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Fintan O’Toole: Those who despise Trump have allowed his real crimes to be overshadowed

Donald Trump is revelling in this mad episode which trivialises the serious state of US democracy

In the grand tradition of finding the Irish angle on everything, I offer you Stormy Daniels’s horse. I don’t know its name, but I do know that, according to her memoir, it was “imported from Ireland”.

The horse now has a walk-on part in American history. It should, like Comanche, Myles Keogh’s horse that was supposedly the only survivor of Custer’s Last Stand, be stuffed and placed in a museum.

Donald Trump has become the first American president, serving or former, ever to be charged with a crime. He will be indicted next week, reportedly on more than 30 counts related to business fraud.

Explainer: The backstory to Donald Trump’s indictment

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Martin Wall, Washington Correspondent, goes back to the chaotic events of the 2016 presidential election to explain what is happening now

But in fraud cases, the standard question is qui bono – who benefitted? Here is where the Irish connection comes in: the porn star’s equestrian friend is the beneficiary of this fraud.


Again, let’s adopt standard operating procedure for these cases: follow the money. Pull on that thread and you will unravel the mystery.

In 2016, 10 days before the US presidential election, Trump’s then fixer Michael Cohen (now his would-be nemesis) wired $130,000 to an account held by Keith Davidson, a lawyer acting for Daniels. This was Cohen’s own money, but the nub of the allegation against Trump is that he later paid it back to Cohen, having it fraudulently recorded as legal fees.

There is very strong evidence that this happened – Cohen has already served jail time for his part in it. But where did the $130,000 go?

Davidson took a cut of the money, and so did an agent (and herself a former porn star) Gina Rodriguez. Only $80,000 actually reached the bank account of Daniels’s husband, Glen Crain (a rock drummer and, yes, another former porn star), which was used to hide it from potential future scrutiny.

(Given that this is now the most famous hush money payment in world history, it seems safe to say that this ploy was not a great success.)

Crain gave the cash to his wife. But who then got this $80,000?

The horse did. Stormy used it to buy a new trailer for it.

Presumably the gallant Irish steed now has a lucrative book deal: Donald Trump: My Part in His Downfall. It would make as much sense as anything else in this ludicrous story.

This is all, insofar as can be established now, true. But it is also absurd – and I offer it as a warning against relishing next week’s arrest of Trump as any kind of proper retribution for his real crimes.

It isn’t. It’s just another lurid reality TV show, in which the core reality is a humdrum cooking of the books. This was a mundane occurrence in Trump’s business, where assets were written up when he was borrowing against them and written down for tax purposes.

It is possibly the smallest fraud that Trump ever engaged in. The reason it has been bloated to such grotesque proportions is that it has been, quite literally, sexed up.

Take “porn star” and “mushroom-shaped penis” out of this saga and what’s left? Not very much. However many layers of law and politics are laid on top of it, it’s the bad sex that sells it, the prurience that inflates it to historic status.

It is, for all of us who hate Trump, a form of self-gratification. When a man is as odious as Trump is, when he boasts of being a sexual predator whose first approach to women is to “grab ‘em by the pussy”, there’s a natural glee in seeing him humiliated.

Daniels – a writer and director as well as a performer, and an obviously smart and formidable woman – has told most of us what we want to hear: that the man who spent decades puffing himself up as a self-declared sexual potentate is really a pathetic erotic pygmy, with whom, she claims, “the sex lasted two to three minutes. It may have been the least impressive sex I’d ever had”.

I’m happy to take her word for it, though of course that is all we will ever have. Trump denies that their brief encounter in the penthouse of a casino hotel in Nevada during a celebrity golf tournament in 2006 took place at all.

But, in the end, so what? Daniels was not raped – she had sex with Trump because she thought he might get her on his reality TV show, The Apprentice. She knew (because she says so in her memoir) that his wife had given birth just four months earlier to Trump’s son, Barron. He even showed her a photo of Melania and the baby and they cooed over it together.

This did not bother her. She wanted to go legit and trade her niche fame in the porn business for mainstream celebrity.

(Come to think of it, there is another Irish angle here. It was the Derry-born actor Roma Downey, who is married to Mark Burnett, the producer of The Apprentice, who vetoed the idea of Daniels appearing as a contestant.)

So yes, it’s all sleazy and tawdry and repulsive and a sad measure of the state of sexual relations in the 21st century – and pretty much any other moral tale you want to make of it.

But it’s not a crime.

What is against the law, certainly, is the way Trump’s repayment of the $130,000 to Cohen was falsely accounted for. But (a) it’s a dribble in the torrent of false accounting in Trump’s organisation and (b) even if – as seems likely – it is proven in court, it amounts only to a misdemeanour.

This must be the most extreme example yet of using a nut to crack a sledgehammer.

But the crucial multiplier, the allegation that apparently makes all of this politically momentous enough to make history, is that it was done for the purpose of interfering with the 2016 election.

The payment to Daniels was made in order to prevent a scandal that would sink Trump’s presidential bid and it was covered up to disguise a breach of electoral law. So, this is not really about the juicy tabloid tale – it’s about democracy.

Phew! With one leap we are out of the swamp of salacious gossip and on to the high moral ground.

Really? Where is there any shred of evidence that Trump’s supporters – even the supposedly devout Christians – were at all repelled by his sleazy sex life? All the evidence – most obviously the way “Pussygate” proved to be of no electoral consequence – is that Trump was right when he said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and his fans would still vote for him.

To put it a little more crudely, he could screw the entire cast and crew of a porn movie, and screen the tapes in cinemas nationwide, and they would not care. The idea that the hush money is a big deal for democracy is as far fetched as the notion that it was all the fault of an Irish horse.

Trump knows this, which is why he’s revelling in this whole mad episode. It plays perfectly into his grand narrative of persecution and victimhood.

And it trivialises the immensely serious state of American democracy. In return for a titillating story of sexual humiliation, those who despise Trump have allowed his real crimes – the staging of an attempted coup and open subversion of the 2020 election – to be overshadowed.

All sense of proportion is lost, and that suits Trump and Trumpism just fine. Hysterical exaggeration is his metier.

It would be much better to have forgotten this whole squalid saga – and the horse it rode in on.