Editor’s Note: Michael D’Antonio is the author of the book “Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success” (St. Martin’s Press). The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
No one could be surprised to learn that, according to an article in The New Yorker, Donald Trump allegedly employed an elaborate scheme to hide a betrayal of his wife Melania while carrying on an affair with ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal.
Neither should we be shocked to learn that during the recent presidential campaign, his buddy David Pecker reportedly used a “catch and kill” technique to purchase the tale of the affair for his supermarket tabloid the National Enquirer and then keep the whole thing secret. According to Pecker’s company, the story was not published because it was not deemed credible and the White House denies there was an affair with McDougal.
However, New Yorker writer Ronan Farrow’s account of this plotting does break new ground in two ways. The first finds McDougal displaying the strength of character the President lacks by telling the truth despite the consequences that could arise from potentially violating her $150,000 contract with Pecker’s National Enquirer. The second is seen in the nasty level of disrespect that Trump is alleged to have demonstrated as a husband and father during the affair.
As Farrow reports, McDougal claims Trump invited her to his home where he showed her his wife Melania’s bedroom and welcomed her to other events. At one point he asked his son, Eric, who he thought was the most attractive woman present. According to McDougal, Eric pointed to her and “Mr. T said `He has great taste’ + we laughed!’”
In bringing his unwitting son into a sexually charged chat with his alleged mistress, Trump displayed a level of cruelty and recklessness that should give even his political allies pause. The affair McDougal alleges would have occurred at around the time when, according to porn star Stormy Daniels, he was engaged in infidelity with her. Indeed, McDougal says that she attended the same golf tournament at Lake Tahoe where, Daniels said, she first had sex with Trump, who denies both affairs.
The Daniels case recently hit a new low as Trump’s longtime lawyer Michael Cohen went public with the claim that he and not Trump paid her $130,000 to assure her silence prior to the 2016 election. Cohen wants us to believe he was not reimbursed for the payment. Although this seems implausible, it seems unlikely any paper trail exists to prove otherwise.
Cohen could have easily created what schemers call “plausible deniability” where Daniels was concerned by making sure no paperwork was created that could document a story different from his own. According to McDougal, this was the method Trump used to conceal his affair with her. In a document she wrote, and which one of her friends shared with Farrow, McDougal reported, “No paper trails for him,” she wrote. “In fact, every time I flew to meet him, I booked/paid for flight + hotel + he reimbursed me.”
Like Daniels, McDougal says she began seeing Trump when the son he had with Melania was still an infant. And like Daniels, she claims that she declined Trump’s offer of payment. However, her story diverges when it comes to the payment of what amounts to hush money. Instead of Michael Cohen, Pecker’s company allegedly struck the deal to pay McDougal. She also recounts a personal struggle with illness and conscience that led her to speak publicly. “This is a new me,” she told Farrow. “If I could go back and do a lot of things differently, I definitely would.”
The new McDougal allegation performs a public service, of a kind, by revealing not only the affair but the possible deceptions. Prior to his election, Trump’s career as a businessman/promoter was characterized by outrageous and unsubstantiated claims about everything from his level of wealth to his sex appeal. (Among the strangest was his practice of pretending to be someone else while offering reporters gossip about famous women who wanted to date him.)
Cohen’s confession that he paid Stormy Daniels tells us that members of Trump’s inner circle were also players in the game. Another participant, according to McDougal, was Trump’s longtime bodyguard, Keith Schiller.
As McDougal tells it, it was Schiller who escorted her to meet Trump at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Daniels has also said that Schiller was her escort to a Trump rendezvous. (The New Yorker said Schiller did not reply to a request for comment.)
Trump’s deceptions and the cooperation offered by those closest to him point to a figure who is adept at constructing complex ruses. They are consistent, too, with the thousands of lies and distortions Trump is reported to have uttered in his short time as president and the way that others in Washington have explained and covered for his misleading ways.
The audacity evident in Donald Trump’s deceit has always been a part of his system for getting what he wants, whether it has been wealth, power or sex. Whether he was bragging to radio host Howard Stern or talking about grabbing women by their genitals in remarks captured on tape by Access Hollywood, Trump has dared others to believe he is as appalling as he seemed. (Check his Twitter account @realDonaldTrump for more examples of his awfulness.) Given the choice of believing he was either an appalling person or someone playing a role, many preferred to believe he was acting.
We have now learned that as a dramatist, Trump’s skills may go beyond acting to include devising and then orchestrating elaborate ruses. Trump Tower, it seems, was a House of Lies and the man in charge was scheming to make others accept the version of reality most convenient to him. He is the man he has always dared us to see.