McDougal gave a detailed and credible account of the affair. She also dropped several bombshells during the interview, including the fact that Trump compared her to his daughter Ivanka, never used protection, and repeatedly told her that he loved her.
McDougal also described how she was duped into signing an agreement preventing her from sharing her story by her own attorney, who was secretly communicating with Trump’s attorney, Michael Cohen.
The interview, however, did not even lead Anderson Cooper’s own show. Ninety-four minutes before McDougal’s interview was scheduled, Trump announced on Twitter that he was replacing his national security adviser H.R. McMaster, with John Bolton, a noted advocate for preemptive war.
I am pleased to announce that, effective 4/9/18, @AmbJohnBolton will be my new National Security Advisor. I am very thankful for the service of General H.R. McMaster who has done an outstanding job & will always remain my friend. There will be an official contact handover on 4/9.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 22, 2018
The decision was, apparently, made quite quickly. Just a week prior, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders spoke to Trump about McMaster’s status and reported back that the two had a great relationship and there were no staff changes planned.
Just spoke to @POTUS and Gen. H.R. McMaster – contrary to reports they have a good working relationship and there are no changes at the NSC.
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) March 16, 2018
Appearing on CNN Thursday night, the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman, a reporter who has covered Trump for decades and is very well sourced in the White House, suggested that Trump timed his decision to distract from Cooper’s interview with McDougal.
— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) March 23, 2018
If that was Trump’s strategy, he appears to have been successful. The McDougal interview did not make the front page of the New York Times, the Washington Post, or the Wall Street Journal. (Bolton’s appointment was featured on all three.)
This is not just a salacious sex scandal. McDougal’s case lawsuit alleges that the payment to her, with the involvement of Trump’s personal attorney, violated federal election law. Although Cohen sometimes claims to be acting independently of Trump, this violation of federal law may have involved the president himself.
Consider a hypothetical scenario in which it was revealed in 2010 that President Obama had a secret affair with a Playboy playmate and then, months before the election, was paid off by a close friend of the president’s. Would it have been front page news?
On Sunday, adult film actress Stormy Daniels is scheduled to tell her story about an alleged affair with Trump for the first time on 60 Minutes. Daniels’ attorney suggests that Daniels has photographic evidence of her affair.
— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) March 23, 2018
As her interview approaches, Trump continues to create chaos.
Friday morning, Trump announced that he might veto an omnibus spending bill, causing a government shutdown.
I am considering a VETO of the Omnibus Spending Bill based on the fact that the 800,000 plus DACA recipients have been totally abandoned by the Democrats (not even mentioned in Bill) and the BORDER WALL, which is desperately needed for our National Defense, is not fully funded.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2018
Just a day earlier, Trump’s budget director unequivocally said the president would support the legislation. Yet Trump directly contradicted his own staff and then held a dramatic press conference where he trashed the bill (which he had praised the day before) before ultimately signing it, allowing him to make his scheduled flight to Palm Beach for the weekend.
The timing of all this could be a coincidence. Or it could be an effort from Trump to draw attention away from McDougal and Daniels, whose stories pose a serious threat to his presidency. (Daniels lawsuit, like McDougal’s, alleges violations of federal law.)
Trump outlined his theory of the media in his famous book, Art of the Deal.
One thing I’ve learned about the press is that they’re always hungry for a good story, and the more sensational the better. It’s in the nature of the job, and I understand that. The point is that if you are a little different, or a little outrageous, or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you.
Daniels and McDougal both have compelling stories that, in normal circumstances, would dominate the media. But Trump knows how the media works and appears determined to make this week anything but normal.