Who is the real Stormy Daniels? Hattie Garlick meets arguably one of America’s most misunderstood and misrepresented women
Why this story?
There is a version of the Stormy Daniels story that is fairly straightforward, and most of us probably think we know it well. It’s the one where a porn star is paid hush money by a presidential candidate not to talk publicly about an affair she had with him. The candidate, in this case Donald Trump, denies the affair ever took place. Inevitably lawyers are involved and the press has a field day. Stormy Daniels is branded as white trash, a gold digger, a slut, a whore and a liar. This version of the story has played out in newspapers, magazines and on social media across the world since it first broke in the Wall Street Journal in early 2018. It’s there in primary colours for all to see if you search for her name online. But there is another version of Daniels’ story. Hattie Garlick has been in search of that other story. It’s one in which a teenager from Louisiana defies the odds to escape a life of poverty. In an effort to build a better life for her and her family she finds herself thwarted and betrayed by the men who seek to take advantage of her. Jasper Corbett, Editor
“Nobody respects women more than Donald Trump…”
“I don’t want to sound like a chauvinist but when I come home and dinner’s not ready I go through the roof…”
“She would not be my first choice, that I can tell you.”Former president Donald Trump’s views on women
“Tonight the Wall Street Journal is reporting that a woman was paid £130,000 a month before the election to keep quiet about a sexual encounter with Donald Trump.
“The agreement reportedly required Stephanie Clifford – who goes by the name also as Stormy Daniels – to stay quiet…
“President Trump speaking publicly for the first time about porn star Stormy Daniels…”
“From the president a triumphant tweet with a gratuitous insult…”Various news anchors on the Stormy Daniels story soon after it broke
“He’s a street fighter, but he’s also the president, and I just don’t think this elevates him, I don’t think it does anything good for the country.”Lindsay Graham
“Everything that I was afraid of coming out has come out anyway.”Stormy Daniels
“I don’t believe her, I don’t know, so sue me, Stormy, I don’t believe you.”Rudy Giuliani
“The truth always comes out – I am not a liar, I have nothing to hide.”Stormy Daniels
Hattie Garlick, narrating: That is the story of Stormy Daniels you might be familiar with.
What springs to mind when I say the words, “Stormy Daniels”?Hattie Garlick
Donald Trump, porn and Trump.
Hattie Garlick, narrating: A loose woman. A feminist icon. A victim. A champion. A whistleblower. An opportunist.
Since 2018, when she played a leading role in a sex scandal that threatened to derail Donald Trump’s time in the White House, Stormy Daniels has been labelled a lot of different things by a lot of different people.
But the truth is, as with all of us, it’s possible she’s a little of all these things, or something entirely different.
Who knows what might happen should a single event, one from long ago, suddenly propel you into the bright white spotlight of American scrutiny, throwing all your qualities into sharp relief and making you more a punchline, or punch-bag, than person?
I’m Hattie Garlick and in this week’s Slow Newscast from Tortoise, I’m trying to understand perhaps the most misrepresented woman in America.
This is Revealed: Stormy Daniels and the battle for truth.
Stormy Daniels: I look like the stereotypical porn star. I look like the trophy wife. I look like the Southern Belle: the big boobs and the blue eyes and the blonde hair. And, you know, that’s what those kinds of men really like…
I was the porn star. I mean, that’s my job. That was the role I played. I was comfortable with it. That’s fine.
Hattie Garlick, narrating: To understand Stormy Daniels, I think you need to know that the woman that the world sees now – the brazen performer, capable of taking on presidents with well-chosen wisecracks – that is a construct.
Stephanie Clifford, as she was born, grew up in a working-class neighbourhood of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. During the 1980s it became blighted by a crack epidemic.
When she was four, her father left, and, as she says, her mother changed…
Stormy: She just had like a mental break, I think. She was a completely different person after he left. She was kind of checked out.
Hattie Garlick, narrating: Home became infested with rats and cockroaches. The fridge was regularly empty. And Stormy, though bright, was far from brazen. She was painfully shy.
Stormy: You could ask any of my teachers from high school, you know, I had straight As I, but if it was an oral book report, I took a zero and said, I didn’t read it. And they would call me out everything. I’m like, we know you read it where you go. I’m like, I’ll write it for half credit. Like I just would not speak.
Hattie Garlick, narrating: When she was nine, she rode her bike over to a friend’s house, only to be told that this little girl was watching a movie at the home of a neighbour. A man in his forties.
Stormy went over.
Inside, the atmosphere was odd, tense. Top Gun was playing in the living room. He tried to take her friend into the back room, but Stormy stood between them. So he took her instead.
For two years, both girls were sexually abused by him.
Eventually, her friend confided in a school counsellor. He called Stormy in to confirm the story. And something almost more shocking followed.
Stormy: I dunno. I mean, I was pretty much an outcast. I was, you know, uh, not very well liked, you know. I smell like cigarettes. I didn’t have nice clothes. Um, just, I don’t know if the term is the same in the UK, but I was just white trash, you know? And she was, came from a better family and was super cute and sweet and she was having physical symptoms. Um, and I wasn’t, and they thought I was just trying to get attention.
Hattie Garlick, narrating: Her friend was believed, but the school counsellor accused Stormy of lying about the abuse she had suffered.
Hattie Garlick: So it’s this idea that the way that you look or speak or dress determines your integrity.
Stormy: Yeah. All the way back to being 11 years old. Cause that’s how old we were. Eleven.
Hattie Garlick, narrating: So where does a young girl mistrusted by mainstream society find a community?
Well at a party six years later, when she was 17, Stormy met a girl called Amy who worked in Cinnamon’s. It was a pretty seedy strip club out in a Baton Rouge suburb called Prairieville.
In fact, it was so basic it had a baby monitor in place of security cameras.
But Amy had bought her own car with her earnings – a new, purple Camaro.
Stormy: We were all in the car, and we were driving and I’m like, that’s where that girl works. And so we stopped and because she had said, oh, come see me at work. Just say, you’re here to see me at the door.
Hattie Garlick, narrating: At the door the bouncer asked for ID. Stormy was underage…
Stormy: And I said, I’m like, oh, I’m here to see my friends such and such…and they were like, “come in!” and it was a Tuesday night and the club was completely dead. There was like two customers playing video poker at the machines and like six girls working.
Hattie Garlick, narrating: They invited her on stage so they could have a break. They did her make up.
Stormy: Looking back. It was the way the girls who were working there got out of having to go on stage. Like let’s make her do it. Cause you know, there was no money and they did my makeup and they put me on stage. And then the owner of the club was like, oh, you’re actually a really good dancer. Do you want a job?
Hattie Garlick, narrating: At home, meanwhile, Stormy’s life with her mother was becoming… well, stormier still.
Stormy: I moved out because she was just off the rails. I wish I could say she was a drug addict or an alcoholic, but she wasn’t, she was just nuts. And I moved out and was like, how am I going to afford this?
… so I just was working Friday and Saturday nights there my senior year of high school and making enough to pay my bills.
Hattie Garlick, narrating: She was still a school girl.
She had to buy a cheap red velvet dress from the club to perform in. The other dancers taught her the trade.
They also taught her things her mother hadn’t: how to shave without getting ingrown hairs, how to put make-up on, what an eyelash curler was.
But there’s another side to Stormy’s story. During the week, she was a straight A student at Scotlandville Magnet High School, excelling especially at English. She was editor of the school newspaper, and had an ambition that would take her far away from Baton Rouge.
Stormy: I did intend to quit and leave for college. Cause
I did have a full scholarship to Texas A and M for veterinary medicine, which is very big. Um, I still have my acceptance letter.
Hattie Garlick, narrating: And stripping was part of her escape plan.
Stormy: What I didn’t know is that my mother had been stealing all of my money. So I had a, you know, to start a bank account when you’re younger, a parent has to sign on it. They have to be a signer on the account.
Hattie Garlick, narrating: It is worth saying here, Stormy was a minor when this back account was set up. So as her legal guardian, her mother, Sheila Gregory, was allowed to access and manage it.
I’ve tried, my colleagues at Tortoise have tried, but we’ve not been able to reach Sheila Gregory to hear her side of this story. Stormy is estranged from her.
Stormy: I was making money and putting it in because even though you have a full scholarship, I needed money to move. I needed money to trailer my horse. I needed to find a place to live until I found, you know, something. And I asked my mom for the money. I was like, can I have, you know, it should have been a few thousand dollars, which was a lot, especially then.
And she was like, “what money?” And I was like “the money in my account”. And she was like, “I needed that”. She never gave me an explanation of what she did with it. She was like, “I needed it”. And I was like, I can’t go… what are you talking about?
Hattie Garlick, narrating: Now aged 18, Stormy needed to adjust her plans, and fast.
She was now legally allowed to strip.
And so she decided to trade up, getting a job at a bigger, smarter place in the city itself: The Gold Club.
Stormy: I started making money and I was like, I’ll go back next year. I’ll go next year, then obviously I never went back and looking back, I’m really glad. I didn’t, I didn’t realize, you know, how insane student debt is even with a scholarship. And so I always joke that I figured out how to make the most money with the least amount of work.
Hattie Garlick, narrating: She’d often work six nights a week, sometimes starting at three in the afternoon and finishing at 2am. The promise of vet school faded away.
But this is not a straight sob story. Stormy’s proud of the choice she made.
And it strikes me that, had she found any other job, Stormy’s life would actually be just the sort of story that the rest of America likes to celebrate too.
The ones that symbolise how, in the land of the free, wherever you were born, whatever cards you’re dealt, you can make your dreams come true, if you just put in enough sacrifice, hard work and resilience.
Stormy: I do work. I work very hard. I like to work. I like to be busy. I like to take care of the people around me and I don’t know where that comes from, but I will spend money on somebody else way before I spend money on myself.
Hattie Garlick, narrating: And so, if you’ll excuse the pun: Stormy climbed the greasy pole fast.
She got breast implants – later nicknaming them Thunder and Lightening – after noting that girls who had implants got the best tips. In other words, she considered them a wise financial investment.
Then, in 2002, she moved into porn.
She was just accompanying a friend to a shoot in LA, she got spotted and – from her point of view – struck lucky.
Stormy: When I went into the adult business, the very first set I walked on to was a Wicked Pictures Set. And so I never had to go through agencies or the managers, or like work my way up through the levels. I started right at the top. And it was literally just because I walked in the right place on the right day at the right time.
And the director was Brad Armstrong and he took a liking to me and we, like, I ended up staying at his house that night and he was very well known and respected. So nobody fucked with me.
Hattie Garlick, narrating: In her first film – American Girls: Part Two – she and a friend are out hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains. Her friend breaks her ankle, Stormy comforts her and… you get the picture.
Soon after, she got a lead role in Heat as a Louisiana temptress, plotting to steal $87,000 from a con artist whose car breaks down in her town.
Just two months into her porn career, she was signed to the adult film company Wicked Pictures:
Stormy: I got signed almost immediately to Wicked Pictures. It’s a couples, you know, company, um, I’m still with wicked. And then I became a director within my first year of working there. So every movie I’ve ever done, I picked every person I worked with. I wrote the script and I probably have directed 90 per cent of the movies I was in.
Hattie Garlick, narrating: So by 2006, Stormy had put a lot of distance between herself and Baton Rouge.
Performing, writing and directing in LA. She was winning awards, like Contract Babe of theYear and even bagged herself a role in a mainstream Hollywood movie – The 40 Year Old Virgin.
She was living the dream – one version of it, in any case.
Then that same year, after a celebrity golf tournament, a real estate magnate and reality TV show host asked her to dinner.
So Stormy – the girl who once had no food in the fridge and scars on her legs from cockroach bites, the one who wasn’t even invited round to friend’s homes… Well, now she was anticipating a glitzy meal, in a penthouse suite, personally invited by one of America’s wealthiest, most famous figures.
It was a turning point in her life. Just not in a way anyone could have foreseen.
Hattie Garlick, narrating: In Stormy’s life, turning points tend to share a common feature – a man in a position of power shows a personal interest in her.
But there turns out to be a trade off: he wants something in return.
This next part of Stormy’s story is now infamous – passed into political legend.
For Stormy, this is how it happened. For Donald Trump, it never did.
Trump crosses the marble floor wearing silk pyjamas. She mocks him. He shows her a magazine with his face on the cover. Unimpressed, she smacks him with it.
No food appears, but something more tantalising is put on the table: Trump floats the idea that Stormy could appear on Celebrity Apprentice, a gig that would open the door to more mainstream work.
Stormy: People keep trying to say like, oh, he was just using that as bait to get you into bed. I don’t think so. I honestly, I, I mean, I hate the man for very obvious reasons, but I do still maintain that he was telling the truth about that. Cause. I watched him get the idea in his mind. I watched him be like, oh, oh, well this will be a scandal. And I’ll look like this and he had very selfish reasons for wanting to do it and didn’t hide this from me. And I was like, okay, cool. Let’s do it.
Hattie Garlick, narrating: The conversation winds on.
Trump tells her she reminds him of his daughter.
Eventually, Stormy needs to use the bathroom. When she reemerges, Trump is sitting in his underwear, on the edge of the bed.
Stormy has since faced accusations that, as a pornstar, she understood the cash value of sex and the transaction that was always being offered here. It is something she categorically rejects.
Stormy: He was curious about the business, but he did not ask me any questions about sex. There was nothing to indicate that that’s where his mind was going.
He wasn’t looking at me in a certain way. Like he wasn’t flirting. You know, he was asking things like, why is there no union in porn? And what percentage of royalties do you get? And I was like, we don’t get royalties. And he was like, what’s, you know, it was all very, very business. PG questions. Well how do you guys get tested, you know, like, I mean, it was all, it could have been about any business. You wouldn’t have even known we were talking about porn.
Hattie Garlick, narrating: Over the last few years, every detail of the sex that followed – or didn’t, in Trump’s version – has been raked over publically. And it is worth noting that Stormy has collaborated in this pantomime…
It’s so disturbing.Stormy Daniels
If you had to…the line up you mentioned, in picking him out of a line up. Which of these mushrooms aren’t mushrooms would most represent the Commander in Chief of the United States military?Jimmy Kimmel
Can you hold it up so it is coming at me from the correct angle?Stormy Daniels
Hattie Garlick, narrating: But her own perspective on the event has evolved since then.
Stormy: Do I think I would have been physically assaulted? No. I could have kicked his fucking ass. I definitely could have outrun him. No question. Do I think that the guy at the door was going to hold me hostage? No. Do I feel like he was going to beat me up? No, I definitely could’ve taken him. Um, but it was just that moment where I just froze and was like, I got myself into a bad situation.
Hattie Garlick: You’ve said repeatedly that this wasn’t a, “me too”, moment
Stormy: I didn’t believe it was.
Hattie Garlick: And now?
Stormy: I think it kind of was because there was a part of it that I didn’t remember. And I don’t know why none of the press asked me, no reporters caught it, it’s even missing my book. There’s like 60 seconds that I remember him standing there. I remember making a joke. I remember trying to walk around and the next, and like I said, there was no drugs or alcohol involved.
So why is there a missing time? And the next thing I know is I’m on the bed naked and he’s inside me. Like I was wearing these like super strappy, sexy gold heels, which required unbuckling. They were off because I remember putting them back on.
Hattie Garlick: So how do you account for that?
Stormy: I just blocked it out because I didn’t remember that conversation…
Hattie Garlick: Because you were so uncomfortable?
Stormy: Yeah, I think I just, I went back to being a nine-year-old and that neighbour’s house.
Hattie Garlick, narrating: The plan to get Stormy onto The Celebrity Apprentice never panned out.
The pair met up a few more times, says Stormy (though no more sex took place). But when the reality show scheme fizzled out, she stopped taking Trump’s calls and moved on.
She married the heavy metal drummer Glendon Crain. The pair had a baby girl. They started building a very different childhood for her to the one Stormy had experienced:
Stormy: My daughter was getting older. I lived in this gated community, this like nice neighbourhood in a suburb of Dallas, which is very Republican. I was doing extremely well competing my horses. Like I could finally go to horses and not get recognised. You know what I mean?
Hattie Garlick, narrating: The Trump tale did raise its head again in 2011 when In Touch magazine got hold of the story, and Stormy gave them an interview…
It’s available now online, including so many of the details we later came to read: Trump’s pyjamas are there, his questions about the business side of the porn industry, the mention of Celebrity Apprentice, the comparison to Ivanka…
The only notable difference is that Stormy suggests that she and Trump did eat some food that night.
Here’s how she described that ill-fated trip to the bathroom in 2011, voiced up by an actor.
Stormy: Then I came out, he was sitting on the bed and he was like, “Come here.” And I was like, “Ugh, here we go.” And we started kissing. I actually don’t even know why I did it but I do remember while we were having sex, I was like, “Please don’t try to pay me.” And then I remember thinking, “But I bet if he did, it would be a lot.”
Hattie Garlick, narrating: In Touch asked Stormy to take a lie-detector test. She took it, and passed.
But shortly after, Stormy says, a man approached her in a Las Vegas car park and commented on her beautiful baby: “It’d be a real shame if something happened to her mom. Forget the story. Leave Mr Trump alone.”
Trump has since labelled that man “non-existent”. And here’s another mystery: the In Touch story went unpublished, gathering dust in their archives for seven years. Nobody quite explained why.
But the episode faded and life was pretty great.
Stormy: I really loved my job. I had just gotten recognition and started being taken seriously as a director and a writer and had these mainstream projects and had just sort of, I had already stopped performing so much and started directing more and was being taken serious. I was getting paid a lot of money. I didn’t need the money!
Hattie Garlick, narrating: Till 2016, that is, when everything changed. Donald Trump won the Republican nomination for president. And in October, came this bombshell:
Yeah, that’s her, with the gold. I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful… I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ‘em by the pussy. You can do anything.Donald Trump, Access Hollywood
Hattie Garlick, narrating: Stories about Trump’s misogyny were suddenly hot property and – to team Trump – dangerously explosive. And so now we’re getting to one of the few details of this story on which all parties now agree. Days before the election, Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen offered Stormy $130,000 in return for never talking about the alleged liaison. A non-disclosure agreement, an NDA as they’re known.
Stormy: And then I got presented with the NDA, and I was like, this is perfect because I am not having to come forward. Nobody has to know that I had sex with that orange buffoon. My husband doesn’t find out, my child is not impacted, my career is not impacted.
She signed. And Trump, well, he won twice over…
Donald Trump wins the presidency. The business tycoon and TV personality capping his improbable political journey with an astounding upset victory, Donald J. Trump will become the 45th President of the United States, defeating Hilary Clinton.TV coverage
Hattie Garlick, narrating: So again, the storm subsided. Till 12 January 2018, when the Wall Street Journal published a story, quoting anonymous sources, saying that Michael Cohen had paid Stormy for her silence.
Then, all hell broke loose. Very publically.
Tonight the Wall Street Journal is reporting that a woman was paid $130,000 a month before the election to keep quirt about a sexual encounter with Donald Trump.
The agreement reportedly required Stephanie Clifford, who goes by the name also of Stormy Daniels, to stay quiet about an alleged sexual encounter with Mr Trump.TV coverage
Hattie Garlick, narrating: From Stormy’s perspective, everyone was giving their two cents on the story and her role in it.
Trump was denying all knowledge of it. Michael Cohen claimed to have paid the $130,000 out of his own pocket and unbeknownst to the president
So in March 2018, Stormy fought back. She filed a lawsuit in LA to invalidate the NDA, on the grounds that President Trump never actually signed it. And then she broke her silence in an interview with CBS’ 60 Minutes. 22 million people watched the broadcast.
For sitting here talking to me today, you could be fined a million dollars. Aren’t you taking a big risk?Anderson Cooper, Interviewer
I am.Stormy Daniels
I guess I’m not 100 per cent sure why you’re doing this.Anderson Cooper, Interviewer
Because it was very important for me to be able to defend myself.Stormy Daniels
So you signed and released a statement that said, I’m not denying this affair because I was paid in hush money, I’m denying it because it never happened. That’s a lie?Anderson Cooper, Interviewer
If it was untruthful, why did you sign it?Anderson Cooper, Interviewer
Because they made it sound like I had no choice.Stormy Daniels
Nobody was putting a gun to your head.Anderson Cooper, Interviewer
Not physical violence, no.Stormy Daniels
You thought there would be some sort of legal repercussion if you didn’t sign?Anderson Cooper, Interviewer
Correct. As a matter of fact, the exact sentence used was “they can make your life hell in many different ways.”Stormy Daniels
Hattie Garlick, narrating: In the weeks and months that followed, the key legal question was this: who knew about the $130,000 payment, and where did it come from? Because there was a real chance it amounted to a violation of campaign finance laws.
We have a video of President Trump speaking to reporters aboard Airforce One today. Let’s listen in.News presenter
Did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?Reporter
Then why did Michael Cohen make it, if there was no [inaudible]Reporter
Michael is my attorney, and you will have to ask Michael.Donald Trump
Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?Reporter
No, I don’t know.Donald Trump
Hattie Garlick, narrating: But at the same time, a battle was established along different lines. Not legal, but moral. And the question was this: whose word and character were trustworthy? The porn star’s, or the president’s?
Stormy: People were saying, oh, you’re a gold digger. You’re trying to sell it. I did have a lot of. Lucrative offers to tell the story, you know, one or two outlets alone were offering $300,000 just for a portion of the story. Um, so I purposely went with 60 minutes with Anderson Cooper because they do not pay. My manager actually quit over it cause they were like, what are you doing? You could have made half a million dollars in 30 minutes, but I chose to go that route so that no one could ever say that I was either…that I did it for the money or that I was paid to say something specific.
Hattie Garlick, narrating: Here she is in April 2018, talking to ABC News show The View:
Stormy, do you think it is fair that some people are questioning your credibility in this situation because you are a porn star?Interviewer
Absolutely not. I think that what I do for a living should not matter. What I do for a job does not impact my ability to know right from wrong or to tell the truth.Stormy Daniels
Hattie Garlick, narrating: But Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, who was then working as a lawyer for Trump, had a different take. He shared it at a conference that June:
When you look at Stormy Daniels…uh I know Donald Trump, look at his three wives. Beautiful women, classy women, women of great substance… Stormy Daniels? Yes, I respect porn stars… do you respect porn stars, or do you think porn stars desecrate women? Do you think porn stars don’t respect women and therefore sell their bodies? So yes I respect all human beings… but I don’t respect a porn star in the way that I respect a career woman or a woman of substance or a woman who has great respect for herself as a woman, and as a person, and isn’t going to sell her body for sexual exploitation.Rudy Giuliani
Hattie Garlick, narrating: As strategies go, Giuliani’s wasn’t a hugely original one. It wasn’t, after all, the first time a woman had been slut-shamed during a presidential sex scandal.
I was branded as a tramp…Monica Lewinsky, TED talk
Hattie Garlick, narrating: What she had done with her body, used to discredit her character.
…tart, slut, whore, bimbo, and of course, “that woman”. I was seen by many and actually known by few. It was easy to forget that “that woman” was dimensional, had a soul, and was once unbroken.Monica Lewinsky, TED talk
Hattie Garlick, narrating: That was Monica Lewinksy, giving her now-celebrated 2015 TED talk about the public and personal fallout from her affair with President Clinton in the 90s.
There are obvious parallels in the way the two women’s characters were smeared and stereotyped.
The key difference between the two? Stormy refused to be shamed or to slink out of the limelight.
Stormy: I had nothing to lose, you know, zero fucks. I think if the Trump situation had happened to anyone else that they would have been afraid of disappointing their family or their parents losing their job or their sibling not getting into college or, you know what I’m saying? I had nobody to embarrass. I had no one to be angry at me. I had nothing to lose.
Hattie Garlick, narrating: Soon, something quite unprecedented seemed to be happening. Not only was Stormy not going quietly away, she also appeared to be, perhaps, winning.
In April, the woman once so shy she couldn’t speak in front of a classroom stood outside a courtroom and delivered this blistering attack on the president’s inner circle:
For years, Mr Cohen has acted like he is above the law, he has considered himself and has openly referred to himself as Mr Trump’s fixer. He has played by a different set of rules, or should we say, no rules at all. He has never thought that the little man, or especially women and even more women like me, mattered. That ends now. My attorney and I are committed to making sure that everyone finds out the truth… I give my word that we will not rest till that happens.Stormy Daniels
Hattie Garlick, narrating: She even seemed to have found, finally, a champion within the establishment: Michael Avanatti, a glamorous lawyer who stood by her side as she took President Trump on in public, in TV interviews and through the courts.
Soon, Michael Cohen changed his story. In August 2018, he pleaded guilty to, among other things, paying Stormy in order to influence the election and “at the direction” of Trump.
Trump too revised his version of events, admitting to paying Cohen back, but still insisted he knew nothing about the NDA until after the event.
Did you know about the payments?Interviewer
Later on I knew, later on. But you have to understand Ainslie what he did, and they weren’t taken out of campaign finance, that’s a big thing, that’s a much bigger thing, did they come out of the campaign? They didn’t come out of the campaign. They came from me. And I tweeted about it. I tweeted about the payments. But they didn’t come out of the campaign. In fact my first question when I heard about it was, did they come out of the campaign because that could be a little dicey.Donald Trump
Hattie Garlick, narrating: Cohen would later be sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay a $50,000 fine. Trump declared he would not attempt to enforce the NDA or contest Stormy’s claim that it was invalid.
The trailer trash from Baton Rouge had taken on the leader of the free world. And won.
She had, in her words, been “vindicated”. Her story – her truth – finally acknowledged.
But that’s only part of the story. Because behind the public triumphs, the scandal had placed a bomb under Stormy Daniels’ private life.
Back in 2016, she had explained the NDA away. She told her husband that nothing had happened that night with Trump, that simply having supper with a porn star was the sort of thing a presidential candidate wants hushed up.
He found out the truth when reporters knocked on their door. In July, he filed for divorce and a temporary restraining order, preventing her from seeing her daughter.
Stormy: I lost my husband. I lost my child for a while. I lost my home in Texas, not the house physically, but like the home, the life that I had created. I lost my job as a director…
Hattie Garlick, narrating: To shield the little girl from the hate and gossip that had surrounded her mother, she had to be homeschooled; the TV and radio turned off. Even so, when she went out for pancakes with her father, a stranger told her that her mother was a whore.
Stormy’s professional life was turned upside down too.
She was being paid far more money to appear in clubs and she embarked on a tour dubbed, “Make America Horny Again”, a name she says she loathed.
But her new life – complete with bodyguards and legal fees – was expensive.
Stormy: Like, my life was crazy. I was on a tour bus with seven people on my team and literally I would get off stage, they would start the bus while I was still on stage after my last show and get on and we’d drive to the next city and just repeat, repeat.
Hattie Garlick, narrating: The appetite to see her perform was still huge. But the crowd had shifted dramatically:
Stormy: It was literally like a light switch, like one week I’m dancing at clubs and it’s full of men in suits. It’s lawyers, doctors like financial advisors, you know, men in suits who want to have affairs on their wives, how ironic.
Right, so those guys just left. They are not my fans anymore. They hate me because they’re Trump fans. Um, and then, but those are easily replaced by women and people of colour. Trans people, gay people, so the numbers stayed the same, just the way they looked completely changed.
Hattie Garlick, narrating: Their expectations were different too, heavier.
Stormy: You have to save the world. You gave me a voice. You gave me the courage to speak up. Way more intense, way more intense. And they would start crying. I’m like, there’s no crying in titty bars, what are you people doing? Like, it was just, you know, it was very, very different and a lot of pressure…
Hattie Garlick, narrating: Then, of course, the public interest faded. The cameras dwindled. The world moved on to other scandals. But Stormy couldn’t walk away.
For one thing, she was still caught up in legal battles.
Remember the man Stormy says threatened her in a Las Vegas car park in back in 2011? Well in April 2018, right in the middle of the storm, she released a sketch of him.
And in response, Trump tweeted – and I quote: “A sketch years later about a nonexistent man. A total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools (but they know it)!”
Stormy was outraged.
Stormy: You can say, oh, I don’t like her. I think she’s ugly. Or I think she’s stupid, I think she’s fat. I think she’s a fucking ****, whatever. That’s an opinion. You’re entitled to it, whatever. But if you call me a liar, a thief, that is defamation.
Hattie Garlick, narrating: Michael Avenatti, her lawyer, filed the defamation suit, but it was thrown out.
Stormy appealed, but this March, she lost that appeal. She now owes almost $600,000 to the former president, she says.
Hattie Garlick: And you’ve said famously that you would rather go to jail than pay him.
Stormy: Absolutely. I’m not giving him a fucking penny. Absolutely not.
Hattie Garlick, narrating: And that’s not the only legal battle she’s been left fighting either.
Michael Avenatti was getting so much publicity he was briefly touted as a presidential candidate himself. But, the man who posed as Stormy’s crusading hero, well, turned out not to be such a prince after all…
For a start, Stormy says he filed that defamation suit without her approval:
Stormy: Michael Avenatti, behind my back and against my wishes, filed the lawsuit for defamation. Uh, I just wanted to get out of the NDA, which I did, I was successful in that.
I said, just fuck it. Let it go. I get called way worse…
Hattie Garlick, narrating: But that turned out to be the lesser of his betrayals.
Stormy: I was at a hotel and Nebraska at a dance booking, and I was sitting in the indoor pool and I kept thinking that the publisher wasn’t paying me and my literary agent, wasn’t calling me back and I was like this fucking bitch. I got every one of the company’s cell phone numbers.
I was like, I’m going to call you every hour on the hour. And I’ve been calling them for months and nobody would answer me and get back to me. Where’s my money. Where’s my money. Well, they had already sent it to him…
Hattie Garlick, narrating: Publicly, Avenatti had been Stormy’s defender. Privately, he had been stealing from her. Stormy had realised she was not getting the money she should have from her autobiography.
Stormy: Like I didn’t lose a $50 bill in my jacket pocket. We’re talking about $300,000. I was responsible for millions of dollars a year for Wicked Pictures. Like I don’t lose that kind of money. You know what I mean? It just doesn’t make sense. But that day, that day I finally, the woman Elizabeth Behr from St. Martins press finally was like, okay, I’m just gonna end this.
And she answered. And she was like, we paid you. And I was like, no, you’re done. And somehow, you know, she was like, wait, what? She called her agent. And then he said, the literary agent sent me the transactions where they had sent it to Michal Avenatti. And I fired him that… I mean, it was just gutting.
Hattie Garlick, narrating: In February this year, Avenatti was convicted of defrauding Stormy of nearly $300,000.
And here’s the thing. There’s a pattern that runs throughout Stormy’s story:
The school counseller who views her as attention seeker rather than abuse victim, because she looked – to him – like white trash.
President Trump’s team sowing seeds of doubt about her character because of how she uses her body.
Then – representing himself at his trial – Avenatti devoted a conspicuous amount of time to cross-examining Stormy about her belief in the paranormal and attempts to launch a reality TV show on the subject.
Her own former lawyer – the man who used to be side-by-side with her – using the same style of attack lines as President Trump.
Hattie Garlick: Do you feel like you’ve been a pawn in a game that’s being played by powerful man? Or do you feel like you were able to call the shots?
Stormy: Yes, both. Both. Definitely both. And the deeper we go into, the more I look back, I was actually just thinking about this, like two days ago, I was like, I wonder how much other stuff I don’t know yet that still hasn’t come out. And a lot of it has a lot of it makes sense.
Obviously, Michael Cohen has, you know, come clean, apologised at his time. Now I consider him to be a friend. He has made amends to me as far as I’m concerned. Michael Avenatti has been outed. He is in prison. The truth always comes out and I haven’t changed my story. I am not a liar. I have nothing to hide.
Hattie Garlick, narrating: It struck me, after our interview, that over the years this is really the only claim Stormy has ever made. She never put herself on any sort of moral high ground, actively rejecting attempts to cast her in the role of feminist icon, or a “me too” movement poster girl.
She’s happy to admit she grasped opportunities that arose from the scandal, unruffled by “stupid”, “fat” and the countless far worse insults still flung at her on Twitter. The only label she wont accept is “liar”.
But it’s a word that has been attached to her, recurrently and stubbornly throughout her life. Either because of the way she looks, or the work she does.
And there’s a double irony here, one that Stormy is feeling as she tries to reinvent herself once again.
Stormy is stuck in porn…
Hattie Garlick: So do you feel like you’re more limited by association with the adult entertainment industry than you are by your association with the Trump scandal?
Stormy: Yes. A hundred per cent. And the Trump thing is just the icing on the cake. So I’m like double fucked. And not the fun way.
The hypocrisy of it is just absolutely mind-blowing. People who are anti porn or anti-adult sex worker or whatever, they don’t want you to do it. You shouldn’t do this. Like, “you’re too smart and you’re too good for this.” So you don’t want us to do porn, but you won’t let us do anything else.
Hattie Garlick, narrating: So on the day of our interview, I found Stormy at Exxotica – America’s biggest expo devoted to sex and porn. Members of the public browse stalls settling sex toys and tools, they watch strip shows, attend seminars on subjects like “facesitting for beginners” and also queue to meet their favourite porn stars.
My field producer Carly and I watched as Stormy stood behind a flimsy table, her name stapled to it, and signed photos for fans. There was a steady stream of interest, though not the mammoth queues that attached themselves to younger, more scantily clad girls.
Hattie Garlick: I was going to ask you though, which has been more misogynistic in its attitudes towards you, porn or the presidency?
Stormy: Oh the presidency a hundred per cent. I was never mistreated in porn. I have to admit, I worked for Wicked Pictures, that is part of it. But porn is the only business I can think of where women make more than. Yeah.
Hattie Garlick, narrating: So what of President Trump’s life?
We have put Stormy’s story to President Trump but we have not heard back.
He has consistently denied the night in 2006 in question even happened.
But how did the scandal affect him? Ultimately his course to the presidency, and time in office, proceeded unaffected by it, or indeed, the many others.
Hattie Garlick, narrating: In fact, now, there’s a very real prospect of him running again:
Stormy: If he runs I’m running? I mean, at this point, why not? I’ll be president and probably do a better job. At least I speak coherently.
Hattie Garlick, narrating: If Trump does run in 2024, one thing’s for sure: Stormy’s name will be dragged up all over again.
The subject of countless column inches and the punchline of as many jokes.
Stormy: Porn star who fought Trump Stormy Daniels. It’s always going to be attached to this name. And Stormy Daniels is a name and a brand that I spent over a decade building and like creating and now it’s just attached to Trump. Bleurgh. Like really? That’s all I will ever be.
Hattie Garlick, narrating: In the days after speaking to Stormy, that childhood rhyme kept playing over and over through my mind: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.
It’s partly because so much of this battle happened (in typical Trump fashion) on Twitter, so it often looked like a playground spat. “Now I can go after horse face and her third rate lawyer,” tapped out the President of the United States after Stormy lost her defamation case. “Game on tiny,” fired back Stormy.
But it’s also because – whatever you decide Stormy is, having heard her story – what it really proves is just the opposite. This is about the power of some words to wound, to stick, and even to scar. Not horse face perhaps. But liar, for sure.
And that’s why the physical comedy in this story – the giant boobs, the oddly shaped penis – it is temptingly salacious, but in the end it is a red herring.
Because Stormy’s story, the real and meaningful story, is about the invisible attributes that women – and even more so, poor women – bear from the very earliest age.
Ones they were neither born and they didn’t chose themselves, and for which there is no cosmetic or corrective surgery available. Once you’ve been marked with them, it can prove impossible to get rid of them, hard as you might work.
White trash, gold digger, tramp, slut, whore, liar…
These labels alter the way the world sees and treats you. They change the opportunities that open up to you, every bit as powerfully as visible attributes.
And this brand of misogyny, it may be more shadowy, less visible, than the kind that’s acted out under the spotlights in porn shoots, or on stages at porn expos. But it’s more pervasive. It’s happening in run-down bungalows, luxury penthouses and even the White House itself.
And it’s every bit as destructive. Maybe, as Stormy argues, even more so.
Hattie Garlick: What springs to mind when I say the words “Stormy Daniels”?
Punter: What comes to mind when you say Stormy Daniels is Truth. T.R.U.T.H Truth.
This episode was reported by me Hattie Garlick, produced by Matt Russell and field producing by Carly Peruccio. The sound designer was Mau Loseto and the editor was Jasper Corbett.
How we got here
In February, an oddly familiar name popped up in the headlines. Celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti had been convicted of defrauding a former client of nearly $300,000: Stormy Daniels.
It had been several years since we’d last heard of her. But that name took us right back to 2018, and the scandal that engulfed both her and President Trump.
And then, the following month, her name was in the news again. Stormy Daniels had lost her appeal in a failed defamation suit against Trump himself.
A quick Google search established that Stormy was due to appear at Exxxotica – a touring expo devoted to sex and porn. She was happy to speak between engagements. So I bought tickets, flew to Chicago and found myself immersed in the world of porn – the industry commonly blamed for the spread of misogynistic values.
Only, Stormy turned that narrative upside down. Her story revealed a brand of misogyny that runs through mainstream culture in America: from impoverished neighbourhoods right into the heart of Washington, DC. Hattie Garlick, Reporter
- BBC Radio 4’s short profile of Stormy Daniels, broadcast around the time the story broke, is a useful primer on Daniels. Time magazine also published a more in-depth profile Daniels later that year.
- The second episode of The Trump Show on BBC iPlayer charts Stormy Daniels’ battle with the former US president.
- This piece from BBC News examines the parallels between the Stormy Daniels saga and another well-known presidential scandal – the affair between Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton.
- The full Stormy Daniels story is documented in her autobiography, Full Disclosure.