Trump can't stop tweeting, but goes silent on Stormy Daniels

US President Donald Trump has posted more than 2,900 times on Twitter since taking office, but had kept silent on the allegations of Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal.
US President Donald Trump has posted more than 2,900 times on Twitter since taking office, but had kept silent on the allegations of Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - After 61 weeks in the White House, President Donald Trump has found two people he won't attack on Twitter: Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal.

The verbose commander in chief has posted more than 2,900 times on Twitter since taking office, using the term "FAKE NEWS" to describe everything from the Russia inquiry and allegations of chaos in the White House to harassment accusations, the size of his inaugural crowds and heated arguments with world leaders.

But he has been uncharacteristically silent in recent days - to the relief of his advisers - as a pornographic film star and a Playboy model described intimate details of sexual encounters with Trump.

Stephanie Clifford, known in pornographic films as Stormy Daniels, said Sunday night on CBS' "60 Minutes" that she once spanked the president with a copy of Forbes magazine bearing his face on the cover.

The fact that the president has not given oxygen to the headlines, however, does not mean that he is content.

Inside the White House, Trump is eager to defend himself against allegations that he insists are false, those close to him say. And he is growing increasingly frustrated with breathless, wall-to-wall news media coverage of the salacious details from the two women.

On Monday, Clifford's lawyer added new charges to the suit she filed: that the president's lawyer defamed Clifford in denying her claims; that he and Trump pursued the deal to specifically help Trump's election prospects; and that he then structured the agreement to shield from public view what was, effectively, an illegal US$130,000 campaign gift.

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

But there has been no debate among Trump's advisers about the best course for him: just keep quiet about a story that would only be fuelled by a presidential tweet or a comment about the women shouted above the roar of Marine One.

Keeping a lid on Trump is never easy, especially when he is eager to hit back at his adversaries.

In the days after an "Access Hollywood" video exposed his own lewd comments about women during the final month of the campaign, Trump responded by showing up at his debate with Hillary Clinton with three women who had accused Bill Clinton of sexual improprieties.

As a candidate, and as president, Trump has eagerly attacked just about all of his enemies and accusers, often with colorful nicknames like "Little Rocket Man" for the North Korean leader, "Crazy Joe Biden" or "Sloppy Steve" Bannon.

But for now, it appears that the president is listening to - and accepting - his advisers' warnings on the dangers of speaking out about the women, much the way he followed the advice of his lawyers for a year not to attack Robert Mueller, the special counsel in the Russia inquiry.

Recently, he has ditched that advice, attacking Mueller and his team directly on Twitter. That leaves only his alleged mistresses and President Vladimir Putin of Russia as people who are immune to Trump's Twitter trash-talk.

Raj Shah, a deputy White House press secretary, declined to say "what the president may or may not have seen" on television Sunday night, though he said that Trump denies the allegations that Clifford made in the CBS interview.

"I'll just say that he's consistently denied these allegations," Shah said. "The president doesn't believe that any of the claims that Ms. Daniels made last night in the interview are accurate."

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 centre of the Clifford 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 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, Melania 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 Donald Trump watched a similar tell-all interview on CNN Thursday evening, when Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model, alleged a 10-month romantic affair with Trump in which they repeatedly had sex.

Sunday's interview with Clifford contained few surprises but some humiliating details, such as Clifford saying she was not attracted to Trump, and her recollection of spanking him.

Virility and strength are key traits that 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 Maples saying that Trump was the "Best Sex I've Ever Had."

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

She also alleged that an unknown person whom she believed to be connected to Trump and Cohen threatened her in a parking lot in 2011, telling her, "Leave Trump alone. Forget the story." Then looking at her infant daughter, he added, "That's a beautiful little girl. It would be a shame if something happened to her mum."

Asked by Anderson Cooper whether she had anything to say to Trump, if he was watching Sunday night, Clifford said: "He knows I'm telling the truth."

Even that has not prompted Trump to directly address the central allegations from Clifford and McDougal - that the president cheated on his wife shortly after Melania Trump gave birth to their son.

Donald Trump did type out a vague "Fake News" tweet Monday morning, although it is unclear to what he was referring.

"So much Fake News," Trump wrote. "Never been more voluminous or more inaccurate. But through it all, our country is doing great!"

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

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

Shah said at the White House on Monday that "I can say categorically that, obviously, the White House didn't engage in any wrongdoing."

Asked about why Trump's lawyer would pay Clifford US$130,000 if her allegations were false, Shah said that "false charges are settled out of court all the time."

He referred further questions about the case to Cohen.

The lawyer for Clifford has aggressively argued that his client is not bound by the nondisclosure agreement that she signed, in part because Trump himself never signed the document. Michael Avenatti, the lawyer, has repeatedly used Trumplike insinuations to suggest that Clifford 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," Avenatti said in an interview Monday morning on ABC's "Good Morning America."

Last week, 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.