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January 12, 2018
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President Trump's lawyer might have arranged a $130,000 payment to former adult film star Stephanie "Stormy Daniels" Clifford during the campaign to ensure she not speak publicly about an alleged sexual encounter with the president at a Lake Tahoe golf tournament in 2006, The Wall Street Journal reports based on conversations with people familiar with the alleged dealing.

The encounter was reportedly consensual, although another adult film star, Jessica Drake, claimed in October 2016 that Trump kissed her and two other women without consent in a suite at the same tournament. The Journal previously reported that Karen McDougal, the 1998 Playmate of the Year, was paid $150,000 by the National Enquirer for a story of her own alleged 2006 affair with Trump, although it was not ultimately published. Trump notably married Melania Trump in 2005.

"Rumors that I have received hush money from Donald Trump are completely false," Clifford wrote in a statement to the Journal. Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, said: "This is now the second time that you are raising outlandish allegations against my client. You have attempted to perpetuate this false narrative for over a year; a narrative that has been consistently denied by all parties since at least 2011." Read the full allegations at The Wall Street Journal. Jeva Lange

Editor's note: This post originally mischaracterized the National Enquirer's payment to Karen McDougal. It has since been corrected. We regret the error.

8:08 p.m. ET
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Marion "Suge" Knight, the former rap mogul who founded Death Row Records in the 1990s, pleaded no contest on Thursday to a voluntary manslaughter charge.

Knight was accused of running over one man and hitting another with his truck in a Compton, California, parking lot in 2015. Terry Carter, 55, was killed, and Cle "Bone" Sloan sustained serious injuries. The incident took place near where the movie Straight Outta Compton was being filmed, and was caught on surveillance tape. Sloan was working security for the film set, and Knight claimed he was speeding away because Sloan had a gun.

Knight will be sentenced Oct. 4, and is expected to receive 28 years in prison, ABC Los Angeles reports. Under the plea deal, the judge will dismiss additional charges against Knight during his sentencing: making criminal threats and stealing a camera. Catherine Garcia

7:43 p.m. ET
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Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sent Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) a letter Thursday accepting his invitation to attend a hearing on Monday regarding a sexual assault accusation made against Kavanaugh.

"From the moment I first heard this allegation, I have categorically and unequivocally denied it," Kavanaugh wrote in the letter. "I remain committed to defending my integrity." He also said he wanted the hearing to take place as soon as possible so "that I can clear my name."

Christine Blasey Ford, a professor living in California, accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault when they were both teenagers. Grassley announced the hearing on Monday, before Ford and Kavanaugh agreed to attend, and Ford's lawyers have been negotiating with the committee on whether she will appear. Her lawyer said Thursday that it's "not possible" for Ford to testify in front of the panel on Monday, and "the committee's insistence that it occur then is arbitrary." That being said, if senators agree to "terms that are fair," Ford "would be prepared to testify next week." Ford had requested an FBI investigation before testifying. Catherine Garcia

7:09 p.m. ET
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At least 44 people were killed Thursday when a passenger ferry capsized in Lake Victoria, officials said.

There were hundreds of people on the ferry, with local media reporting it was overloaded and likely had between 400 and 500 passengers. Lake Victoria is the largest lake in Africa, surrounded by Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya.

Officials said 37 people have been pulled from the water, but because of poor visibility, it's too hard to conduct a thorough search, and rescue efforts will resume in the morning. Catherine Garcia

6:38 p.m. ET
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California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) on Thursday signed a law that bans restaurant servers from automatically giving customers single-use plastic straws.

Straws will still be available upon request, and the law does not apply to fast food establishments. Brown said plastic trash is a major threat to marine life, and the California Coastal Commission has found that plastic straws and stirrers are among the most common pieces of trash found on state beaches. "Plastic has helped advance innovation in our society, but our infatuation with single-use convenience has led to disastrous consequences," Brown said in a statement. "Plastic, in all forms — straws, bottles, packaging, bags, etc. — are choking the planet."

Restaurants that do not abide by the law, which takes effect on Jan. 1, 2019, will get two warnings, and then a fine of $25 per day, up to $300 a year. California is the first state to enact such a law. Catherine Garcia

5:54 p.m. ET
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It turns out that an octopus on ecstasy doesn't act all that different than a human on ecstasy.

Scientists who for some reason felt compelled to dunk octopuses into an MDMA solution found that they became more sociable and relaxed, The Atlantic reported Thursday. The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine neuroscientists were surprised to find that the usually solitary and often surly creatures were suddenly interested in befriending their tank-mates and behaving more vulnerably.

Octopuses are extremely intelligent, but their brains are structured differently than those of mammals, neuroscientist Gül Dölen told The Atlantic. Their sophisticated brains are organized "much more like a snail's brain than ours," she said. While the octopuses in the trial were at first independent, a quick bath in an MDMA solution to allow them to absorb the drug through their gills made them willing to interact with one another. The serotonin-releasing amphetamine seemed to cause euphoria just like it does in humans. "They even exposed their [underside], where their mouth is, which is not something octopuses usually do," said Dölen.

The study is just a pilot, but it's still one of the first to show similar drug effects on such dissimilar brains. It provides evidence that serotonin has been an important chemical for social function for millions of years, stretching back to the most recent common ancestor of humans and octopuses, around 800 million years ago. As neuroscientist Robyn Crook told The Atlantic: "There are only so many ways to make an intelligent brain." Summer Meza

5:21 p.m. ET
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The Kremlin began working behind the scenes to disrupt the 2016 election more than two years in advance. But even when Russian interference became obvious, U.S. officials spent weeks watching the infiltration occur before they could fight it off.

The Democratic National Committee's cybersecurity contractor, CrowdStrike, announced in June 2016 that Russian hackers had compromised the organization's network. The New York Times reported Thursday that CrowdStrike had actually been battling with hackers for weeks. Robert Johnston, a lead investigator for the company, said the hackers "were like a thunderstorm moving through the system — very, very noisy."

Despite the noise, CrowdStrike and the DNC didn't make any noise of their own about the hacking, choosing instead to quietly work to discern how Russians had broken in and figure out how to block them. Russia managed to obtain thousands of documents from the DNC's network, and provided them to WikiLeaks for publication.

"We knew it was the Russians, and they knew we knew," Johnston told the Times of the cyberwarfare. "I would say it was the cyber equivalent of hand-to-hand combat." Russian hackers may have intercepted communications about the DNC's efforts to fend off their attacks, helping them to dodge attempts to shut down their malware. Twelve Russian intelligence officers were indicted in July 2018 for the break-in. Read more at The New York Times. Summer Meza

4:34 p.m. ET
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Michael Cohen is ready to talk.

A week after it was reported that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort would be cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Muller's Russia investigation, ABC News reports that Cohen is already far ahead of him.

Cohen, Trump's former personal attorney, has already spent hours talking with Special Counsel Mueller's team, sitting for multiple interviews over the past month, ABC News reports. Cohen has evidently discussed "all aspects of Trump's dealings with Russia," and he has been asked about whether the president has offered to pardon him.

Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations in August, striking a plea deal with prosecutors that cut down his jail time but did not compel cooperation with federal investigators. But in addition to the Russia probe, ABC News reports that Cohen is speaking with authorities in New York about the ongoing investigation into the Trump Organization, where Cohen used to work as vice president.

Cohen had been Trump's personal lawyer and sometimes-fixer since 2006. In his August plea, he said that during the 2016 campaign, he had arranged payments to women who alleged they had affairs with Trump, specifying that he'd violated these campaign finance laws at Trump's behest. Cohen had previously released a secret tape of himself discussing this payment with Trump. The president responded on Twitter, saying that he would "strongly suggest" anyone looking for a good lawyer not hire Cohen. Brendan Morrow

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