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Hope Hicks, ex-Trump adviser, recounts political firestorm in 2016 over ‘Access Hollywood’ tape

May 2, 2024, 9:05 PM | Updated: May 3, 2024, 10:10 am

NEW YORK (AP) — Hope Hicks, a former adviser to Donald Trump, took the stand Friday at the former president’s hush money trial and recounted how his 2016 campaign became embroiled in a political firestorm over a recording in which he boasted about grabbing women without their permission.

Hicks, who served as White House communications director, is the first close Trump adviser to testify in the case, which accuses the Republican former president of a scheme to illegally influence the 2016 election by silencing women who claimed to have sexual encounters with him.

Prosecutors contend that the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, which emerged just days before a debate, jolted Trump’s campaign and hastened his then-lawyer Michael Cohen’s hush money deal with porn actor Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet about claims she had a sexual encounter with Trump years earlier.

Hicks described being deeply concerned after learning about the tape’s existence from a Washington Post reporter seeking comment about it. She huddled with other Trump advisers and read some of the transcript of the tape to Trump, she testified.

“I had a good sense to believe this was going to be a massive story and that it was going to dominate the news cycle for the next several days,” Hicks testified. “This was a damaging development.”

Trump has denied the allegations of extramarital sexual encounters. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee for this year denies any wrongdoing in the case.

Hicks, who is is testifying for the prosecution under a subpoena, acknowledged she was “really nervous” after stepping up to the microphone. Referring to her former boss as “Mr. Trump,” she told the court she last communicated with him in the summer or fall of 2022.

While no longer in Trump’s inner circle, Hicks spoke about the former president in glowing terms as the prosecutor began questioning her about her background. Hicks complimented Trump multiple times in the first few minutes of her testimony, describing him as a “very good multitasker, a very hard worker.”

Hicks served as Trump’s 2016 campaign press secretary and was one of a small number of early campaign staffers who joined his administration.

Former Trump attorney and fixer Michael Cohen, the prosecution’s star witness, has yet to take the stand in the hush money trial. But jurors are already hearing Cohen’s words as prosecutors work to directly tie Trump to payments to silence women with damaging claims about him before the 2016 election.

The second week of testimony in the case will wrap up Friday, a day after jurors heard a potentially crucial piece of evidence: a recording of Trump and Cohen discussing a plan to pay off an ex-Playboy model who claimed to have an affair with Trump. The former president denies the affair.

Prosecutors have spent the week using detailed testimony about meetings, email exchanges, business transactions and bank accounts to build on the foundation of their case accusing Trump of a scheme to illegally influence the election. They are setting the stage for pivotal testimony from Cohen, who paid Daniels $130,000 for her silence before he went to prison for the hush money scheme.

Trump’s defense has worked to poke holes in the credibility of prosecution witnesses and to show that Trump was trying to protect his reputation and family — not his campaign — by keeping the women quiet. The defense also suggested while questioning an attorney who represented two women in hush money negotiations that Trump was, in fact, the victim of extortion.

The recording played Thursday was secretly made by Cohen shortly before the 2016 election. Cohen is heard telling Trump about a plan to purchase the rights to former Playboy model Karen McDougal’s story from the National Enquirer so that it would never come out. The tabloid had previously bought McDougal’s story to bury it on Trump’s behalf.

In the recording, Cohen revealed that he had spoken to then-Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg about “how to set the whole thing up with funding.”

Trump can be heard responding: “What do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?”

Trump suggested the payment be made with cash, prompting Cohen to object by repeatedly saying “no.” Trump then says “check” before the recording cuts off.

Prosecutors played the recording after calling to the stand Douglas Daus, a forensic analyst from the Manhattan district attorney’s office who performed analyses on iPhones Cohen turned over to authorities during the investigation. Daus returned to the stand Friday morning.

Jurors also heard more than six hours of crucial testimony this week from Keith Davidson, a lawyer who represented McDougal and Daniels in their negotiations with Cohen and the National Enquirer — the tabloid that bought and buried negative stories in an industry practice known as “catch and kill.” Davidson on Thursday described being shocked that his hidden-hand efforts might have contributed to Trump winning the 2016 election.

“What have we done?” Davidson texted the then-editor of the National Enquirer on election night when it became clear that Trump was going to win. “Oh my god,” the tabloid editor responded.

“There was an understanding that our efforts may have in some way — strike that — our activities may have in some way assisted the presidential campaign of Donald Trump,” Davidson told jurors.

Trump’s lawyers sought to blunt the potential harm of Davidson’s testimony by getting him to acknowledge that he never had any interactions with Trump — only Cohen. In fact, Davidson said, he had never been in the same room as Trump until his testimony.

“I had no personal interactions with Donald Trump. It either came from my clients, Mr. Cohen or some other source, but certainly not him,” Davidson said.

Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying internal Trump Organization business records. The charges stem from paperwork such as invoices and checks that were deemed legal expenses in Trump Organization records. Prosecutors say they were really reimbursements to Cohen for the $130,000 hush money payment to Daniels.

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Hope Hicks, ex-Trump adviser, recounts political firestorm in 2016 over ‘Access Hollywood’ tape