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The Latest | Hush money trial enters 9th day, begins with gag order ruling and $9K fine for Trump

Apr 30, 2024, 3:34 AM | Updated: 2:24 pm

NEW YORK (AP) — Witness testimony in Donald Trump’s criminal trial advanced on Tuesday with three people taking the stand, including Keith Davidson, a lawyer who previously represented Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal in hush money negotiations involving the former president.

Davidson’s testimony dominated the afternoon, highlighting his interactions with Trump’s ex-lawyer Michael Cohen and detailing the lead-up to a deal that ultimately came with a $130,000 payment to Daniels.

Tuesday’s proceedings, however, kicked off with the judge holding Trump in contempt and fining him $9,000 over nine online posts that he found violated a gag order barring the former president from speaking publicly about jurors and witnesses in the case.

Merchan warned that if Trump does it again, he could be jailed.

When court resumes Thursday, another hearing will be held on four more alleged gag order violations.

A New York state appeals court on Tuesday also rejected Trump’s request for a stay of the trial while he appeals several pretrial rulings, including the trial judge’s refusal to recuse himself.

The charges in the case center on $130,000 in payments that Trump’s company made to Cohen. Prosecutors say Trump obscured the true nature of those payments and falsely recorded them as legal expenses.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.

The case is the first-ever criminal trial of a former U.S. president and the first of four prosecutions of Trump to reach a jury.

Currently:

— Key players: Who’s who at Donald Trump’s hush money criminal trial

— The hush money case is just one of Trump’s legal cases. See the others here

— Read the judge’s full order on Donald Trump’s gag order violations

— Trump and DeSantis meet to make peace and discuss fundraising for the former president’s campaign

Here’s the latest:

TRUMP HITS OUT AT GAG ORDER AS COURT ADJOURNS FOR THE DAY

Donald Trump complained about the gag order in his hush money trial, as well as other things as he left the courthouse Tuesday following the adjournment of the day’s proceedings.

The former president approached news cameras in the courthouse hallway on his way out and hit on familiar themes, including accusing Judge Juan M. Merchan of bias and of rushing the case, and also saying he should be out campaigning.

Trump was found in contempt of court earlier in the day and fined $9,000 for nine violations of the gag order, which bars him from speaking publicly about witnesses and jurors in the case.

DAVIDSON SAYS HE THOUGHT DANIELS’ STORY WOULD ‘BE A TORNADO’ IF IT GOT OUT

Keith Davidson and Dylan Howard, then-editor of the National Enquirer, texted each other about what Howard called an “impending storm” of publicity if Stormy Daniels took her story elsewhere after Michael Cohen failed to make a payment in the deal on time, according to Davidson’s testimony and documents shown at the trial on Tuesday.

Davidson wrote to Howard that he believed Daniels and her agent had agreed to bring her story about a sexual encounter with Donald Trump to another publication, and “I think it’ll be a full-on blitz.”

“I just felt like there was going to be more than a flurry of activity. I felt like it was going to be a tornado,” Davidson explained in court.

“If the story got out,” Steinglass asked.

“Yes,” Davidson said.

Asked if Cohen ever told him who he was representing in the Daniels negotiations, Davidson said that he may not have explicitly stated he was working on Trump’s behalf — but the implication was clear.

COHEN MISSED DEADLINE TO PAY $130K TO STORMY DANIELS, DAVIDSON SAYS

Before a brief afternoon break in Donald Trump’s hush money trial, lawyer Keith Davidson testified Tuesday that Michael Cohen missed an agreed upon deadline for sending a $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels.

At first, Cohen offered a litany of explanations for the delay, at turns blaming broken computers, Secret Service “firewalls,” and the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. “The things he was saying didn’t really make sense,” Davidson said of Cohen.

As the excuses piled up, Davidson said he understood that Cohen “didn’t have the authority to actually spend money.” He eventually sent an email informing Cohen that the deal involving Daniel’s story about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump was off.

“I thought he was trying to kick the can down the round until after the election,” Davidson said.

APPELLATE COURT REJECTS TRUMP’S REQUEST TO STAY HUSH MONEY TRIAL

As testimony continued in Donald Trump’s hush money trial on Tuesday, a five-judge panel in New York state’s mid-level appellate court rejected the former president’s request for a stay of the proceedings while he appeals several pretrial rulings, including the trial judge’s refusal to recuse himself.

Trump had sought the stay prior to the start of jury selection. A lone judge in the appeals court had previously rejected a request for an emergency stay halting the trial.

PSEUDONYMS WERE USED TO DISGUISE PARTIES INVOLVED IN ENQUIRER DEAL, LAWYER TESTIFIES

In drawing up the deal with the National Enquirer involving Stormy Daniels’ story about an alleged sexual encounter with Donald Trump, Keith Davidson testified Tuesday that he used pseudonyms to disguise the parties involved.

Stormy Daniels became Peggy Peterson and Donald Trump became David Dennison, according to Davidson.

The alliterative code names were picked, in part, because Daniels was the plaintiff and Trump was the defendant, the lawyer testified.

Asked by prosecutors in Trump’s hush money case if David Dennison was a real person, Davidson said that he played on his high school hockey team.

“And how does he feel about you now?” asked prosecutor Josh Steinglass.

Davidson stifled a laugh, then answered: “He’s very upset.”

‘MICHAEL COHEN STEPPED INTO AMI’S SHOES,’ DAVIDSON SAYS

Stormy Daniels’ agent reached a six-figure deal with then-National Enquirer editor Dylan Howard for the tabloid to acquire the rights to her story about a sexual encounter with Donald Trump after his “Access Hollywood” tape leaked, Keith Davidson testified Tuesday.

But then, according to Davidson, Howard backed out.

The editor instead told Daniels’ agent, Gina Rodriguez, to call Michael Cohen and complete the deal directly with him — but she refused to speak with Cohen after an uncomfortable prior interaction.

Rodriguez asked Davidson to step in and negotiate the deal with Cohen, the lawyer testified.

Davidson added that he had numerous interactions with Howard over the years regarding stories. Asked if it was unusual for Howard to direct him to make a deal with a third party like Cohen, Davidson responded: “This is the only time that ever happened.”

“In essence, Michael Cohen stepped into AMI’s shoes,” Davidson said, referring to the name of the Enquirer’s parent company at the time, American Media Inc.

Davidson testified that in negotiating with Cohen, he hiked the price to $130,000 — building in his fee for his work on the deal.

‘ACCESS HOLLYWOOD’ TAPE LEAK MADE DANIELS’ STORY MORE MARKETABLE, LAWYER SAYS

Stormy Daniels’ story about a sexual encounter with Donald Trump became more marketable after the notorious “Access Hollywood” tape was leaked, Keith Davidson testified on Tuesday.

Davidson, who previously represented Daniels, told prosecutors that Daniels’ agent, Gina Rodriguez, had been trying to drum up interest in her story earlier in the 2016 election cycle but found there wasn’t much.

Asked to describe the “Access Hollywood” tape, which can’t be shown in court, Davidson testified that it involved Trump and the show’s then-host Billy Bush being recorded on a “hot mic” and “some statements by both men that were troublesome.”

‘HE WAS JUST SCREAMING,’ LAWYER TESTIFIES OF FIRST INTERACTION WITH COHEN

Keith Davidson on Tuesday testified that his first interaction with Michael Cohen related to a 2011 post on a gossip blog that stated that porn actor Stormy Daniels and Trump had “some sort of physical or romantic interaction.”

After the blog post was published, Davidson said, Daniels’ agent Gina Rodriguez called him and said, “some jerk called me and was very, very aggressive and threatened to sue me.”

Asked who the “jerk” was, Davidson said: “Michael Cohen.”

Davidson testified that when he called Cohen, the ex-Trump lawyer greeted him “with a hostile barrage of insults and insinuations that went on for quite a while.”

“I don’t think he was accusing us of anything, he was just screaming,” Davidson continued. “Finally, after he finished, I explained to him that I was calling because my client, Stormy Daniels, did not want the story up. I wanted to see if he had done anything” to try to get the story taken down.

Davidson said he eventually sent a cease-and-desist letter to the blog after the dust up with Cohen and the story was removed.

DAVIDSON SAYS HE UNDERSTOOD THE ENQUIRER WOULD NEVER PUBLISH MCDOUGAL’S STORY

Lawyer Keith Davidson testified on Tuesday that back-and-forth haggling took place in the selling of former Playboy model Karen McDougal’s story to the National Enquirer.

In one text message shown to jurors, Davidson told Enquirer editor Dylan Howard that “they are asking me to go back for another 25,” meaning another $25,000. Howard responds with an expletive, adding, “Not my money. I’ll ask.”

But even as they reached a basic framework for the deal, Davidson described his “growing frustration with the process.” At one point, Davidson said he was pushed to call Donald Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen directly, something he said he had been trying to avoid.

“I thought it was odd, certainly,” Davidson said about being asked to call Cohen. “I didn’t particularly like dealing with him and that’s why I was trying like hell to avoid talking to him,” he added.

Davidson testified that he understood McDougal’s story would never be published and acknowledged that “there was an unspoken understanding that there was an affiliation between David Pecker and Donald Trump and that AMI wouldn’t run this story, any story related to Karen, because it would hurt Donald Trump.”

TRUMP’S ONLINE POSTS FOUND TO VIOLATE GAG ORDER HAVE BEEN REMOVED

Donald Trump’s online posts that on Tuesday were found to violate a gag order barring him from speaking publicly about jurors and witnesses in his criminal hush money trial were removed ahead of an afternoon deadline.

The posts in question were deleted while the court was in recess for lunch.

Links to the old Truth Social posts redirected to a “Not found” message, while those on Trump’s website redirected to a 404 error page.

Earlier Tuesday, Judge Juan M. Merchan fined the former president $9,000 for the nine posts for violating the order.

TEXAS AG PAXTON AMONG THOSE IN COURTROOM AS TRUMP’S TRIAL RESUMES

Court in Donald Trump’s criminal trial resumed Tuesday after an early afternoon lunch break.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton walked into the courtroom with Trump and his entourage after posting on social media earlier in the day that he was there to support the former president. The Republican sat down in the first row of the courtroom gallery directly behind the defense table.

Paxton sat just a few seats away from Trump’s son Eric, who sat near the aisle alongside Susie Wiles, a Trump political operative.

Keith Davidson, a lawyer who previously represented former Playboy model Karen McDougal and porn actor Stormy Daniels in hush money negotiations, was expected to returned to the witness stand.

DAVIDSON SHEDS LIGHT ON SEQUENCE OF EVENTS THAT LED TO THE DEAL WITH THE ENQUIRER

Keith Davidson testified Tuesday that after tipping off a National Enquirer editor about “a blockbuster Trump story,” he soon arranged a meeting with that editor, former Playboy model Karen McDougal and others to see whether the Enquirer’s then-parent company was interested.

After flying back to New York, Howard told him the Enquirer wasn’t keen “because Karen McDougal lacked documentary evidence of the interaction,” Davidson testified.

McDougal had alleged that she had a year-long affair with Donald Trump years earlier.

A month later, Enquirer editor Dylan Howard reached out again to Davidson, suggesting they resume discussions.

At the time, Davidson warned that the Enquirer’s parent company would need to move quickly, writing in one text: “Time is of the essence. The girl is being cornered by the estrogen mafia”

Davidson testified that McDougal was “teetering” at the time he sent the message and on the verge of signing a deal to tell her story to ABC News.

Davidson also testified that he played the National Enquirer and ABC News against each other to get the best deal for his client. McDougal didn’t want to tell her story publicly, which would’ve been required if she went to ABC, he said.

JURY SEES TEXTS FROM LAWYER PROMISING TABLOID EDITOR A ‘BLOCKBUSTER TRUMP STORY’

In his court testimony on Tuesday, attorney Keith Davidson described representing Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model, in her allegations of a year-long affair with Donald Trump.

As questioning turned toward Davidson’s involvement in some of the hush money deals at the heart of the former president’s criminal trial, he said he met McDougal 25 years ago through a friend. He said he started representing in 2016 “to provide advice and counsel as to what her rights and obligations would be regarding a personal interaction that she had.”

“With whom?” prosecutor Joshua Steinglass asked.

“Donald Trump.”

Shortly after Davidson began representing McDougal, he said, he reached out to Dylan Howard, the editor in chief of the National Enquirer, promising a “blockbuster Trump story.”

Howard replied soon after: “I will get you more than ANYONE for it. You know why.”

As the text messages were displayed on screens to the jury, Davidson testified that he didn’t know exactly what Howard meant at the time. But, he noted, “I knew that Dylan’s boss David Pecker and Mr. Trump were longtime friends and had a former business relationship,” he said, adding the tabloid had effectively “endorsed Mr. Trump’s candidacy.”

STORMY DANIELS’ FORMER LAWYER CALLED TO THE STAND

A lawyer who previously represented former Playboy model Karen McDougal and porn actor Stormy Daniels was the next witness called to the stand in Donald Trump’s hush money trial.

Keith Davidson took the stand shortly after noon Tuesday and is known for representing people trying to sell celebrity sex tapes or other embarrassing information.

He represented McDougal and Daniels in hush money negotiations with the National Enquirer and Trump’s then-lawyer Michael Cohen in 2016.

McDougal claimed she had had a yearlong affair with Trump in the mid-2000s. Daniels claimed she had a one-time sexual encounter with him in 2006. Trump has denied both allegations.

EXECUTIVE CA
LLED TO THE STAND TO VERIFY TRANSCRIPT, VIDEO OF TRUMP DEPOSITION

An executive at a company that provides stenographers and videographers for depositions — sworn, out-of-court statements under oath — was the next witness called to the stand in Donald Trump’s criminal trial on Tuesday.

Phillip Thompson was called to authenticate a transcript and video of a deposition the former president gave in one of writer E. Jean Carroll’s federal defamation lawsuits against him.

The portions included Carroll’s lawyer asking Trump about his Truth Social platform, the dates of his marriage to wife Melania Trump and whether he was aware of the “Access Hollywood” tape.

The former longtime Elle magazine advice columnist had alleged that Trump sexually assaulted her in the 1990s and then defamed her after she came forward publicly in 2019. He has said nothing happened between the two of them and called her a “wack job” who engineered a “hoax” to sell a book.

After two federal trials last year and this winter, juries awarded Carroll over $88 million. Trump is appealing.

VIDEOS OF TRUMP DENYING ALLEGATIONS AND PRAISING COHEN PLAYED IN COURT

Prosecutors in Donald Trump’s hush money case played C-SPAN clips on Tuesday of the then-presidential candidate on the campaign trail in the final weeks leading up to the 2016 election. In the videos, Trump forcefully denied allegations made by several women after his infamous 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape was made public.

“The stories are total fiction. They’re 100% made up, they never happened, they never would happen,” Trump said in video from an Oct. 14, 2016 rally in North Carolina.

Another clip played for the jury, from January 2017, showed Trump praising Michael Cohen as as good lawyer and friend.

Trump did not appear to react in court to the clips, which were played on monitors throughout the courtroom, including directly in front of him on the defense table.

After confirming the veracity of the clips, Robert Browning — the executive director of C-SPAN’s archives — was dismissed from the witness stand. Trump’s attorneys declined to question him.

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF C-SPAN ARCHIVES CALLED TO THE STAND

The next witness called to the stand Tuesday in Donald Trump’s hush money trial was Robert Browning, the executive director of the C-SPAN archives.

Browning, who manages the network’s video collection, was called to verify the authenticity of video of a Trump campaign event.

Prosecutors are calling people who are regarded as “records custodians” to verify evidence in the former president’s criminal case.

TRIAL WILL BREAK FOR 4 DAYS OVER MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND

Donald Trump’s hush money trial will get an extra day off for the Memorial Day weekend next month.

Court won’t be in session on Friday, May 24, to accommodate a juror who has a flight that morning, Judge Juan M. Merchan said on Tuesday.

That means the trial will be off for four straight days for the holiday weekend, resuming on Tuesday, May 28. Merchan also informed jurors there will not be court on May 17, though he didn’t give them a reason.

That’s the day Donald Trump will be attending his son Barron’s high school graduation.

PROSECUTORS WANT TO QUESTION TRUMP ABOUT GAG ORDER VIOLATIONS IF HE TESTIFIES

Ahead of a midday break in Donald Trump’s hush money case, prosecutors asked the judge to let them question the former president about his gag order violations should he choose to testify.

The request came after Judge Juan M. Merchan ruled Tuesday morning that Trump had on nine occasions violated a court mandate barring him from speaking publicly about witnesses and jurors in the case. He ultimately fined Trump $9,000 and will hold another hearing Thursday on four more alleged gag order violations.

Prosecutors also requested permission to introduce evidence they said shows Trump orchestrated a “pressure campaign and intimidation effort” against Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels.

Colangelo said Trump’s attorney opened the door to that evidence by seeking to undermine the credibility of the two witnesses in opening statements.

Merchan did not immediately rule, but said, “the door has been opened.”

He previously ruled to allow prosecutors to challenge Trump’s credibility by questioning him about a limited number of his recent legal setbacks if he ends up taking the witness stand.

Trump has said he wants to testify, but is under no obligation to do so.

NO RED FLAGS ABOUT COHEN’S ACCOUNTS AT THE TIME, FARRO SAYS

In his cross examination of banker Gary Farro on Tuesday, defense attorney Todd Blanche underscored that Michael Cohen made no mention that the accounts he opened in October 2016 had anything to do with deals involving then-presidential candidate Donald Trump or his company.

If Cohen had done so, “I would have asked questions,” Farro said.

Farro noted that he might not have opened a bank account for Cohen if he’d been told it was for what’s known as a shell corporation — one that receives and sends out money but doesn’t have an underlying business.

But Cohen, the banker said, told him the account was for a real estate consulting business.

Nothing about it raised “any red flags to you?” Blanche asked.

“Not based upon the answers I was given to the questions I asked,” Farro said.

Farro’s testimony shed light on his role in helping Cohen open a bank account that was later used to process a $130,000 wire transfer to a lawyer for Stormy Daniels.

DEFENSE BEGINS CROSS-EXAMINATION OF FARRO

Defense attorneys began their cross-examination of Gary Farro, the prosecution’s third witness in Donald Trump’s hush money trial, by asking the banker to describe his relationship with Michael Cohen.

Farro said he first met Cohen — then serving as the former president’s personal lawyer — in person at a meeting in Trump Tower, but primarily communicated over the phone. Pushed by Todd Blanche, Farro acknowledged that Cohen wasn’t always easy to work with.

“He was a challenging client because of his desire to get things done so quickly,” Farro said. “Ninety percent of the time it was an urgent matter.”

PROSECUTORS WRAP QUESTIONING OF FARRO

Prosecutors have wrapped up questioning of Gary Farro, their third witness in Donald Trump’s criminal hush money trial.

Farro told prosecutors on Tuesday that Michael Cohen had indicated that a 2016 $130,000 wire payment now at the heart of the case was related to a real estate transaction — not a political candidate, an adult film performer or buying up a potential media story.

“We might consider something like that a reputational risk,” Farro said.

Within a day of opening the Essential Consultants LLC bank account on Oct. 26, 2016 — and funding it with about $130,000 from his own home equity loan — Cohen wired out $130,000 to Keith Davidson, then a lawyer for Stormy Daniels, documents showed.

The 2016 presidential election was on Nov. 8.

FAMILY JOINS TRUMP IN COURT FOR THE FIRST TIME

Donald Trump’s son Eric joined his father in court on Tuesday, marking the first time any of the former president’s family members have attended his criminal hush money trial.

Prior to court proceedings resuming, Trump turned from the defense table and walked over to his son in the first row of the gallery. Trump put his hand on Eric’s arm as they chatted.

Trump had railed about the trial, as well as his other legal cases, to reporters on his way into the courtroom earlier in the morning.

FARRO RETURNS TO THE STAND

Testimony in Donald Trump’s hush money trial resumed with Gary Farro, a banker who helped Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen open accounts. Cohen used one such account to buy the silence of porn performer Stormy Daniels in the weeks before the 2016 election. She alleged a 2006 sexual encounter with Trump, which he denies.

Cohen indicated the account, opened in late October 2016 in the name of Essential Consultants LLC, would be used for real estate consulting, according to testimony and documents shown at the trial.

In response to prosecutor Becky Mangold’s questions, Farro said the bank would have asked more questions if there had been any mention of a connection to a political candidate, buying a story that was being pitched to the media or paying a porn performer.

The additional scrutiny would have delayed or even nixed opening the account, which Cohen had wanted to open right away. In particular, the adult film world “is an industry we don’t work with,” he said.

With only real estate in the picture, the account was opened within a day — “very quick,” Farro said.

MERCHAN FINDS POST ABOUT COHEN AND DANIELS WAS NOT A VIOLATION

Judge Juan M. Merchan found that one of Donald Trump’s online posts about his former lawyer Michael Cohen and porn actor Stormy Daniels did not violate a gag order barring him from speaking publicly about jurors and witnesses in his hush money case.

Merchan wrote that he was finding Trump “in criminal contempt for willfully disobeying a lawful mandate” of the court on nine separate occasions for posts made on Truth Social and his campaign website.

Merchan ruled that Trump’s April 10 post referring to Cohen and Daniels as “sleaze bags” was not a gag order violation. He said Trump’s contention that he was responding to previous posts by Cohen “is sufficient to give” him pause “as to whether the People have met their burden” as to that post.

However, the other nine “attack the credibility of arguably two of the more high-profile witnesses in this case.”

“To allow such attacks upon protected witnesses with blanket assertions that they are all responses to ‘political attacks’ would be an exception that swallowed the rule. The Expanded Order does not contain such an exception,” Merchan wrote.

JUDGE FINDS TRUMP VIOLATED GAG ORDER, FINES HIM $9K

Judge Juan M. Merchan ruled Tuesday morning that Donald Trump violated a gag order barring him from making public statements about witnesses and jurors in his hush money trial nine times. He fined the former president $9,000 for the violations.

Prosecutors had alleged the former president had violated the order 10 times, and Merchan concurred in all but one of those instances. The judge will hold a hearing Thursday on four more alleged violations.

The former president stared down at the table in front of him as Merchan read the ruling, frowning slightly but otherwise showing no expression.

Merchan wrote in his ruling that Trump “is hereby warned that the Court will not tolerate continued willful violations of its lawful orders” and raised the possibility of jail time if “necessary and appropriate under the circumstances.”

JUDGE TO ALLOW TRUMP TO ATTEND SON’S GRADUATION

Judge Juan M. Merchan said Tuesday morning that Donald Trump’s criminal hush money trial will not be held on May 17 so that the former president can attend his son’s graduation.

“I don’t think the May 17 date is a problem, so Mr. Trump can certainly attend that date, attend his son’s graduation,” Merchan said.

Trump had previously requested the day off from court to accommodate his son Barron’s high school graduation.

TRUMP ARRIVES AT COURT

Donald Trump’s motorcade arrived Tuesday morning at the courthouse in lower Manhattan just before 9 a.m., kicking off the second week of witness testimony in the former president’s hush money trial.

A crowd of around 60 Trump supporters had gathered across the street from the building, waving Trump and American flags on tall poles.

TRUMP LEAVES TRUMP TOWER FOR COURT

Donald Trump entered his motorcade outside Trump Tower in midtown, headed to the courthouse in lower Manhattan for the second week of trial testimony.

The former president on Tuesday will be in court for testimony from the third prosecution witness, Gary Farro, a banker who helped Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen open accounts.

Cohen used one to buy the silence of porn performer Stormy Daniels. She alleged a 2006 sexual encounter with Trump, which he denies.

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The Latest | Hush money trial enters 9th day, begins with gag order ruling and $9K fine for Trump