Donald Trump’s unlikely foe Stormy Daniels is 'the Boss'

One by one, the honorees came forward to be recognised: the wounded veteran, the tech executive and the noted porn star.

It was the 10-year reunion for Scotlandville Magnet High School's Class of 1997 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and a few alumni were being singled out for professional distinction.

In full flight: Stormy Daniels outside federal court in New York last month.

Stephanie Clifford needed no reintroduction. "Everybody already knew," she said of her career in an interview. She worked the room of suits and gowns with a smile.

By now, the public knows both too much about Clifford, who goes by the name of Stormy Daniels, and almost nothing at all.

She is the actress in pornographic films who is suing a sitting President, with whom she said she had a consensual affair, to be released from a nondisclosure agreement she reached with his lawyer just before the 2016 election.

Over the past few months, she has guided the story of her alleged relationship with President Donald Trump – and the $US130,000 she was paid to keep silent – into a full-fledged scandal.

If Clifford's court case proceeds, Trump may have to testify in depositions, and her suit could provide evidence of campaign spending violations.

Lawsuits involving adult film actress Stormy Daniels (pictured with her lawyer Michael Avenatti) are becoming a major headache for Donald Trump.

Her name has seemed ubiquitous – repeated on cable television and in the White House briefing room, and plastered on signs outside nightclubs, where her appearance fees have multiplied.

To many in the capital, Clifford, 39, has become an unexpected force. It is she, some in Washington now joke, and not the special counsel, Robert Mueller, who could topple Trump.

Those who know her well have registered the moment differently. Clifford has subsisted amid the seamier elements of a business often rife with exploitation and unruly fare; more than a few of her film titles are unprintable.

But for most of her professional life, Clifford has been a woman in control of her own narrative in a field where that can be uncommon. With an instinct for self-promotion, she evolved from "kindergarten circuit" stripper to star actress and director, and occasional mainstream success, by her late 20s. Why would a piece of paper and an executive legal team set her back?

"She's the Boss, and everyone knew it," Nina Hartley, one of the longest-working performers in the industry, said about Clifford.

Stormy Daniels in Los Angeles in 2007.

A quote beneath her senior yearbook photo hinted at high aspirations: "We will all get along just fine," it read, "as soon as you realise that I am Queen."

She thought she might be a veterinarian, or maybe a writer. "At first I thought I wanted to be a journalist," Clifford said in an interview about her background.

Her parents, Sheila and Bill Gregory, divorced when she was about four, leaving her largely in the care of her mother. She has not seen either parent in more than a decade.

Clifford, who later took her first husband's surname, came from a "really bad neighbourhood", she said. She strained to remember exactly what she was like then.

"I don't really know because I'm such a different person now," she said. "I wasn't like the popular girl, and I wasn't the jock, and I wasn't the ditz. I don't know. I was just sort of in the middle of the road."

She had offers from colleges, she has said. She had the test scores. The dancing started on a lark, of sorts. She was 17 and visiting a friend at a strip club in town, when she was persuaded to perform a "guest set".

"I remember going on stage and thinking I was going to be a lot more afraid than I was," Clifford said. "It was a slow night. There were like three people in the club, and I made enough money on two songs to make more than I did all week answering phones at the riding stable that I worked at."

After high school, she found a professional home at the Gold Club in Baton Rouge, ingratiating herself with management as a reliable and magnetic performer, slogging through shifts from 3pm to 2am to earn a few hundred dollars a night.

A calendar from 1999, in which Clifford straddles a Harley-Davidson as the dancer for July, still sits in the club, now called the Penthouse Club Baton Rouge.

"We knew," said Chuck Rolling, who has long overseen operations there. "She was moving in a direction that was bigger than us. We're in Baton Rouge. We're not even New Orleans."

Clifford eventually graduated to higher-profile dancing work, travelling across Texas and Louisiana to headline at strip clubs, before transitioning to pornography. She was both determined to bend the business to her will and conflicted about the long-term consequences.

"I have very mixed emotions about stripping because stripping got me where I am now," she said, at age 23, in an industry interview. "I own my own house, I own my own car, I own my own business. My credit is excellent. I have nice furniture and nice things."

Still, the risks were clear. "I have just seen so many girls that it just ruins them," she said then, "so many women who are 35, 40 years old and still stripping and have nothing to show for it, and that is just really sad."

Clifford chose a more tempestuous stage name than most peers. She was not an Angel, nor a Summer, nor a Destiny. She was Stormy. And she was blonde now.

Often, she kept to herself. Mike South, a director and columnist in the industry press, recalled encountering her in 2004, the year she was named "best new starlet" at the Adult Video News Awards, pornography's equivalent of the Oscars.

"She was sitting in the lobby, alone, and I just decided to be friendly," said South, who invited her to a group dinner. "She looks at me and doesn't crack a smile – expressionless – and says, 'I am really not that friendly.' "

Recognition came quickly anyway: awards, magazine spreads, feature roles and a contract with Wicked Pictures, a prominent pornography company. When she needed to, she charmed industry gatekeepers with a disarming wit.

"Are those real?" read a question posted on her website.

"Well," she said, "you're certainly not imagining them."

In 2008, as Jenna Jameson, then the industry's reigning monarch, announced her retirement at an awards show -"I will never spread my legs in this industry again," she told the crowd – Clifford seemed to position herself next in line.

"I love you, Jenna," Clifford said, accepting an award from Jameson moments later, "but I'm going to spread my legs a little longer."

Other Horizons

It was a striking political slogan: "Screwing People Honestly". But subtlety was never the idea.

In 2009, well into her turn as a director, Clifford sensed an opening beyond her typical orbit. David Vitter, a US senator in her home state of Louisiana, was staggering towards a re-election year, laid low by a prostitution scandal. Clifford declared herself a Republican (though a Democratic operative was said to be involved in her efforts) and courted widescale media attention as she publicly weighed the merits of running. In remarks at the time, she connected her professional journey to the lives of service workers across the state.

"Just as these misguided arbiters of the mainstream view an adult entertainment star as an anathema to the political process," she said, when she eventually decided against a bid, "so too do they view the dishwasher, the cashier or the bus driver."

The false-start campaign coincided with a turbulent moment in her personal life, exposing her to scrutiny in the mainstream press.

In July 2009, Clifford was arrested on a misdemeanour charge of domestic violence after hitting her husband, a performer in the industry, and throwing a pot plant during a fight about laundry and unpaid bills, according to police records.

The husband, Michael Mosny, was not injured, and the charge was later dropped. Clifford had previously been married to another pornographic actor.

She has since married another colleague in the business, Brendon Miller, the father of her now seven-year-old daughter. He is also a drummer and has composed music for her films. The family has been spotted often at equestrian events, where Clifford, the owner of several horses, rides as "Stormy Crain".

Her preparations can be meticulous, matching her saddle pad with a horse's bonnet colours.

"She takes it very personally that she does well," said Dominic Schramm, a horse trainer and rider who has worked with her for several years. "She can be quite hard on herself."

Clifford has not shown up at competitions since news broke in January that she accepted a financial settlement in October 2016 – weeks before the election – agreeing to keep quiet about her alleged intimate relationship with Trump.

She has said the affair, which representatives of Trump have denied, began in 2006 and extended into 2007, the year she married Mosny.

In March, she escalated public attention by filing suit, calling the 2016 contract meaningless given that Trump had never signed it and revealing that the President's personal lawyer had taken further secret legal action to keep her silent this year.

She has said that she does not want to expose the equestrian world – or her daughter – to the attendant circus trailing her now.

But the show has gone on for Clifford. She has danced across the country in recent months, from Las Vegas to Long Island, New York. There are many more appearances to come. It would be foolish, she has said, to turn down more money than usual for the same work.

"She likes to maximise her profits," said Danny Capozzi, an agent who manages her bookings, "not only on the feature dance bookings but at all times."

The New York Times

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