to stall in the coming months.

Rather than let it go, Mr. Cohen reached out directly to Mr. Putin’s press secretary in January 2016, asking for assistance. Later, he asserted that his effort was unsuccessful.

“I decided to abandon the proposal less than two weeks later for business reasons,” he said, “and do not recall any response to my email.”

Continue reading the main story

Michael Cohen, ‘Ultimate Trump Loyalist,’ Now in the Sights of the F.B.I.


Mr. Trump values few things more than loyalty, but secrecy is one of them. For years, to keep the circle of people involved as small as possible, he chose to have Mr. Cohen serve as his legal attack dog from a perch inside Trump Tower in Manhattan instead of having outside counsel deal with his problems, according to two people familiar with their relationship.

In private, Mr. Cohen has compared himself to Tom Hagen, the smooth consigliere to the mafia family in the movie “The Godfather.” His detractors have used other descriptions, with one longtime Trump associate saying that the words “finesse” and Mr. Cohen have rarely been yoked together in a sentence.

Photo

The Federal Bureau of Investigation raided Mr. Cohen’s office in Manhattan on Monday.

Credit
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

If nothing else, the federal investigation, which has also drawn in a tabloid company friendly to Mr. Trump, has cast a harsh light on a partnership that, until recently, at least, worked out well for both Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump. Mr. Cohen, who met Mr. Trump nearly two decades ago when he bought units in several Trump buildings in New York, later played the role of point man and adviser on some of Mr. Trump’s efforts to expand his brand internationally.

Mr. Cohen also became his boss’s go-to guy for cleaning up messes, from local zoning disputes to negative stories. The lawyer seemed to relish his reputation as Mr. Trump’s “pit bull” and embraced an aggressive — some say bullying — approach to solving problems.

Though Mr. Cohen has been sidelined from the Trump inner circle since the election — he never got a senior administration job, which people who know him say he expected — he has remained devoted to the president. On Twitter, he regularly speaks up on his behalf and assails critics. On Sunday, the day before the F.B.I. raid on his office, Mr. Cohen posted a quote about the importance of loyalty, adding: “I will always protect our @POTUS.”

One such attempt at protection was his effort in July 2015 to quash a Daily Beast article about an old complaint that Mr. Trump’s first wife, Ivana, had made during their divorce, in which she claimed marital rape. She later withdrew the allegation. Mr. Cohen told a reporter for the website that marital rape was not legally possible, and threatened the reporter if the story went forward.

After that, he mostly kept out of the public eye, helping the campaign build African-American and religious coalitions and raising money.

In recent months, Mr. Cohen’s efforts to protect Mr. Trump from claims by two women of extramarital affairs have emerged as a major distraction — and possibly worse — for the White House.

Mr. Cohen’s efforts to silence the pornographic actress Stephanie Clifford, known as Stormy Daniels, began as early as 2011, when he threatened legal action against a tabloid website that tried to publish her story. During the 2016 campaign, he says, he decided on his own to draw $130,000 from a home equity line of credit and pay Ms. Clifford to keep quiet, channeling the payment through a limited liability company.

Photo

Stephanie Clifford, the pornographic actress known as Stormy Daniels. Mr. Cohen paid her to keep quiet about a sexual encounter she said she had had with Mr. Trump.

Credit
Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images

Mr. Cohen has repeatedly denied any impropriety around the efforts to restrain Ms. Clifford from speaking out. And he has maintained that he was simply trying to deal with a potentially damaging story even though, he said, it was false.

What is more, Mr. Cohen has also insisted that he made the payment to Ms. Clifford without consulting Mr. Trump. Asked recently whether he knew about the payment, Mr. Trump told reporters he did not, and referred questions to Mr. Cohen.

Still, Mr. Cohen’s claim that he struck a nondisclosure agreement with Ms. Clifford by himself, coupled with his effort to force her to comply with it, has exposed Mr. Trump to possibly having to testify about his knowledge of what his lawyer was up to. Ms. Clifford sued Mr. Trump last month, and her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, has filed court papers seeking to depose the president.

“As we predicted and as the F.B.I. raid shows,” Mr. Avenatti tweeted on Tuesday, “Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump are in a lot of trouble.”

In a text message on Tuesday, Mr. Cohen said the investigation had been difficult.

“This has not been easy and has taken a terrible toll on me, my wife and children,” Mr. Cohen said.

Another payment that the F.B.I. is said to be investigating, for $150,000, was made by American Media Inc., the parent company of The National Enquirer. The tabloid business bought the rights to the former Playboy model Karen McDougal’s story alleging an affair with Mr. Trump and never published it. David J. Pecker, now the chairman of A.M.I., was the chief executive of Hachette in the 1990s and for a time published Mr. Trump’s in-house hotel magazine.

Mr. Trump, who was from Queens, and the Bronx-born Mr. Pecker viewed themselves as outsiders looking in at an elitist Manhattan establishment. First at Hachette and later, when he took over chairmanship of A.M.I., Mr. Pecker acquired a reputation for buying and burying stories in ways that protected associates like Mr. Trump.

Photo

Mr. Trump with Felix Sater, right, in 2005. Mr. Sater discussed a possible Trump Moscow project with Mr. Cohen.

Credit
Cyrus McCrimmon/The Denver Post, via Getty Images

Several people close to A.M.I. and Mr. Cohen have said that the lawyer was in regular contact with company executives during the presidential campaign, when The Enquirer regularly heralded Mr. Trump and attacked his rivals. The Times reported in February that A.M.I. had shared Ms. McDougal’s allegations with Mr. Cohen, though the company said it did so only as part of efforts to corroborate her story, which it said it could not do. Ms. McDougal’s lawyer at the time, Keith Davidson, and Mr. Cohen communicated around the time as she and A.M.I. were finalizing their deal.

The agreements for Ms. McDougal’s and Ms. Clifford’s silence formed the basis of complaints by the public interest group Common Cause to the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission. The group claims the payments amounted to improper campaign contributions.

On Monday, as news of the F.B.I. raids broke, The Times reported that the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, was looking into a $150,000 donation to Mr. Trump’s charitable foundation from a Ukrainian billionaire that was solicited by Mr. Cohen during the 2016 campaign. In addition, Mr. Mueller has examined Mr. Cohen’s postelection role in forwarding to the administration a Ukraine-Russia peace proposal pushed by a Ukrainian lawmaker.

And Trump-Russia investigators have also examined the 2015 Moscow deal that Mr. Cohen pushed at a time when his boss was campaigning for the Republican nomination for president.

Mr. Trump’s long-held desire to build a Trump property in Russia found new life when Felix Sater, a friend of Mr. Cohen’s and a longtime associate of Mr. Trump’s, surfaced with a fresh proposal. He exchanged emails and phone calls with Mr. Cohen in late 2015 saying that he had a prospective developer lined up, and that he could use his contacts in Russia to garner Kremlin support for the project.

Mr. Cohen wasted no time, arranging for Mr. Trump to sign a letter of intent for the Moscow tower deal. But the project seemed to stall in the coming months.

Rather than let it go, Mr. Cohen reached out directly to Mr. Putin’s press secretary in January 2016, asking for assistance. Later, he asserted that his effort was unsuccessful.

“I decided to abandon the proposal less than two weeks later for business reasons,” he said, “and do not recall any response to my email.”

Continue reading the main story

Vows: After Scandal and Divorce, Jenny Sanford Learns She Can Love Again


The distance between Charleston, S.C., and Louisville is about 600 miles, and there are few direct flights. “Logistically it was difficult,” said Mr. McKay who, like everyone who follows the news, knew Ms. Sanford’s story.

He agreed to meet her, but “like most guys,” he said, he “dawdled and never got around to doing anything about it.”

But Ms. Sullivan kept after him, he said. “When she found out I go down to Hilton Head every year at the end of September on a golf trip with a bunch of guys, she asked me if I’d see Jenny while I was there,” Mr. McKay said.

In September 2016, he abandoned his golf buddies on a Saturday and drove north. “I said, ‘Guys, I’m leaving. I’ve got a better option than you two hours away in Charleston,’” near Sullivan’s Island, where Ms. Sanford lived at the time. Mr. McKay and Ms. Sanford met for the first time at Leon’s, a local restaurant. “We had a nice dinner and that’s how the whole thing started,” he said.

Well, not exactly, according to Ms. Sullivan, an artist who now lives in Vienna, Va. In her version of events, she had been plotting to set the wheels in motion for years, from the first time she met Mr. McKay.

“With Andy, it’s what you see is what you get,” she said. His honesty and straightforwardness seemed well suited to her sister. But Ms. Sanford’s social calendar didn’t allow for a long-distance setup, at least not at first. “Jenny had been dating and I wasn’t crazy about the people she was dating,” Ms. Sullivan said. “I knew it was going to take a special kind of person to make her happy.

“We all know the story of Jenny and Mark,” she continued, adding that she is still close with her former brother-in-law. “I wanted her to experience what it was like to have someone love you unconditionally. I don’t think she had ever experienced that.”

She was sure Mr. McKay, who had been divorced since 2013, could deliver. “He’s mellow, he’s very intelligent, he’s a family man, and he’s trustworthy,” she said. As for the 600 miles separating them, she convinced Mr. McKay that traversing the distance would be good for him. “I was seriously bullying him,” she said. “I told him, ‘Who are you going to meet in Louisville? You’ve already met everybody. You’re not going to find your person here.’”

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Ms. Sanford wore an ivory gown purchased from a Nordstrom store in Florida. Mr. McKay had on a tan suit with a white boutonniere to match his bride’s bouquet of white roses and ranunculus.

Credit
Sean Rayford for The New York Times

Like Ms. Sanford, Mr. McKay had been in and out of relationships since his divorce, at least one of them serious. And like Mr. McKay, Ms. Sanford wasn’t actively looking to be fixed up. Dating, for her, was an afterthought. “I was working at home doing consulting, and it was manageable and my kids were all doing great after a lot of years of adjustment and healing,” she said. “I was in a good, easy, relaxed place.”

But that first date with Mr. McKay kicked up sparks. She wanted to see him again. Mr. McKay, who left with a kiss and vague murmurings about keeping in touch, didn’t pick up that signal.

“I thought there was a connection, but I wasn’t sure she felt the same,” he said. He had been slightly intimidated on their date. “She was described to me as a very smart, fast-talking girl, and she lived up to that. It’s fair to say I was nervous.”

Ms. Sullivan prodded him to visit Ms. Sanford a second time in October. She used more coercion. Ms. Sullivan was getting married in November 2016 and had planned a small wedding in Charleston. “I told him, the only way you’re getting invited to my wedding is if you bring Jenny,” she said.

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A reception for 90 guests was held in a warehouse next to the dock.

Credit
Sean Rayford for The New York Times

Ms. Sanford recalls a second date a month before her sister’s wedding that turned into a weekend of beach walking and bike riding around Sullivan’s Island. “It was the kind of thing where I thought, What am I missing? When am I going to find out the bad part?” she said.

If trust requires a confident relationship with the unknown, Ms. Sanford was getting there. “There’s something about having such a public spectacle — it’s not fun,” she said. “You ask yourself, Can I love again? But the better question is, What happens if I get hurt again? At the end of the day, you have to be willing to take the risk.”

Mr. McKay proved risk worthy. Not only did he accompany her to her sister’s November wedding, he steered Ms. Sanford through a new heartache the next year. In March 2017, her father, John Sullivan, died in Hobe Sound. By then, Mr. McKay was flying back and forth between Charleston and Louisville regularly, and Ms. Sanford was becoming familiar with Louisville. Days before Mr. Sullivan’s death, Mr. McKay was in South Carolina when Ms. Sanford got the news that Mr. Sullivan was gravely ill. They jumped in the car and headed south.

“I didn’t even know how fast I was going, and Andy looks over and says, ‘You know you’re going 95, right?’ I liked that he was so calm about it,” Ms. Sanford said.

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The couple’s first dance was to “The Way You Look Tonight,” which was performed by a five-piece band.

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Sean Rayford for The New York Times

Both say a calm communication style set them on a course for love. After their first few dates in 2016, Ms. Sanford gave Mr. McKay a copy of “Staying True,” the 2010 book she wrote about her year in marital hell. “She said if you’re going to date me you should read this,” Mr. McKay said. But he didn’t need to. “It only takes five minutes with her to know how strong she is,” he said. “She’s not very big, but she can hold her own with anybody. What I didn’t know — what I was finding out — is how deep her goodness runs.”

On Dec. 29, a few days after Ms. Sanford’s sons heckled her on their holiday drive home, Mr. McKay was in Mt. Pleasant and her boys were visiting their father, now a South Carolina congressman. They had a weekend and a waterfront condo to themselves. “We were having a conversation at her kitchen counter, and I basically said, ‘I want to marry you,’” Mr. McKay said. “I didn’t have a ring, I didn’t get down on one knee.”

Ms. Sanford didn’t care.

“We hadn’t even talked about marriage. But at this age and stage you don’t spend time traveling back and forth to see somebody if you aren’t thinking long term,” she said. After a stunned but instant acceptance, she said, “I spent the next few days almost giddy.”

On March 31, on a friend’s private dock on Sullivan’s Island, Mr. McKay and Ms. Sanford were married before 90 friends and family by the Rev. Leo O’Donovan, a Roman Catholic priest. Father O’Donovan had been a lifelong best friend of Ms. Sanford’s father, and also had officiated at Ms. Sullivan’s 2016 Charleston wedding.

Ms. Sanford wore an ivory gown she bought for $190 at a Florida Nordstrom and a diamond engagement ring the couple picked out at Croghan’s Jewel Box, a Charleston shop. Mr. McKay wore a tan suit with a white boutonniere to match his bride’s bouquet of white roses and ranunculus. Ms. Sanford’s sons, Marshall, Landon, Bolton and Blake, stood by her side wearing matching khaki pants and blue blazers. Mr. McKay’s four children and their spouses stood by him while wrangling his grandchildren, none of over age 3, into listening to Father O’Donovan’s homily as sea gulls squawked in the background.

Just before the wedding, Ms. Sullivan indulged herself in a little gloating. “I told my husband when they first met that if I could get them to a second date, they’d end up married,” she said. Instead of rolling her eyes at her little sister’s I-told-you-so, Ms. Sanford embraced it.

“This is a real love and an active love,” Ms. Sanford said. “If she was a bully, I’m glad.”

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Trump Can’t Stop Tweeting, but Goes Silent on Stormy Daniels


In discussions with allies and some aides, Mr. Trump has privately railed against Ms. Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, and insisted that she is not telling the truth. He has reminded advisers that he joined an effort to enforce financial penalties against Ms. Daniels, whose TV interview on Sunday night was hyped throughout the weekend on the cable news channels that Mr. Trump watches obsessively.

Mr. Trump dined at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida on Saturday evening with Michael D. Cohen, his lawyer and longtime aide who is at the center of the Daniels scandal, according to three people familiar with the get-together. The president scheduled the meeting himself, surprising his aides with it a short time before Mr. Cohen arrived, people familiar with the meeting said.

Melania Trump, too, has been silent about the allegations. Asked to react to the interviews, Stephanie Grisham, Ms. Trump’s spokeswoman, said: “She’s focusing on being a mother, she’s quite enjoying her spring break and she’s focused on future projects.”

It is not clear whether Mr. Trump watched Ms. Daniels’ interview Sunday night, or a similar tell-all interview on CNN Thursday evening, when Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model, alleged a 10-month romantic affair with Mr. Trump in which they repeatedly had sex.

Sunday’s interview with Ms. Daniels contained few surprises but some humiliating details, such as Ms. Daniels saying she was not attracted to Mr. Trump, and her recollection of spanking him. Virility and strength are key traits the president likes to project, and he once gloated about a New York Post headline quoting a friend of his second wife, Marla Maples, who recalled Ms. Maples saying that Mr. Trump was the “Best Sex I’ve Ever Had.”

In the interview, Ms. Daniels said that she had flirted with Mr. Trump in 2006 at a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe. She said Mr. Trump had compared her favorably to his own daughter during the flirtation, and that she had intercourse with Mr. Trump.

Asked by Anderson Cooper whether she had anything to say to Mr. Trump, if he was watching Sunday night, Ms. Daniels said: “He knows I’m telling the truth.”

Even that has not prompted Mr. Trump to directly address the central allegations form Ms. Daniels and Ms. McDougal — that the president cheated on his wife shortly after Melania Trump gave birth to their son.

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Stormy Daniels said Sunday night on CBS’s “60 Minutes” that she once spanked the president with a copy of Forbes magazine bearing his face on the cover.

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Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Mr. Trump did type out a vague “Fake News” tweet Monday morning, although it’s unclear to what he was referring.

Beyond the details of their alleged encounters, Mr. Trump’s advisers have been urging the president to keep quiet about the legal wrangling concerning Ms. Daniels and Ms. McDougal.

Ms. McDougal, who accepted $150,000 from the parent company of the National Enquirer to keep quiet about her alleged affair with Mr. Trump, is suing the company to be released from the contract. Mr. Cohen has acknowledged paying Ms. Daniels $130,000 in the days before the 2016 election to keep quiet about her allegations.

The attorney for Ms. Daniels has aggressively argued that his client is not bound by the nondisclosure agreement she signed, in part because Mr. Trump himself never signed the document. Michael Avenatti, the lawyer, has repeatedly used Trump-like insinuations to suggest that Ms. Daniels has digital evidence of the intercourse.

“We have a litany of more evidence in this case, and it’s going to be disclosed, and it’s going to be laid bare for the American public,” Mr. Avenatti said in an interview Monday morning on Good Morning America.

Last week, Mr. Avenatti tweeted a picture of a CD or DVD with the suggestive caption: “If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many words is this worth???? #60minutes #pleasedenyit #basta.”

Even that has not prompted a presidential retort — yet.

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Stormy Daniels, Trump’s Unlikely Foe, Is ‘Not Someone to Be Underestimated’


To many in the capital, Ms. Clifford, 39, has become an unexpected force. It is she, some in Washington now joke, and not the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, who could topple Mr. Trump.

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A 1997 photo of Ms. Clifford, then Stephanie Gregory, taken from her high school yearbook.

Those who know her well have registered the moment differently. Ms. Clifford has subsisted amid the seamier elements of a business often rife with exploitation and unruly fare; more than a few of her film titles are unprintable. But for most of her professional life, Ms. Clifford has been a woman in control of her own narrative in a field where that can be uncommon. With an instinct for self-promotion, she evolved from “kindergarten circuit” stripper to star actress and director, and occasional mainstream success, by her late 20s. Why would a piece of paper and an executive legal team set her back?

“She’s the boss, and everyone knew it,” Nina Hartley, one of the longest-working performers in the industry, said about Ms. Clifford.

“The Renaissance porn star,” said Ron Jeremy, once perhaps the most famous porn star of all.

“She was a very serious businesswoman and a filmmaker and had taken the reins of her career,” said Judd Apatow, who directed her cameos in the R-rated comedies “Knocked Up” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” “She is not someone to be underestimated.”

In her own scripts, she has gravitated at times toward more ambitious productions, with elaborate plotlines and nods to politics.

Her standards on set can be exacting. Ms. Clifford does not mind firing people, colleagues said, banishing those who flub a scene or gild a résumé. She has demanded that an actor change his “dumb” stage name because it would look silly on her promotional materials. And she has coaxed singular performances from her charges, once guiding Mr. Jeremy through a scene in which he sang to her small dog.

Her competitive streak is not well concealed. After industry award nominations were announced one year, Ms. Clifford, who had amassed more than a dozen such honors, reminded an interviewer that she had been snubbed in the categories of cinematography and editing.

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A picture in a 1999 calendar featuring dancers from a strip club in Baton Rouge, La. Ms. Clifford worked there before entering the pornographic industry.

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The Penthouse Club in Baton Rouge, La.

When opportunities have presented themselves outside her domain — a Maroon 5 music video, a public flirtation with a Senate run in Louisiana, an appearance at a celebrity golf tournament that included a future president — Ms. Clifford has made the most of the publicity, helping her carve out a comfortable life in the Dallas suburbs.

She has a daughter, a third husband and an expensive hobby: equestrian shows. “She blends right in,” said Packy McGaughan, a trainer on the competition circuit. “A pretty girl riding a horse.”

More recently, inconspicuousness has been elusive in her life, but that is largely by design. Ms. Clifford has leveraged her newfound crossover fame into a national stripping tour, with scheduled dates through the end of the year. Not everyone is interested in attending.

“Pretty sure dumb whores go to hell,” someone wrote her on Twitter last week.

“Whew!” Ms. Clifford replied. “Glad I’m a smart one.”

Becoming Stormy

Classmates remember her as a serious, unobtrusive student — a natural fit at a competitive, racially diverse high school with an engineering focus. They knew her as Stephanie Gregory, the girl with the auburn hair. She liked horses and Mötley Crüe.

A quote beneath her senior yearbook photo hinted at high aspirations: “We will all get along just fine,” it read, “as soon as you realize that I am Queen.”

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The actress in 2006 at the Adult Video News Awards in Las Vegas.

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Ethan Miller/Getty Images

She thought she might be a veterinarian, or maybe a writer. “At first I thought I wanted to be a journalist,” Ms. Clifford said by phone on Friday in a 12-minute interview about her background.

Her parents, Sheila and Bill Gregory, divorced when she was about 4, leaving her largely in the care of her mother. She has not seen either parent in over a decade. Ms. Clifford, who later took her first husband’s surname, came from a “really bad neighborhood,” she said. She strained to remember exactly what she was like then.

“I don’t really know because I’m such a different person now,” she said. “I wasn’t like the popular girl, and I wasn’t the jock, and I wasn’t the ditz. I don’t know. I was just sort of in the middle of the road.”

She had offers from colleges, she has said. She had the test scores. The dancing started on a lark, of sorts. She was 17 and visiting a friend at a strip club in town, when she was persuaded to perform a “guest set.”

“I remember going on stage and thinking I was going to be a lot more afraid than I was,” Ms. Clifford said. “It was a slow night. There were like three people in the club, and I made enough money on two songs to make more than I did all week answering phones at the riding stable that I worked at.”

After high school, she found a professional home at the Gold Club in Baton Rouge, ingratiating herself with management as a reliable and magnetic performer, slogging through shifts from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. to earn perhaps a few hundred dollars a night.

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Ms. Clifford in New Orleans in 2009. She courted media attention that year while considering a bid in Louisiana for the United States Senate.

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Bill Haber/Associated Press

A calendar from 1999, in which Ms. Clifford straddles a Harley-Davidson as the dancer for July, still sits in the club, now called the Penthouse Club Baton Rouge.

“We knew,” said Chuck Rolling, who has long overseen operations there. “She was moving in a direction that was bigger than us. We’re in Baton Rouge. We’re not even New Orleans.”

Ms. Clifford eventually graduated to higher-profile dancing work, traveling across Texas and Louisiana to headline at strip clubs, before transitioning to pornography. She was both determined to bend the business to her will and conflicted about the long-term consequences. “I have very mixed emotions about stripping because stripping got me where I am now,” she said, at age 23, in an industry interview. “I own my own house, I own my own car, I own my own business. My credit is excellent. I have nice furniture and nice things.”

Still, the risks were clear. “I have just seen so many girls that it just ruins them,” she said then, “so many women who are 35, 40 years old and still stripping and have nothing to show for it, and that is just really sad.”

Ms. Clifford chose a more tempestuous stage name than most peers. She was not an Angel, or a Summer, or a Destiny. She was Stormy. And she was blond now.

Often, she kept to herself. Mike South, a director and columnist in the industry press, recalled encountering her in 2004, the year she was named “best new starlet” at the Adult Video News Awards, pornography’s equivalent of the Oscars. “She was sitting in the lobby, alone, and I just decided to be friendly,” said Mr. South, who invited her to a group dinner. “She looks at me and doesn’t crack a smile — expressionless — and says, ‘I am really not that friendly.’”

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Competing at an equestrian event in 2016. “She takes it very personally that she does well,” a horse trainer said.

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RNSvideomedia

Recognition came quickly anyway: awards, magazine spreads, feature roles and a contract with Wicked Pictures, a prominent pornography company. When she needed to, she charmed industry gatekeepers with a disarming wit.

“Are those real?” read a question posted on her website.

“Well,” she said, “you’re certainly not imagining them.”

In 2008, as Jenna Jameson, then the industry’s reigning monarch, announced her retirement at an awards show — “I will never spread my legs in this industry again,” she told the crowd — Ms. Clifford seemed to position herself next in line.

“I love you, Jenna,” Ms. Clifford said, accepting an award from Ms. Jameson moments later, “but I’m going to spread my legs a little longer.”

Other Horizons

It was a striking political slogan: “Screwing People Honestly.” But subtlety was never the idea.

In 2009, well into her turn as a director, Ms. Clifford sensed an opening beyond her typical orbit. David Vitter, a United States senator in her home state of Louisiana, was staggering toward a re-election year, laid low by a prostitution scandal. Ms. Clifford declared herself a Republican (though a Democratic operative was said to be involved in her efforts) and courted wide-scale media attention as she publicly weighed the merits of running. In remarks at the time, she connected her professional journey to the lives of service workers across the state.

“Just as these misguided arbiters of the mainstream view an adult entertainment star as an anathema to the political process,” she said, when she eventually decided against a bid, “so too do they view the dishwasher, the cashier or the bus driver.”

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Ms. Clifford has continued appearing at clubs since the Trump scandal broke, saying it would be foolish to turn down more money than usual for the same work.

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Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The false-start campaign coincided with a turbulent moment in her personal life, exposing her to scrutiny in the mainstream press. In July 2009, Ms. Clifford was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of domestic violence after hitting her husband, a performer in the industry, and throwing a potted plant during a fight about laundry and unpaid bills, according to police records. The husband, Michael Mosny, was not injured, and the charge was later dropped. Ms. Clifford had previously been married to another pornographic actor.

She has since married another colleague in the business, Brendon Miller, the father of her now 7-year-old daughter. He is also a drummer and has composed music for her films. The family has been spotted often at equestrian events, where Ms. Clifford, the owner of several horses, has captured blue ribbons. Her preparations can be meticulous, matching her saddle pad with a horse’s bonnet colors.

“She takes it very personally that she does well,” said Dominic Schramm, a horse trainer and rider who has worked with her for several years. “She can be quite hard on herself.”

Ms. Clifford has not shown up at competitions since news broke in January that she accepted a financial settlement in October 2016 — weeks before the election — agreeing to keep quiet about her alleged intimate relationship with Mr. Trump. She has said the affair, which representatives of Mr. Trump have denied, began in 2006 and extended into 2007, the year she married Mr. Mosny.

Earlier this month, she escalated public attention by filing suit, calling the 2016 contract meaningless given that Mr. Trump had never signed it and revealing that the president’s personal lawyer had taken further secret legal action to keep her silent this year.

She has said that she does not want to expose the equestrian world — or her daughter — to the attendant circus trailing her now.

But the show has gone on for Ms. Clifford. She has danced across the country in recent months, from Las Vegas to Long Island. There are many more appearances to come. It would be foolish, she has said, to turn down more money than usual for the same work.

“She likes to maximize her profits,” said Danny Capozzi, an agent who manages her bookings, “not only on the feature dance bookings but at all times.”

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Former Playboy Model Karen McDougal Sues to Break Silence on Trump


“The lawsuit filed today aims to restore her right to her own voice,” he said, adding, “We intend to invalidate the so-called contract that American Media Inc. imposed on Karen so she can move forward with the private life she deserves.”

Ms. McDougal filed her suit just days before Ms. Clifford was to appear on “60 Minutes” to discuss her relationship with Mr. Trump and the efforts Mr. Cohen undertook on his client’s behalf to pay for her silence.

Mr. Trump joined a legal effort last week seeking some $20 million in penalties tied to Ms. Clifford’s agreement.

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The lawsuit claims that Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, was secretly involved in Ms. McDougal’s talks with the company.

The court dispute has drawn public attention to an issue that was previously sidelined. And both women’s suits could provide more fodder for federal complaints from the watchdog group Common Cause that the payoffs were, effectively, illegal campaign contributions.

Ms. Clifford and Ms. McDougal tell strikingly similar stories about their experiences with Mr. Trump, which included alleged trysts at the same Lake Tahoe golf tournament in 2006, dates at the same Beverly Hills hotel and promises of apartments as gifts. Their stories first surfaced in the The Wall Street Journal four days before the election, but got little traction in the swirl of news that followed Mr. Trump’s victory. The women even shared the same Los Angeles lawyer, Keith Davidson, who has long worked for clients who sell their stories to the tabloids.

Ms. McDougal negotiated with the country’s leading tabloid news provider, A.M.I., which is known to buy and bury stories that might damage friends and allies of its chief executive, David J. Pecker — a practice known as “catch and kill.”

Ms. McDougal’s legal complaint alleges that she did not know about the practice, or about Mr. Pecker’s friendship with Mr. Trump, when she began talking to company representatives in spring 2016, shortly after Mr. Trump locked up the Republican nomination.

A.M.I. has previously acknowledged that Mr. Trump had been friends with Mr. Pecker, but said that he had never tried to influence coverage at the company’s publications.

Ms. McDougal has said that she was ambivalent about selling her story on the tabloid news market, but felt that her hand was forced after a hint of the alleged affair appeared in May 2016 on social media. Convinced something more would come out, she was determined to tell her story on her terms, her suit says.

A mutual friend connected her to Mr. Davidson, who, she said, told her the story could be worth millions. He arranged an interview with Dylan Howard, A.M.I.’s chief content officer, in Los Angeles. Mr. Davidson told her before the interview that A.M.I. would put $500,000 in an escrow account for her, and that “a seven-figure publishing contract awaited her,” the complaint reads.

Mr. Howard spent several hours pressing Ms. McDougal on the details of her story. But several days later, the media company declined to buy it, the complaint reads, and “Mr. Davidson revealed that, in fact, there was no money in escrow.”

A spokesman for Mr. Davidson said on Tuesday that the lawyer “fulfilled his obligations and zealously advocated for Ms. McDougal to accomplish her stated goals at that time,” but that commenting further would “violate attorney-client privilege.”

A.M.I. told The Times last month that it decided not to print Ms. McDougal’s story because it could not verify important details, though it acknowledged discussing her allegations with Mr. Cohen, the president’s lawyer, saying it did so as part of its reporting process.

The tabloid company showed renewed interest in the story in summer 2016, when Ms. McDougal began talks with ABC News. This time, A.M.I. offered a different deal.

Mr. Davidson informed her that A.M.I. would buy her story but not publish it because of Mr. Pecker’s relationship with Mr. Trump, the suit says. The payment would be $150,000, with Mr. Davidson and others involved on her behalf taking 45 percent. More alluring to Ms. McDougal, who is now a fitness specialist, was that the media company would feature her on its covers and in regular health and fitness columns, the complaint says.

As A.M.I. and Mr. Davidson pushed her to sign the deal on Aug. 5, Ms. McDougal expressed misgivings. But, her suit says, Mr. Davidson and Mr. Howard argued in an urgent Skype call that the deal to promote her would “kick start and revitalize” her career, given that she was “old now.” She was 45.

In all, they said, the contract would obligate A.M.I. to run more than 100 columns or articles and at least two covers featuring her. When she asked Mr. Davidson what she should do if her story leaked, he responded in an email, “IF YOU DENY YOU ARE SAFE,” and urged her to sign as soon as possible, according to the court documents.

The Times reported last month that Mr. Davidson sent Mr. Cohen an email on Aug. 5, 2016, asking him to call. Mr. Davidson then told Mr. Cohen over the phone that the deal had been completed, according to a person familiar with the conversation.

The timeline provided in the lawsuit shows that Mr. Davidson’s email came as he and A.M.I. were still hashing out the terms of the deal, which Ms. McDougal did not sign until the following day, Aug. 6. Mr. Cohen told The Times last month that he did not recall the communications.

After signing the contract, Ms. McDougal grew frustrated when she did not hear about columns or cover shoots for several weeks. She later figured out why. Though the agreement explicitly mentioned “a monthly column” on aging and fitness for OK! and Star, and “four posts each month” on Radar Online, it only gave A.M.I. “the right” to print them. It was not an obligation.

“She was tricked into signing it while being misled as to its contents (including by her own lawyer, on whose advice she was entitled to rely),” the lawsuit reads. So far, A.M.I. has run one cover and roughly two dozen columns or posts featuring her. The company later amended her contract to let her respond to “legitimate press inquiries” about Mr. Trump.

Mr. Stris contends that his client was misled and that the contract was executed under fraudulent circumstances, giving her the right to sue in court rather than proceed in arbitration.

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