Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels and US President Donald Trump. Image Credit: REUTERS

Washington: Donald Trump became the first former president to be charged with a crime, after a grand jury in Manhattan voted to indict him late Thursday.

At the heart of the case the grand jurors had been hearing is evidence about a $130,000 payment made to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels during Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Here’s what to know about Daniels, and what she says happened with Trump.

Who is Stormy Daniels?

Stormy Daniels, 44, - whose real name is Stephanie Clifford - is an adult-film actress and director who was born in Baton Rouge. She was well-known in the adult-film industry, where she won awards, and also made brief cameos in a number of movies by director Judd Apatow, including “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”

She describes herself as a “paranormal investigator/medium” on Twitter, and is also known for having a fondness for horses.

In her 2018 memoir “Full Disclosure” Daniels detailed an unhappy childhood with an absent father, as well as grim episodes of sexual abuse by a child molester when she was age 9. In high school, where she says she excelled academically, she began working as a stripper and later moved on to performing, writing and directing in the adult-film industry, finding broad success. She has said her childhood abuse played no role in her career choice, and that she is proud of the her success in the industry.

In 2009, Daniels considered a run for the US Senate seat in Louisiana then held by David Vitter, a family-values Republican linked to a prostitution ring run by the “D.C. Madam,” saying that voters had drafted her. Ultimately, she did not run, but her campaign generated national media attention. On another occasion, in a 2009 interview posted on YouTube, Daniels said: “Call me what you will, but you can’t call me a hypocrite.”

Daniels became a global name in 2018, after she claimed she had an affair with Donald Trump during a celebrity golf tournament at a Lake Tahoe resort in 2006. Trump has denied the affair.

What happened between Daniels and Trump?

Daniels told journalists in interviews that she met Trump at a golf tournament and was invited to dine with him at his hotel suite in 2006. In her account, they went on to have consensual sex. She was 27 at the time, and Trump was 60 and already married to Melania.

Trump - who is campaigning to return to the White House in 2024 - has denied the relationship.

Daniels’s allegations were not made public until 2018 - and widespread media attention after the Wall Street Journal reported that Trump’s longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen, negotiated a secret $130,000 payment to secure her silence days before the 2016 presidential election.

Stormy Daniels speaks during a ceremony in her honour in West Hollywood, California on May 23, 2018. Image Credit: Reuters

In a widely watched interview on CBS’s “60 Minutes” in 2018, Daniels spoke in detail about her alleged 2006 meeting with Trump, saying he tried to impress her by showing a magazine with his face on the cover, and that they joked about her spanking him with it.

Why did Trump’s lawyer pay Daniels?

Cohen has said he called Daniels after Trump won the GOP nomination, offering to pay her in exchange for keeping quiet. He said he had been acting at Trump’s direction and that the payment was aimed at influencing the 2016 election by keeping Daniels’s story from becoming public.

Daniels said she took the money in fall 2016 to protect her infant child and her career. She said she felt pressured into signing a nondisclosure agreement and statement denying the affair took place - but spoke out after the Wall Street Journal reported on the payment.

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Trump has denied her claims, saying “I never had an affair with Stormy Daniels, nor would I have wanted to have an affair with Stormy Daniels.”

He had initially denied knowledge of the payment, before later admitting he had authorised Cohen to make it. However, he said, the payment was made to stop Stormy’s “false and extortionist accusations.”

How is the payment linked to Trump’s indictment?

The indictment was sealed, which means the specific charge or charges are not publicly known.

However, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, appears to have been investigating whether Trump falsified business records in reimbursing his lawyer, Cohen, for paying Daniels the $130,000.

What has Stormy Daniels said about the case?

Daniels has not explicitly addressed the indictment and its consequences but in a tweet on Thursday appeared to be celebrating.

“Thank you to everyone for your support and love!” she said. “I have so many messages coming...,” she added.

Daniels has previously spoken of the “toll” the public spotlight has taken on her “mentally and physically after months and months of always looking over your shoulder,” she told Dutch media in 2018, adding that she now travels with bodyguards.

She said her decision to speak up was partly a response to feeling “bullied” by Trump and his associates.

“I may never have a normal life again,” she said. “I think it was totally worth it.”

A mother of one, she has also said the stress of her public role contributed to the breakdown of her marriage at the time.

But she underscored to CNN in 2018: “I’m not a victim.”