My front-row seat to Stormy’s shakedown

Two weeks before the 2016 election, I unwittingly played a bit part in Stormy Daniels’ shakedown of Donald Trump. I ran FoxNews.com as Stormy and her cohorts pushed us to write a story about her affair with him.

Here’s a behind-the-scenes story that few people know.

Stormy’s actions were textbook extortion, which, unlike records violations, is an honest-to-goodness felony in New York.

Team Stormy wasn’t after a Pulitzer. They were after a payday, and they were using the media as leverage to force Trump’s hand in the final stretch before Election Day.

Michael Cohen, Trump’s fixer, had already promised to pay Stormy $130,000 to keep her mouth shut about the alleged fling from a decade earlier. But he was stalling on cutting the check as negotiations dragged on. She was smart enough to know that Trump often stalled payments forever, and that if, as most expected, he lost the 2016 race, she’d never see a penny.

So, Stormy’s crew started shopping the story to outlets like us at Fox, Slate, and others. They knew we would contact the campaign for a response, which we did, and that it would ramp up the pressure on Cohen to finally pay up.

Stormy herself, the porn actress at the center of it all, refused to go on the record and was publicly still denying the dalliance. Her manager was the only one willing to confirm it, with just two words: “It’s true.” That’s all she would say. And even that had to be on background.

In this circus, everyone had a stage name. Stormy’s real name is Stephanie Clifford. Her pal trying to broker the deal was a skeezy blogger named Nik Richie, real name Hooman Karamian, who ran a revenge site called TheDirty.com.

Even their fake names had fake names. They showed an unsigned contract, supposedly a proposed settlement agreement from their lawyer, which named Trump and Stormy with aliases of “David Dennison” and “Peggy Peterson.” It was bizarro world but in retrospect made perfect sense.

The gambit worked. Once Cohen finally caved and made the payment, Stormy’s team immediately went dark and ghosted all the media outlets they’d been stringing along.

We were miles away from publishing anything, though. In the weeks after Trump’s infamous “Access Hollywood” audio went public, there was no lack of women claiming they had, in fact, had their lady bits grabbed by Trump. Yet, way back in 2016, some news organizations still required things like “facts” and “proof.”

Given Trump’s love for bling, the story certainly didn’t seem unreasonable. But considering Stormy’s public denials and legal threats, we needed actual corroboration like emails or, well, anything. Yet, the only thing they offered was that unsigned document, not even written on letterhead. It was such a no-brainer, I never even ran it by my bosses.

Since then, Fox News and I have gotten a ton of flak for supposedly “protecting Trump,” a charge never made against the other literal outlets with the story. Some even suggested it was an illegal in-kind donation to Trump’s campaign, and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), never one to be bullied by the First Amendment, even tried to get the Fox reporter’s working notes to start his very own media circus.

There is no one to root for in this sordid saga.

Stormy, of course, deserves jail, along with her friends. Her actions were textbook extortion, which, unlike records violations, is an honest-to-goodness felony in New York. And despite her $130,000 hush money payday, she still blabbed. Now, she’s reaping the rewards again with worldwide fame, which certainly can’t hurt her “acting” career.

And let’s not forget Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who deserves to be behind bars himself for grotesquely abusing his power. He’s a prosecutor in reverse, routinely letting criminals walk, yet springs into action when people defend themselves against thugs. On the side of the thugs, naturally.

Bragg’s obscene targeting of Trump, using cockamamie legal theories, could only work in a Democratic stronghold with a judge who’s part of the scam. Judge Juan Merchan is a Democratic activist in a black robe, completely complicit in this farce while pretending it’s about “justice.” He’s choreographing a political show trial. If there is any justice, he would end up bunking with Bragg.

Finally, a word about Trump himself. He’s not guilty of the nonsense criminal charges against him, but he’s definitely guilty of a heap of bad judgment. Records violations aside, he was the one who brought Stormy into his life, then had his sleazy lawyer Michael Cohen unsuccessfully clean up the mess. If you grade a man by the company he keeps, Trump gets an F.

Here’s where I’m supposed to bemoan a nation addicted to scandal and spectacle, but I just can’t. The TV show is just too entertaining. It brings to mind another show, the final episode of “Seinfeld,” when the entire cast landed in jail.

There, the judge rendered his verdict with a short speech: “Your callous indifference and utter disregard for everything that is good and decent has rocked the very foundation upon which our society is built. I can think of nothing more fitting than for the four of you to spend a year removed from society so that you can contemplate the manner in which you have conducted yourselves.”

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