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Conversations and insights about the moment.

BusinessConversations and insights about the moment.

Jessica Bennett

First, Donald Trump’s lawyers tried to paint Stormy Daniels, the adult film actress and director at the center of the hush-money case against him, as an opportunist who was in it for the money. Then, they worked to discredit her as dishonest, highlighting discrepancies in how she’s told her story over years.

But on Thursday, during the second day of Daniels’s cross-examination, Trump’s lawyers made a very different set of accusations. They used Daniels’s work to suggest she was lying about the sexual encounter — while arguing that her surprise at Trump’s sudden disrobing was phony because, well, as a porn star shouldn’t she have been used to it?

“You’ve acted and had sex in over 200 porn movies, right?” Susan Necheles, a lawyer for Trump, asked. “And there are naked men and women having sex, including yourself, in those movies?”

“Correct,” Daniels replied.

“And yet according to you, seeing a man on a bed in a T-shirt and boxers was so upsetting that you got lightheaded?”

“When you are not expecting a man twice your age in his underwear, absolutely,” Daniels replied.

Daniels has largely been unflappable in the face of combative questioning. But that did not stop the defense from pursuing what is perhaps the oldest trope in the book: harping on her sexual history.

Necheles said Daniels was “selling herself” when she made appearances at exotic-dancing clubs. (“I was not ‘selling myself’ to anyone,” Daniels replied.) She hammered Daniels on a recent “affair” while Daniels was separated from her husband. But the most striking exchange came when Necheles implied that Daniels’s work writing for pornography films had primed her to fictionalize a sexual encounter with Trump.

“You have a lot of experience making phony stories about sex appear to be real,” Necheles said.

“Wow,” Daniels replied, taken aback. She took a long pause, then said, “The sex in those films is very much real, just like what happened to me in that room.”

The idea that Daniels’s pornography career could be equated with making up a story — or used to undermine it — might have been convincing in a pre-#MeToo world. But the public perception of sex work has changed a lot since Daniels’s initial accusation, as has the way the public understands trauma.

Daniels, for her part, was unapologetic: She is a woman who proudly makes pornography for a living and doesn’t believe it hurts her credibility one bit.

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