“Got an idea, honeybunch,” Donald Trump allegedly told the porn actress Stormy Daniels in a hotel room in Lake Tahoe in 2006. “Would you ever consider going on [The Celebrity Apprentice]—and being a contestant?” After that proposal, as Daniels told Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes on Sunday night, she went to the bathroom, and when she came out, Trump had relocated himself to the end of the bed. It was clear, she said, what he assumed would happen next.
There are plenty of takeaways from Daniels’s 60 Minutes interview. There’s the fact that Daniels said someone threatened her safety in front of her daughter in a parking lot in Las Vegas in 2011, telling her to “Leave Trump alone—forget the story.” There’s Cooper’s secondary focus on campaign-finance law, and how Trump and his lawyer Michael Cohen may have broken it with the $130,000 payment Daniels says Cohen gave her. There’s Daniels’s firm repudiation of anyone who suggests that she’s a victim in this situation.
But there’s also the president of the United States, in Daniels’s telling, using his status as the host of a popular reality-television show to coerce a woman into having sex with him. If true, it’s a textbook example of quid pro quo, with Trump raising the prospect of a stint on his show and then immediately assuming sexual favors in return.
Daniels, who was calm and composed during the interview with Cooper, reiterated throughout that her interest in Trump was professional, not personal. When Trump brought up the prospect of an Apprentice gig, Cooper asked, did she think he was serious, or was he dangling an opportunity in front of her to encourage her to want to “be involved with him?” “Both,” Daniels replied. She was not physically attracted to him, she said. After they had sex, he reiterated that he would like to see her again, and mentioned once more that they could discuss what they’d talked about earlier, i.e. her role on the show.
Their personal relationship ended, Daniels said, after she met Trump once more, in 2007, at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where she said he made overtures again that implied he wanted to have sex with her. She asked if there were any developments on her potential appearance on The Celebrity Apprentice. He said not yet, but that he was “almost there.” She left, telling him to call her next week. Then, the following month, Trump told her that he hadn’t been able to secure her appearance. They never saw each other again, Daniels said.
In 2017, Ben Zimmer analyzed the origins of the phrase casting couch in an article for The Atlantic. The term, he wrote, “has become emblematic of the way that sexual aggression has been normalized in an industry dominated by powerful men.” The classic phrase associated with it, according to one gossip writer, was “You oughta be in pictures.” Earlier this month, ahead of the Academy Awards, a statue titled “Casting Couch” appeared on Hollywood Boulevard depicting the producer Harvey Weinstein in a bathrobe, sitting on a sofa, beckoning an unseen woman to join him.
It’s worth noting that the allegations against Weinstein are horrific, and include acts of physical sexual assault. Daniels’s account of her encounters with Trump only includes a consensual act, which Daniels herself reiterated several times. The image that emerges from her story, though, is similar. Daniels says a wealthy, powerful man set up a meeting. He asked her to meet him in his hotel room. According to her In Touch interview, he greeted her dressed in nightwear. He offered a career opportunity with the clear proviso that she would provide sexual favors in return. When spurned, he retracted his offer. When threatened by the prospect of public exposure, in Daniels’s telling, he responded with threats to her safety.
“I thought of it as a business deal,” is how Daniels described her encounters with Trump. But if what she states is an accurate portrayal of what happened, it’s also an abuse of power that’s notable only for how predictable it is. “He was sitting, you know, on the edge of the bed when I walked out, perched,” she told Cooper. In her account at least, she didn’t need to ask what he wanted.