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Five Columbus, Ohio, police officers have been slapped with internal department charges accusing them of violating rules of conduct in the controversial July 2018 arrest of porn star Stormy Daniels at a strip club.
Charges against Daniels — who at the time was on a nationwide stripping tour to exploit her fame for allegedly having sex with President Donald Trump more than a decade earlier — were dropped within hours of that arrest when a prosecutor said no crimes were committed. Her lawyer had said the bust was politically motivated and "a complete set up."
Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, is suing the Columbus Police Department in connection with the incident. The now-disbanded Vice Unit that arrested Daniels also is the subject of a pending federal criminal investigation.
The Columbus cops departmentally charged Wednesday — including a commander, a sergeant, a lieutenant and two arresting officers — face potential discipline of reprimand, suspension, demotion or even termination for violating rules in the sting operation that led to Daniels' arrest.
"I can tell you today's announcement is not a reflection of the good work the overwhelming majority of officers and supervisors do every day," Police Chief Tom Quinlan said in a statement.
In March, an internal affairs probe by the police department found that there was no "direct evidence" that the arrest of Daniels was politically motivated but found that the bust was improper.
Chase Mallory, a lawyer representing Daniels in her pending lawsuit, told NBC News that he was not surprised the officers now face departmental charges but said he was "surprised that it took so long."
"It was clear that Stormy was targeted for a high-profile arrest," Mallory said.
The Vice Unit was placed under FBI investigation in September at the request of the then-Columbus police chief. The unit was shut down in March, around two weeks after a detective in the unit, Andrew Mitchell, was arrested by federal authorities who claim he kidnapped women and forced them to have sex with him.
Daniels, 40, was taken into custody and charged July 11, 2018, by police after they said she touched three different undercover vice police officers during her performance at the Sirens Gentlemen's Club in Columbus. Two other dancers also were arrested on the same charge.
Cops at the time said Daniels and the other dancers violated state law barring anyone who is not a family member from touching a dancer who is either nude or semi-nude.
The Columbus Police Department claimed at the time that the arrest was "part of a long-term investigation into allegations of human trafficking, prostitution, along with other vice related violations."
But less than a day after the bust, Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein dismissed the charges against Daniels.
Klein said the law used to charge Daniels bars any dancer who "regularly appears nude or seminude on the premises of a sexually oriented business" from knowingly touching a patron.
The prosecutor said there was "no evidence" that Daniels "appears or has appeared regularly at Sirens." Klein dropped charges against the other dancers within days of the arrest.
At the time of the arrest, Trump's former personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen was under federal criminal investigation in New York for having paid Daniels $130,000 on the eve of the 2016 presidential election in exchange for her agreement to not publicize her claims that she had sex with Trump in 2006, months after his third wife, Melania, gave birth to their son.
Cohen later pleaded guilty to federal campaign violations in connection with that payment and with facilitating another hush-money payment of $150,000 before the election by the publisher of The National Enquirer to another purported paramour of Trump's, Playboy model Karen McDougal. Cohen currently is serving a three-year prison term for those crimes, as well as for financial crimes and for lying to Congress.
Trump has denied having sex with Daniels and McDougal.
Daniels sued the Columbus police in Ohio federal court in January for more than $2 million in damages, accusing officers of engaging in a conspiracy to protect Trump.
"Defendant Officers believed that Ms. Clifford was damaging President Trump and they thereafter entered into a conspiracy to arrest her during her performance in Columbus in retaliation for the public statements she had made regarding President Trump," the suit says.
"Defendant Officers also arrested Ms. Clifford because they believed that doing so would damage her credibility in relation to any statements she had [made] or might in the future make against President Trump," the suit also says. "Damaging Ms. Clifford's credibility in this way was another purpose of Defendant Officers' conspiracy."