Donald’s Dumbest Lie?

Denying sex with Stormy Daniels may prove to be Trump’s costliest claim.

Trump

Steven Hirsch/New York Post/AP/Pool

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Donald Trump has told many dumb lies. He has demanded that his subordinates tell many dumb lies. Some of Trump’s lies could cost him dearly. But his lawyers’ recent denials that Trump had sex with Stormy Daniels may turn out to be the most costly.

It’s impossible to know how Trump’s New York criminal trial over his hush money payment to Daniels would have ended if his attorneys hadn’t insisted that the affair never happened. Trump has long maintained that the porn star’s account of the alleged sexual encounter—along with former Playboy model Karen McDougal’s story of an affair with Trump—were untrue. But he’d never before attempted to convince a jury.

Here is one way to think about it: The Manhattan DA’s office had to prove that Trump committed 34 felonies by falsifying business records as part of a scheme intended to violate a state election interference law. That state election law prohibits the use of “unlawful means”—that is, the violation of even more laws—to influence an election. That’s all pretty complicated.

At the outset of the trial, few people understood the case against Trump, let alone assumed he was guilty. But almost everyone, probably including the jurors, assumed he slept with Daniels and McDougal. Simple.

And yet, Trump’s lawyers, in their opening and closing statements, asked jurors to believe that Trump did not have sex with those women. It was a key part of their effort to show that prosecutors had failed to prove the complicated case.

But Trump’s lawyers didn’t have to do that. Extramarital sex isn’t a crime. They could have simply argued that regardless of the details of those relationships, or what jurors might think of the former president, hush money payments aren’t themselves illegal. They could have argued that the prosecutors had failed to make the multi-part crime they alleged clear enough to warrant a conviction.

Those are decent arguments, but Trump’s lawyers complicated it—possibly at their client’s behest—with a dubious and legally unnecessary denial.

Jurors, experts say, often decide cases based on whose story they believe. And judge Juan Merchan told Trump’s team: “Your denial puts the jury in the position of choosing who they believe.” The jurors ultimately sided with the prosecutors and with Daniels, who for years has offered a consistent and specific account of a sexual encounter with Trump at a celebrity golf tournament in Nevada.

To be sure, Trump mounted that ill-advised legal defense in part because he is running for president. Denying he had extramarital sex while his wife was pregnant makes more sense as a political argument.

But his team’s insistence on disputing Daniels’ story probably hurt him outside the trial too. That’s because the denial opened the door for Daniels to testify in detail about her alleged hookup with Trump.

“The more specificity Ms. Daniels can provide about the encounter, the more the jury can weigh about whether the encounter did occur and if so, whether they choose to credit Ms. Daniels’ story,” Merchan said

Daniels was left free to share under oath her account, first reported by Mother Jones, of spanking Trump with a magazine.

Worse, Daniels suggested the encounter was not fully consensual. That testimony is a reminder that a separate jury last year found Trump liable for sexual assault against E. Jean Carroll, and the judge in that case has repeatedly said that the jury’s verdict amounted to a finding that Trump had committed “rape,” as that term is commonly understood. And it is a reminder of the 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump said his celebrity allowed him to grab women “by the pussy” and get away with it.

Trump was convicted Thursday of breaking New York law as part of a scheme to cover up infidelity allegations he feared would worsen the damage from the Access Hollywood tape on the eve of the 2016 election. Now, five months before the 2024 election, these probable lies have left him facing a potential prison sentence—and have put all those damaging stories back in the news.

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GREAT JOURNALISM, SLOW FUNDRAISING

Our team has been on fire lately—publishing sweeping, one-of-a-kind investigations, ambitious, groundbreaking projects, and even releasing “the holy shit documentary of the year.” And that’s on top of protecting free and fair elections and standing up to bullies and BS when others in the media don’t.

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2) If you’re not ready to donate but you’re interested enough in our work to be reading this, please consider signing up for our free Mother Jones Daily newsletter to get to know us and our reporting better. Maybe once you do, you’ll see it’s something worth supporting.

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