Stormy Daniels: the porn star-turned-Trump nemesis testifying against the ex-president

FILE PHOTO: A combination photo of Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels and U.S. President Donald Trump

By Luc Cohen

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Adult film star Stormy Daniels says her life descended into chaos after news broke of her alleged 2006 sexual encounter with Donald Trump. Now, she is a crucial prosecution witness in the first-ever criminal trial of a former U.S. president.

Trump, 77, is accused of covering up his reimbursement to former lawyer Michael Cohen for a $130,000 payment to Daniels to buy her silence before the 2016 election about the alleged sexual encounter, which took place while he was married to his third wife, Melania.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records to cover up the payment, and denies the encounter.

Daniels, 45, has embraced her role as a key antagonist to Trump, the Republican challenger to Democratic President Joe Biden in the Nov. 5 election. On social media, she has frequently mocked him and expressed an eagerness to testify.

But when she took the stand on Tuesday, she said a 2018 Wall Street Journal article revealing the alleged tryst and payoff disrupted what had been the best year of her life, when she was writing and directing successful films, riding horses, and raising her daughter to be a straight-A student.

"It blew my cover," she told prosecutor Susan Hoffinger, adding that the article turned her life into chaos. "We were ostracized from her playgroups, from the riding stable."

On the stand, Daniels described her alleged meeting with Trump in a hotel penthouse in vivid detail, recounting the contents of his toiletry bag, the sexual position they were in, and that he was allegedly not wearing a condom.

The details could help prosecutors persuade the jury that Daniels is telling the truth. In brief cross-examination on Tuesday, defense lawyer Susan Necheles sought to undermine Daniels' credibility and suggest she fabricated the story out of animosity toward Trump and to make money.

"Am I correct that you hate President Trump?" Necheles asked.

"Yes," Daniels answered, without hesitation.

Cross-examination is due to resume on Thursday.

The case's lurid nature has prompted criticism across the political spectrum that the charges brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's office are not as serious as Trump's three other state or federal criminal cases, which focus on his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss and his handling of government documents after leaving the White House.

Bragg has countered that the hush money case is about Trump's alleged scheme to corrupt the 2016 election.

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Daniels testified on Tuesday that she grew up with a single, neglectful mother in Louisiana on a low income. She said she graduated in the top 10% of her high school class, edited the school newspaper, and was accepted to a university in Texas to study veterinary medicine, but could not afford to attend.

She said she was working as an exotic dancer on the weekends at the age of 17 to support herself, and later moved on to nude modeling and adult films. She said she became one of the youngest female porn directors, won many industry awards, and has landed roles in TV shows and films such as "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up."

Trump invited her to dinner after meeting her at a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe where the production company she worked for was a sponsor, leading to the sexual encounter, Daniels testified.

Prosecutors say the October 2016 payment to Daniels came after a leaked "Access Hollywood" clip in which Trump boasted about forcing himself on women.

The recording prompted concern in his campaign about his standing with female voters, prosecutors say.

Trump’s lawyers have suggested the payment was intended to spare his company and his family from embarrassment, not to help his campaign.

Daniels, who is married to another adult film star and whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, has frequently expressed frustration that her public profile is so associated with the alleged encounter. She said on Tuesday that she got fired from a podcast she used to host because she wanted to talk about other topics that interested her, such as "female serial killers ... UFO abductions, paranormal stuff" - not just Trump.

"I was reluctant to continue talking about just that one narrative," she said. "They just kept going down this one subject line."

(Reporting by Julia Harte and Luc Cohen in New York; Edited by Noeleen Walder and Jonathan Oatis)