The National Enquirer’s March 25 issue features a potentially troubling accusation against 2016 Republican presidential contender Ted Cruz: a private investigator is looking into claims he’s been having an affair with five different women. While the Enquirer didn’t name any names and ran only pixelated photos, the Twittersphere has been rife with speculation and Internet detective work under the hashtag #CruzSexScandal. Internet detectives claim to have identified three of the five women whose pixelated likenesses appear in the Enquirer story, two of whom worked on other candidates’ campaigns in 2016 and one of whom worked for his own.
The “story” has dominated Twitter, with #CruzSexScandal trending worldwide and allegations of hush money and questions about what the other candidates knew flying, especially in light of Cruz’s recent high-profile spat with Donald Trump over the use of Melania Trump’s photo in campaign ads. But there are plenty of reasons to be more than a little skeptical of the Enquirer’s report.
Through the media, Cruz attributed the story to the Trump campaign and adamantly denied the claims:
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Twitter Users Identified Three Women from the Enquirer’s Photos
While the Enquirer ran poorly pixelated photos of the women it claimed were having affairs, it didn’t take long for Twitter to figure out their identities. Internet radio host Bob Zicari posted the following to his Twitter account shortly after the story broke:
From left to right, the women identified in the photos are Trump spokesperson Katrina Pierson, former Carly Fiorina staffer Sarah Isgur Flores, and former Cruz communications director Amanda Carpenter. Carpenter is married, while Flores and Pierson are not.
It’s important to note that the women identified in the photos are so far only confirmed to have their photos used in an Enquirer story.
2. Cruz Is Accused of Paying “Hush Money” to Fiorina Over His Alleged Affair with a Staffer
Twitter users have speculated that a major donation to Carly Fiorina’s campaign was given in response to the sex “scandal.”
Sarah Isgur Flores served as Carly Fiorina’s deputy campaign manager during her 2016 run for President. During the early stages of that campaign in July 2015, a Ted Cruz-affiliated Super PAC, Keep the Promise I, donated $500,000 to rival Carly Fiorina’s official campaign fund. The Washington Post noted that the donation was “unusual” at the time. Since the Enquirer’s accusations, however, Twitter users have alleged that the donation was “hush money” to keep silent about the affair:
It bears repeating that no one has proof of anything, and Fiorina has herself endorsed and campaigned with Cruz since ending her campaign. Moreover, a photo from Flores’s Twitter shows Fiorina and the Cruz family being quite friendly:
3. Katrina Pierson Works for Trump as a Spokesperson
Katrina Pierson, a spokesperson for Donald Trump, is one of the women accused by the Enquirer of an affair with Cruz. Her current employer and the timing of the announcement have led to skepticism about the story, including this bit from left-leaning blog Crooks and Liars:
The pictures they weakly disguise are pretty easy to match up with people. The image above suggests that Katrina Pierson is one of his so-called mistresses, as well as others.
It feels to me like Trump dropped a whole lot of garbage over at the Enquirer to discredit Ted Cruz, and that sense is backed up even more by the fact that one of the lovely ladies is supposedly Donald Trump’s spokeswoman.
Trump has a history of taking advantage of massive media coverage using information later revealed as false. In 1994, he told the press Prince Charles and Princess Diana of the United Kingdom would join his Mar-a-Lago country club. While Buckingham Palace denied the report, Trump got weeks of free media retentionm and a brief correction in the New York Times a month later was barely noticed.
For her part, Pierson dismissed the idea of a scandal before she was named, in a manner that suggests no love lost between the two and blaming Rick Wilson of anti-Trump PAC Make America Awesome:
Wilson, for his part, denied her allegations:
When the “scandal” broke, she denied issued a categorical denial:
Cruz and Pierson do have a prior professional relationship through Texas politics. In 2014, Katrina Pierson challenged incumbent Republican Representative Pete Sessions’s seat, and was ultimately unsuccessful in garnering the nomination. During that run, however, the Cruz family had high praise for her. Rafael Cruz, a Texan preacher and the father of 2016 candidate Ted, endorsed her run, calling her a “strict constitutionalist.” The younger Cruz had called her “a fearless, principled conservative.”
Trump also denied involvement, in the process taking a shot at Cruz:
4. Trump Threatened to “Spill the Beans” Shortly Before the Story Broke
Make America Awesome, an anti-Trump PAC, ran the ad seen above on Facebook ads in Utah ahead of the state’s caucus. Trump called Cruz out on Twitter, including a cryptic threat:
Cruz responded indignantly, calling Trump a “coward:”
Trump later backed away with a meme featuring both wives:
It’s unclear what Trump meant by his comments, fueling speculation in light of the Enquirer’s accusations, and the woman on his payroll involved with them.
5. A Cruz Staff Email Was Found in the Ashley Madison Leak
In 2015, hackers calling themselves the Impact team hacked adulterous dating site Ashley Madison’s email list, publishing the results on the open-source site Pastebin. Included in the list of email accounts associated with accountholders, in addition to White House workers and several House and Capitol Police accounts, was one email account associated with Cruz’s Senate office. The email was a publicly available address, and there’s no evidence that anyone actually involved with Cruz or his office set up the Ashley Madison account.
Cruz’s Senate staff quickly put out a response denying any connection with Ashley Madison and (correctly) pointing out that the email was not private:
The email address in question is firstname.lastname@example.org, a publicly and widely available forwarding address that is often entered into web contact forms by people with no connection to our office.
The explanation was credible, and no further action was taken by the Senate or Republican Party.