Donald Trump's Long History of Paying for Silence

The president denies paying a porn actress not to speak about an alleged affair, but he’s often linked payments to confidentiality agreements in the past.

Donald and Ivana Trump leave court in 1993.
Donald and Ivana Trump leave court in 1993 after agreeing to a divorce, which included a gag order. (Betsy Herzog / AP)

Breaking up is hard to do. A pile of money and some crack legal help can’t heal a broken heart, but they can go a long way to guaranteeing that whatever bad feelings emerge from the relationship don’t make it to the public. At various times in the past, Donald Trump has struck deals with women in his life, or formerly in his life, exchanging money for silence.

It’s not a perfect solution. Over the last week, a series of stories have focused on Trump’s 2006 interactions with Stephanie Clifford, an adult actress who performed under the nom de porn Stormy Daniels. Trump and Daniels reportedly met at a golf tournament in July 2006, more than a year after he married Melania, his third wife. At various points in the past, Daniels has given interviews to various outlets alleging that she had a sexual relationship with him.

A story saying that a presidential candidate had an affair with a porn star would have been explosive during the campaign, and several outlets chased the story prior to the election. But Daniels wanted to be paid for her story, something most mainstream outlets will not do. Slate’s Jacob Weisberg talked to Daniels but never got a signoff to do the story and decided not to write it (until this week). CNN reports that Fox News also had the story but killed it. In 2011, Daniels told InTouch magazine about the affair, including some suitably lurid details.

As is often the case, determining the truth is difficult. The White House says there is no truth to Daniels’s account. She gave similar stories to different publications at different times, and in the case of Slate, three friends confirmed the story and said she’d told them about it at the time. Speaking to InTouch, she said she arranged rendezvous with Trump’s bodyguard, a man named Keith, which matches up with Keith Schiller, Trump’s longtime guard. But Daniels will not comment these days.

That’s because she signed an agreement not to speak. The Wall Street Journal finally broke the story last week by focusing on that deal—which in turn opened up the floodgates for the other stories. According to the paper, Trump agreed to pay Daniels $130,000 in exchange for keeping quiet. Given that she was speaking to reporters, it was a live issue; Weisberg said Daniels showed him a copy of a draft agreement, but she was worried that Trump would not pay out. Trump lawyer Michael Cohen denied any affair to the Journal, and sent a statement signed by Stormy Daniels, stating, “Rumors that I have received hush money from Donald Trump are completely false.” She did not respond to other requests for comment.

The suggestion of hush money is easier to credit because it fits with a pattern from Trump in the past. Faced with the prospect of damaging revelations about his personal life, the otherwise parsimonious Trump has often paid out. As part of his 1992 divorce from Ivana Trump, the developer agreed to divide assets, but imposed a sweeping gag order on his ex-wife:

Without obtaining [the husband’s] written consent in advance, [the wife] shall not directly or indirectly publish, or cause to be published, any diary, memoir, letter, story, photograph, interview, article, essay, account, or description or depiction of any kind whatsoever, whether fictionalized or not, concerning her marriage to [the husband] or any other aspect of [the husband’s] personal, business or financial affairs, or assist or provide information to others in connection with the publication or dissemination of any such material or excerpts thereof.

If Ivana broke the agreement, Donald could cut off all benefits to her. The agreement seems to have had some curious repercussions. During a deposition for the divorce, Ivana accused him of marital rape, as Harry Hurt reported in his book The Lost Tycoon. But when the book came out, Donald’s lawyers provided a statement from Ivana, printed in the book, that sought to soft-pedal the allegation. “I referred to this as a ‘rape,’ but I do not want my words to be interpreted in a literal or criminal sense,” it said.

When Trump’s marriage to Marla Maples, for whom he left Ivana Trump, crumbled, she too, signed a confidentiality agreement, as he revealed in 1999, when he floated a presidential run and she told a British newspaper, “If he is really serious about being president and runs in the general election next year, I will not be silent. I will feel it is my duty as an American citizen to tell the people what he is really like.” Trump withheld an alimony payment.

“I mean you have a confidentiality agreement; you're not allowed to talk,” he told Fox News, as BuzzFeed reported in 2016. “And she goes out and says, ‘I wouldn't this, I wouldn’t that.’ So I say, ‘Why am I paying money to somebody that’s violated an agreement?’ But we’ll see what happens in the future and if in the future she continues I guess I’ll have to take very strong measures.” Maples has been generally complimentary during Trump’s latest turn in politics.

Here, too, there’s a strange book-publishing tie in. In 2000, HarperCollins announced a tell-all by Maples—or a “remarkably candid memoir” in publisher-speak. But by 2002, the volume had been shelved, with the reasons unclear. Maples wouldn’t talk about it, but Trump, while refusing to say whether he had blocked the book, noted, “She signed a confidentiality agreement.”

Trump’s affection for non-disparagement agreements extends beyond his personal life. Earlier this month, his lawyer threatened former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon with a lawsuit for comments he made to author Michael Wolff, citing a confidentiality agreement. Other former Trump aides were also made to sign agreements, including Corey Lewandowski and Sam Nunberg, whose NDA was briefly at the center of a lawsuit in 2016. (Trump’s affinity for NDAs is somewhat ironic, given his propensity for oversharing about his personal and professional lives.)

There are, of course, other ways of buying silence, as the Journal reported late in the campaign. In that case, Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model, agreed to sell the story of her own alleged relationship with Trump to the publisher of National Enquirer for $150,000. But the company never ran any story, in what the Journal reported is a common tabloid technique called “catch and kill,” in which a publication buys the rights and then sits on the story. The company is owned by David Pecker, a close friend of Trump’s, but Trump’s spokeswoman Hope Hicks said Trump had no knowledge of the arrangement. He also denied any sexual relationship.

Some people will take Trump’s denial of an affair with Daniels at face value, while others, conditioned by frequently misleading statements from the president, will reject it. Given Trump’s history, however, it’s very easy to believe that Trump paid hush money to Daniels—no matter how many statements in her name his lawyers release.