Saturday, April 27, 2024

Trump criminal trial: Week two wrap up of porn star/hush money trial

 The second week of Donald Trump’s Manhattan criminal trial was dominated by four days of testimony by David Pecker, the former publisher of The National Enquirer, who detailed his efforts to safeguard Mr. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, reported The New York Times.

Mr. Pecker, a longtime associate of the former president, talked at length about a “catch and kill” scheme that he said he had entered into with Mr. Trump and his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, during a 2015 meeting at Trump Tower. The publisher said he would purchase the rights to unsavory stories he had no intention of running.

His testimony also teed up the story of Stormy Daniels, a porn star who claims to have had sex with Mr. Trump in 2006 and received a hush-money payment in the days before the 2016 election, a deal at the center of the case.

Mr. Trump is charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in an effort to conceal the payment. If convicted, he could face four years in prison. Mr. Trump has pleaded not guilty and denied that he had sex with Ms. Daniels.

The week also brought more accusations that Mr. Trump had violated a gag order prohibiting him from attacking witnesses, prosecutors and jurors. Justice Juan M. Merchan has not ruled on the prosecution’s request to hold Mr. Trump in contempt, and said he would hold another hearing next Thursday to address allegations of new violations.

Here’s what happened during the second week, and eighth day, of Mr. Trump’s trial:

Opening statements displayed dueling strategies.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers presented dueling portraits of Mr. Trump’s actions.

Prosecutors sketched a secret scheme to influence the 2016 election. They said Mr. Trump directed men in his inner circle to suppress negative stories about him and then agreed to cover up the payment to Ms. Daniels after taking the White House. 

A former tabloid titan opened the case.

Mr. Pecker testified that he was the “eyes and ears” of the Trump campaign, keeping a lookout for unflattering stories.

He detailed a deal with a former doorman of a Manhattan building managed by the Trump Organization who said that Mr. Trump had fathered a child out of wedlock. Despite the story being false, Mr. Pecker said the tabloid paid him $30,000 to prevent embarrassment.

Mr. Pecker also spoke about a deal with Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with Mr. Trump, an allegation that he denies. Ms. McDougal was paid $150,000, but Mr. Pecker said he had no intention of publishing anything about the affair.

After two payouts, Mr. Pecker said he had been unwilling to buy a third story: Ms. Daniels’s account of a sexual encounter with Mr. Trump.

How the tabloid sausage was made.

During their cross-examination of Mr. Pecker, Mr. Trump’s lawyers set out to show that such deals were “standard operating procedure” in the tabloid business, and that only about half of all stories purchased made it to print.

One of the defendant’s lawyers, Emil Bove, pushed Mr. Pecker about the real purpose of the deal with Ms. McDougal, whether her top priority was money and whether the agreement had other benefits for her. Mr. Pecker conceded that dozens of articles were published under her name.

But Mr. Pecker later testified that the agreement’s real purpose had been to bury the story of the affair.

Trump continued to speak out.

Mr. Trump has been subdued compared with his appearances at civil trials in Manhattan, where he was known to mutter loudly and twice stormed out.

But occasionally his frustration was apparent. He once shook his head vigorously as Mr. Pecker testified.

When he left the courtroom, Trump lashed out at the case against him, veering into territory potentially prohibited by Justice Merchan’s gag order. 

Next week may offer more drama, if fewer days.

Friday ended with few fireworks. Mr. Trump’s former executive assistant, Rhona Graff, testified briefly, identifying entries from the Trump Organization’s computer system that contained contact information for Ms. McDougal and Ms. Daniels.

Prosecutors also called Gary Farro, a banker who helped Mr. Cohen open an account that he used for the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels. Mr. Farro’s testimony is expected to continue next week.

It is not clear who will testify after Mr. Farro, but the weeks ahead could include Mr. Cohen, Ms. Daniels and Hope Hicks, Mr. Trump’s former White House communications director.

Monday is an off day for the court, as is Wednesday. Mr. Trump will use the midweek break to campaign in Wisconsin and Michigan, two battleground states in this year’s election. He is the presumptive Republican nominee.

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