There is an interesting ruling in the ongoing saga over Stormy Daniels and the Trump Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). A California court ordered President Donald Trump to pay $44,100 to Stephanie Clifford, aka Stormy Daniels, to cover her legal fees regarding her nondisclosure agreement. The amount is trivial but the symbolism could not be greater. The decision is based on the view that not only was Daniels the prevailing party in the dispute but that President Trump cannot claim that he was a non-party to the NDA or by extension the controversy.
Many years ago, I criticized then Trump attorney Michael Cohen for his moves in the Daniels matter. While I maintained from the outset that the Russian investigation was unlikely to find crimes of collusion or conspiracy with the Russian, I believed that this dispute could ultimately prove costly and even lead to criminal charges. The possible campaign violations are still being addressed, including a recent loss before a New York court.
California Superior Court Judge Robert Broadbelt ruled that, because Trump ultimately agreed not to enforce the NDA, Daniels prevailed in her lawsuit. It is an additional cost to the ill-conceived legal strategy in this and other cases. Trump instinctively litigates such issues, which tends to only multiply the political and legal costs with little chance of success.
Notably, the ruling came with an added bite. The court rejected the claim that President Trump was not personally responsible for covering the fees because he did not sign the NDA. This reaffirms that it was his NDA which will be likely used to reinforce the position of investigators that he was the driving force not only behind the payments but also the effort to cover up the payments.
These payments seem to be ping-ponging across courts. A court previously ordered Daniels to pay Trump’s legal team nearly $300,000 when her libel suit against the president was tossed.
Once again, Trump’s scorched-earth approach to litigation has only served to undermine him legally and politically. He has long described himself as a counterpuncher, but these are blows that not only missed their mark but often produced self-inflicted wounds.