Stormy Daniels has been called an 'attention whore, gold-digger and liar' since it was revealed that she was paid to stay silent over a night she claims to have spent with Donald Trump. In an exclusive interview, the adult-film star explains why, despite intimidation, legal battles and death threats, she won't back down. By Jane Mulkerrins
There are two types of people in the world, according to Stormy Daniels. "There are the people who own their choices, and there are the people who try to blame someone else." She elucidates with a scenario. "You got really drunk, went home with somebody from a bar. You wake up the next morning, realise you cheated on your boyfriend and you're ashamed. So you're like, 'He must have slipped something in my drink'."
Then, she says, "There's the other set, that are, like, 'Oh f***. I did too many dollar shots and woke up with an ugly dude. My bad. Now, can I get out of here without waking him up?'"
For the record, the 39-year-old adult-film actor and director Daniels would like you to know that she's one of those who "owns" her choices – for better or worse. The scenario she paints, however, is purely fictitious. By contrast, when, according to her claims, she had sex in a Nevada hotel room with Donald Trump in 2006, there were no dollar shots – she didn't even drink. "I regretted it, and if I could go back I would say no," she admits of the alleged two-time tryst. "But it's no one's fault."
Regretting an evening of bad sex (as she reports it was) is one thing. Being forced to endure vicious smear campaigns, intimidation, bullying and death threats from the public, aimed at her and her 7-year-old daughter – so severe that she has employed two bodyguards – is quite another. And that's what has Daniels really riled. That, and being labelled, as she puts it, "an attention whore, a gold-digger and a liar".
The alleged encounter between Daniels, then 27, and Trump, who was at the time presiding only over reality show The Apprentice, has become the subject of the most inflammatory non-disclosure agreement (NDA) in White House history. Equally incendiary was the "hush money' – US$130,000 – that Trump's then-lawyer Michael Cohen paid Daniels a week before the 2016 presidential election. But, beyond online gossip, there the story might have ended.
Then, in January this year, the Wall Street Journal published a story revealing the existence of both the NDA and the accompanying payment, which has led to a year of bitter claim and counter-claim between the legal teams of President Trump and Daniels, and between Daniels and Trump themselves on Twitter.
President Trump maintains he never slept with Daniels, though he does admit repaying Cohen the $130,000 – Cohen has stated the payment to Daniels was "at the direction" of the then-candidate Trump (Cohen is no longer Trump's lawyer, having pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and other crimes). But now that Trump's new lawyers have announced they will not enforce the NDA, nor contest Daniels' claim that it is invalid, she is able to own her choices very publicly, with a hastily written memoir, Full Disclosure, which was published last month.
We meet in her hotel suite in midtown Manhattan, where she is holed up in the middle of a national and international book tour. It's a modest place (there's a fridge full of yoghurt in the hotel's small lobby, in lieu of breakfast) and her suite is strewn with clothes, laptops, leftover food cartons from lunch – the detritus of life on the road. Unlike the president, Daniels has no strategists and no PR machine in tow – this interview came about through personal contacts, and of course she received no money for it.
Daniels emerges from the bedroom, barefoot, in black skinny jeans and a grey marl sweater. She looks younger and prettier in person than on TV, with fantastic skin and dimples. The casualness of her outfit does little to distract from her enormous, triple-D breasts (which she calls Thunder and Lightning, as she reveals in the book, along with the story of the surgeon who told her, when she came round from the anaesthetic, that he had "filled them up until I liked them").
"I wanted to clear up the fact that I was not paid that night, that I did not go there thinking that I was going to have sex with a famous person, that I did not blackmail or extort the President," she says of the motivation for the book. "I wanted people to know that I was thrilled to have the NDA. I was fine with saying nothing – that's the classy thing to do. But I was not okay with lying."
On 30 January this year, after the Wall Street Journal revelation, Daniels signed a letter denying the affair with Trump ever took place. But in the book she claims that her then-lawyer Keith Davidson (whom she believes was working in collusion with Cohen), her then-manager Gina Rodriguez, and "a bearded man in a Gucci shirt" she didn't know (who she later found out was Rodriguez' boyfriend), visited her hotel room and encouraged her to sign it. "I panicked," she writes. "Even though I knew the statement was complete bullshit, I picked up the pen and signed my name."
A month later, the news broke that Cohen was selling the idea for a book about his role as a "fixer" for Trump, naming Daniels in his pitch to publishers, and thereby, her lawyers argued, breaking the NDA. Her new lawyer, Michael Avenatti, then filed a civil suit to argue that the NDA was invalid, because it did not bear Trump's signature. So in March, Daniels gave an interview to the journalist Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes, telling her side of the story for the first time.
"Anderson Cooper interviewed me for almost three hours and it got cut down to 14 minutes,' she says today. "All it was was the salacious stuff, but none of the how or the why.' The book, she says, is her effort to put "the salacious stuff" in context.
But, having already endured nine months of intimidation, trolling and abuse, did she not, I ask, worry that publishing a book might provoke only more of the misogynistic vitriol that has characterised political discourse in the Trump era?
"Yes, of course," she says. "But people have already been beating on my door, trying to take pictures of my kid. [Her daughter is currently in a secret location with her father.] My husband and I have already split up. [Her third husband, Glendon Crain, the father of her daughter, filed for divorce in July.] So the least I could do was explain myself."
Daniels' book, like her, is candid, funny, mischievous, unfiltered (in conversation almost every sentence contains a "f***") and unapologetic – in many ways the perfect memoir for 2018, a year in which the #MeToo and #believeher movements exploded.
She is, however, also a complicated and imperfect heroine for our time. She has publicly stated that she's not a feminist. "People would tell me, 'Oh, you're the best female director in porn'," she says, tucking her feet underneath her on the chair and rolling her eyes. "I would rather be the third best director than the first best female director." That is, I point out, an entirely feminist stance. "I know that's the actual definition, but it's become something else, this over-the-top and politically correct and extreme thing, and I want no part of it."
Nor is she harbouring any guilt for allegedly having sex with Trump despite his being married, to Melania, with an infant son at home. 'I didn't marry Melania, that's not my problem, that's his problem," she says calmly. "I am sick of being the one at fault for that."
There is also, of course, the matter of her profession – she's been stripping since she was 17, and working in pornography since her early 20s, as an actor and director, and has won multiple awards for both. But porn awards do not translate into public credibility.
"People think that it defines your character," she says, thoughtfully. "As if, because I am a stripper, I don't know right from wrong. Or because I'm comfortable with my body and I work in the adult-film business, that I don't know the difference between the truth and a lie.
"I'm considered to be less of a human, so my rights don't apply," she says.
It's undeniable that had Daniels been a primary school teacher, this story would have played out very differently. "In the media, everything about me has to be prefaced with 'porn star'. I'm not angry, because I made the choice to go into the business I am in and I'm proud of the work that I've done," she says. "I'm not ashamed, but it's frustrating that my story is viewed in a different way … and I wish they would add 'and director'."
But if the bias against her in the media has been more or less unconscious, in the political arena it has been deliberate and brutal. In June, Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, and now one of Trump's lawyers, publicly attacked her. "The business you were in entitles you to no degree of giving your credibility any weight," he said, adding, "If you're going to sell your body for money, you just don't have a reputation … a woman who sells her body for sexual exploitation, I don't respect."
"That's hilarious," Daniels scoffs, waving a hand in the air in dismissal when I mention it. "He's just a turkey. Does anybody really listen to him? I think I then called him a toad."
Most recently, when her defamation case against Trump was rejected last month, Trump himself took to Twitter to call Daniels "horseface". "That's the best he could do?" she asks, incredulous. "I have eight horses [she is a former competitive showjumper] and I think they're beautiful, so thank you."
Full Disclosure retells the alleged encounter with Trump after a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe, in excruciating detail, from Trump's invitation to join him for dinner, to then directing her to his suite, where he suddenly appeared in pyjamas. In her account she hits him on the bottom with a magazine to chastise him, ordering him to put some clothes on. She then describes some brief, disappointing, forgettable sex.
Her account does not suggest any embarrassment on Trump's part when challenged over his Hugh-Hefner-cum-Harvey-Weinstein pyjama act. "No, he was not embarrassed. He never apologised or showed any humility," says Daniels. "He was just caught off guard and kind of impressed [that she told him off] but he did not become less arrogant."
Her account portrays him mainly as a vain, insecure, monologuing bore. "I found him misogynistic and chauvinistic, for sure, but he didn't do anything to me that I thought was necessarily offensive. It was more dismissive and condescending," she says.
As to the question of why she went through with having sex with him, Daniels has said she doesn't know. Perhaps the most prosaic part of her account of the night offers an answer that many women might relate to: "As he was on top of me, I replayed the previous three hours to figure out how I could have avoided this."
After that night, Trump, she says, phoned her frequently, calling her "honey bunch", asking when he could see her again, and repeating a claim that he'd made to her in Lake Tahoe: that he would get her on Celebrity Apprentice.
In July 2007, she says, lured by his persistent promise of a spot on his show, she went to his bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel in LA. They watched Shark Week on the Discovery Channel, ate steak, and did not have sex, she reports, but Hillary Clinton called. Trump was, at the time, a donor to her campaign.
"People think that it defines my life but in all honesty, it was 12 hours of it," Daniels says of the alleged affair. "It's annoying, because I'm so much more than that, and that's all I'll be known as."
Born Stephanie Clifford in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, she experienced a hardscrabble childhood, with a father who left for a job in Alaska when she was 4 years old and never really came back, and a mother whose interest in her daughter rapidly dwindled thereafter.
Daniels describes a house plagued by rats and cockroaches. She isn't being self-pitying when she writes in Full Disclosure that "the deck has always been stacked against me". "I should be living in a trailer back in Louisiana, with six kids and no teeth," she notes. Instead, she became a keen horsewoman and an A-grade student, and writes that she had a place to study veterinary science at college; she deferred after graduating high school and worked instead as a stripper.
There is another, harrowing aspect to her childhood that arguably has a bearing on the situation Daniels finds herself in today. In the book she writes of being regularly sexually assaulted by a neighbour when she was 9 years old – abuse that went on for two years. When, eventually, she told a school guidance counsellor, she was not believed. "Why would you lie?" she was asked.
"Being a rape survivor does not define me at all," she writes. "If anything, what was ingrained into me was the expectation that I would not be believed if I ever asked for help." It doesn't require a great deal of empathy to understand why telling her story now, in her own words, and being believed, means so much to her.
Nonetheless, it has come at a high price – the breakdown of her marriage, fears for the safety of her daughter, as well as her own, constant harassment and hate mail. Does it feel worth it?
She ponders this for a moment, leaning back in her chair. "Maybe there are some small things I'd do differently but overall I did the right thing," she says. "Because I can look at myself in the mirror.
And her story is not losing momentum any time soon. In December, Cohen will give a deposition about the NDA and the $130,000, and be questioned further by Daniels' lawyer, Avenatti.
With the results of the most hotly contested US midterm elections in memory released last week, I ask how she voted. She fiddles with her phone. "I don't even know if I'm a Republican or a Democrat any more," she says. She didn't vote at all in the 2016 presidential election. "I was raised by wolves, we didn't vote much," she says shrugging. Does she think Trump will get re-elected? "I'm not going to answer that, because I don't want to challenge the universe."
I press on. Does she think telling her story will affect his chances of re-election?
"Yes," she says, firmly. "I think it'll turn a lot of people off voting for him. But I also think that it will make a lot of his supporters say: 'He f***ed a hot blonde porn star. Yes! Let's vote for him'." She throws her arms in the air, in a mock show of triumph. "It's going to balance itself out," she says, her voice dripping with disdain. "People are so stupid."