United States

Trump Hush Money Trial Day 7 Updates: Defense Cross-Examines David Pecker, Judge Will Consider 4 New Trump Gag Order Violations

The Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether Trump may claim immunity from prosecution in the federal election subversion case. The trial will examine the intricacies of payments to suppress damaging information during Trump's campaign.

Former President Donald Trump sits in Manhattan criminal court in New York, Thursday, April 25, 2024. AP
Introduction

Here's a rundown of what to expect in Trump's trial today

In Thursday's session of Donald Trump's hush money trial in Manhattan, the court is expected to delve into critical aspects of the case. The trial coincides with arguments at the Supreme Court regarding another case involving Trump—specifically, federal election subversion charges brought by special counsel Jack Smith.

These charges accuse Trump and a co-conspirator of attempting to delay the certification of the 2020 election results by capitalizing on the chaos at the Capitol.

Today, the court is set to examine the intricacies of the hush money case, which revolves around allegations related to payments made to suppress damaging information during Trump's presidential campaign.

For a recap, click here for Day 6 updates.

A Quick Recap Of Trump's Hush Money Trial

Former President Donald Trump is facing charges of falsifying internal Trump Organization records to conceal damaging stories that could harm his 2016 campaign. The allegations involve payoffs to two women, Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, who claimed extramarital sexual encounters with Trump. Trump denies these claims.

Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid Daniels $130,000 and arranged for the National Enquirer tabloid to pay McDougal $150,000 in a "catch-and-kill" practice.

Cohen has pleaded guilty to violating federal campaign finance law. The Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether Trump may claim immunity from prosecution in the federal election subversion case. Trump is facing at least 88 charges over four criminal indictments in Georgia, New York, Washington, DC, and Florida.

He has pleaded not guilty to every charge in these cases. The Supreme Court will decide whether Trump may claim immunity from prosecution in the Manhattan court case and the election subversion case.

While Trump navigates his presidential campaign, he finds himself entangled in legal battles across multiple states. In addition to the hush money trial in Manhattan and the federal election subversion case, Trump faces a total of 88 charges across four criminal cases in Georgia, New York, Washington, DC, and Florida. Throughout these legal proceedings, Trump maintains his plea of not guilty.

David Pecker's Testimony Continues

The trial for the day has started. David Pecker is back on witness stand to continue his testimony.

Pecker recounted receiving a phone call from Trump during the National Enquirer's pursuit of former Playboy model Karen McDougal's allegations of an extramarital affair with Trump.

"When I answered the phone, Mr. Trump asked me, 'I spoke to Michael. Karen is a nice girl. Is it true that a Mexican group is looking to buy her story for $8 million?' I replied, 'I absolutely don't believe there's a Mexican group out there looking to buy her story for $8 million.'"

Trump then sought Pecker's advice on the matter, according to the former publisher. Pecker testified that he advised Trump, "I think you should buy the story" and keep it confidential.

"I believed the story to be true," Pecker clarified. "I thought it would be highly embarrassing for him and his campaign."

Cohen Had No Authority To Spend Trump Organization's Fund

While working with former Trump lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen for years, Pecker noticed that Cohen did not have the the authority to spend funds from the Trump Organization without getting approval from higher ups.

“Every time that we went out to lunch I always paid, he never paid,” Pecker said. “So I didn’t think that he had the authorization to buy or acquire or spend any money without Mr. Trump’s approval.”

"The Boss Will Take Care It", Cohen Assured Pecker

Pecker testified that McDougal demanded $150,000 for the rights to her story, along with other business opportunities and writing assignments. However, there was ambiguity regarding who would cover the expenses.

According to Pecker, Cohen initially asked Pecker to front the costs. Pecker responded, expressing his reluctance:“I said, ‘Michael, why should I pay? I just paid $30,000 for the doorman story. Now you’re asking me to pay $150,000 for the Karen story, plus all of these other additional items that she wants to do.’”

When questioned about reimbursement, Pecker recounted Cohen's assurance: "He told me not to worry, stating, 'I'm your friend. The boss will take care of it.'"

Pecker Explains "Limited Life Rights" 

Pecker described how American Media Inc. acquired exclusive rights to stories to prevent their publication elsewhere. He clarified the concept of "limited life rights," indicating that it involved purchasing exclusive rights to a specific story, thereby prohibiting its publication by any other media outlet.

"You cannot discuss it with any other media. It was exclusively owned by American Media," Pecker explained.

Pecker Did Not Want To Pay McDougal On Trump's Behalf

Pecker said he was wary of about facilitating payments to McDougal on behalf of Trump due to a previous incident involving a "catch-and-kill" arrangement related to Arnold Schwarzenegger's gubernatorial campaign in 2003.

Before Schwarzenegger's political bid, his prominence in fitness magazines acquired by Pecker's company led to numerous women contacting the National Enquirer with allegations against him. Pecker had an agreement to inform Schwarzenegger of any such stories and bought the rights to them temporarily.

Despite acquiring the stories, Pecker chose not to publish them. However, one woman ultimately went to the Los Angeles Times, prompting Schwarzenegger to deflect inquiries by advising reporters to "Ask David Pecker" for comments.

Pecker Shares Details Of McDougal Agreement

Karen McDougal's contract with American Media Inc., which owns the National Enquirer and several fitness magazines, was finalized after consulting with a campaign attorney. The contract granted exclusive rights to McDougal's story on any relationship with a married man, specifically about Trump.

The clause was meant to validate McDougal's $150,000 payment. Pecker aimed to have the contract be a record that stipulated services she would provide as a basis for payment, but the real purpose was to buy and lock up her claim about a 2006-2007 Trump affair, which the former president says never happened. The deal was intended to keep McDougal's story from becoming public and potentially influencing the election. Read More

Was Trump Aware Of McDougal Agreement?

Pecker asserts that he believes Trump was cognizant of the agreement with McDougal.

When questioned by a prosecutor about whether he knew of anyone besides Cohen who was aware of the National Enquirer's contract with McDougal, Pecker stated, "I believe that Donald Trump did."

Pecker's response followed the judge's decision to overrule the defense's objection to the question, which was subsequently read back by a court reporter before Pecker provided his answer.

Trump Wanted All Material On Him

During discussions about reimbursing American Media for the payment to McDougal, Cohen also asked for all the material that the National Enquirer had accumulated on Trump over time, Pecker informed the jurors.

Pecker mentioned that he informed Cohen about the existence of boxes filled with old news articles and files, despite Cohen's persistence in wanting them.

According to Pecker, Cohen stated that Trump instructed him to ensure that if anything were to happen to Pecker or if the company were to be sold, he did not want anyone else to potentially publish those stories.

Pecker Used An Outside Firm To Create Invoice For Payments Made To McDougal

Pecker revealed that he engaged an outside firm to generate the invoice for the payments to McDougal to ensure that the transaction remained off his company's financial records, fearing potential scrutiny from his staff.

“I believed that payment would raise a lot of questions and issues and be communicated to the rest of the editors, which is something I didn’t want to happen,” Pecker said.

Disputed Exhibits Prosecutors Want Jurors To See

Jurors in the Trump trial debated disputed exhibits, including text messages exchanged between then-National Enquirer editor Dylan Howard and a relative during Trump's 2016 election.

The messages, which were not shown in court, were argued to be hearsay and not business records. Trump's lawyers argued that the messages could not be used as evidence. The jury has now returned to hear more from Pecker. Judge Merchan is keeping the messages out of the trial.

Prosecution Turns To Question About Stormy Daniels

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass is commencing inquiries with Pecker concerning adult film star Stormy Daniels and her assertion of a 2006 sexual encounter with Trump, a claim vehemently refuted by the former president. Pecker is currently providing testimony regarding his discussion with former National Enquirer editor-in-chief Dylan Howard regarding Daniels' narrative.

During his testimony, Pecker stated that he was informed that Daniels was "attempting to sell an account of her alleged sexual relationship with Donald Trump."

Pecker further revealed that Howard conveyed to him over the phone the possibility of acquiring the story for $120,000 "if a prompt decision was made."

Click here to know the key people involved in this case

Trump's Team Removed An Old 2008 Story From Radar Online

Following the scandalous release of the Access Hollywood tape, Pecker revealed that members of Trump’s team were actively working to remove an old story from Radar Online, a gossip website. This story featured a different clip of Trump discussing women, distinct from the content of the Access Hollywood tape.

The article, originally published in 2008, portrayed Trump as a “Playboy Man” and was posted prior to AMI's acquisition of Radar. However, upon being alerted by Cohen, Pecker and then-editor Dylan Howard promptly agreed to its removal.

Pecker affirmed that Howard adhered to his instructions to eliminate the post from the Radar page. Subsequently, the email chain regarding this decision was forwarded to Trump’s campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks.

Pecker Recalls The 2005 "Access Hollywood" Tape Scandal

During his testimony, Pecker recounted a notable moment following the public revelation of the notorious 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape, in which Trump made lewd comments about women. It was then that Pecker received an urgent call from then-editor Dylan Howard.

Howard informed Pecker that Daniels' representatives had approached the tabloid with an offer to sell her story for $120,000, provided a decision was made swiftly. Pecker, however, expressed reluctance, citing the tabloid's existing financial commitments.

He reminded Howard of the significant sums already spent on catch-and-kill arrangements related to Trump, including payments to the doorman and Karen McDougal, totaling $180,000. Pecker asserted his stance, refusing further financial outlays.

Simultaneously, Pecker advised former Trump attorney Michael Cohen to acquire Daniels' story to prevent its dissemination. He emphasized the importance of removing it from circulation to avert potential public exposure.

Trump Was Furious Over The Wall Street Journal Article

Pecker testified that Donald Trump was upset after The Wall Street Journal published an article on the eve of the 2016 election, which revealed the National Enquirer's $150,000 payment to McDougal for the rights to the former Playboy model's story claiming an affair with Trump.

“Donald Trump was very upset, saying ‘how could this happen? I thought you had this under control. Either you or one of your people leaked the story,’” Pecker recalled.
Pecker testified that Trump was upset and speculated that McDougal or someone connected to her had tipped off the Journal. The Journal ran its story on Nov. 4, 2016, just four days before the election. Pecker admitted that AMI's response to the Journal that the company had not paid people to kill damaging stories about Trump was a lie.

Pecker Recounts A 2016 Conversation With Cohen In Trump Tower

In late 2016, Pecker was called to Cohen's office in Trump Tower regarding concerns about potentially damaging material about Trump left in the National Enquirer's boxes. During the meeting, Cohen expressed frustration over not receiving a bonus from Trump and suggested he had used personal funds to pay off Stormy Daniels.

Trump entered the room during the discussion, and Cohen falsely assured him that he had personally reviewed the boxes for damaging information. As they left, Pecker informed Trump of Cohen's concerns about his bonus, expressing his belief in Cohen's loyalty. Trump reassured Pecker that he would take care of Cohen. Read More

Trump Inquired Pecker About "Our Girl"

Pecker recounted attending a meeting with Trump on January 6, 2017, just before his inauguration, where they discussed Karen McDougal. He was brought into Trump's office as the president-elect concluded a meeting with high-profile figures, including then-FBI Director James Comey and press adviser Sean Spicer. Trump introduced Pecker to the group as the owner of the National Enquirer, jesting that he likely had more knowledge than anyone present.

After the aides left, Trump inquired about McDougal, referring to her as "our girl." Pecker assured Trump that McDougal had remained silent, to which Trump expressed gratitude for handling the situations involving McDougal and Dino Sajudin, the former doorman. Pecker recalled Trump acknowledging the embarrassing nature of the stories.

How Is Stormy Daniels Involved In This Case?

Stormy Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, played a pivotal role in the hush money case surrounding former President Donald Trump. The case revolves around allegations that Trump engaged in an illegal conspiracy to undermine the integrity of the 2016 election and orchestrated an unlawful plan to suppress negative information, including a hush money payment made to Daniels to conceal an alleged affair.

In the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, just days before voters went to the polls, Daniels received a payment of $130,000. Prosecutors contend that Trump orchestrated this payment and attempted to disguise it as a legal transaction while falsifying business records multiple times in an effort to bolster his candidacy. Consequently, Trump faces 34 counts of falsifying business records and has pleaded not guilty to these charges.

Throughout the legal proceedings, Daniels has been vocal about her involvement in the case. In a documentary released recently, she revealed that she accepted the payment to maintain silence about her alleged one-night encounter with Trump in 2006. She cited her desire to protect her husband and daughter as the primary motivation behind accepting the hush money.

Trump's legal team attempted to leverage the documentary's release to their advantage, seeking to prevent Daniels from testifying and arguing that it should serve as grounds for dismissing the indictment or delaying the trial. However, these challenges were ultimately unsuccessful. While the judge did delay the trial for separate reasons, Daniels' testimony and the evidence presented against Trump remain integral to the ongoing legal proceedings. Read More

Another Historic Case In Manhattan Courtroom

Four years prior to the trial of former President Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein, the disgraced movie mogul, faced trial in the same Manhattan courtroom.

On Thursday, as reporters anticipated Trump's appearance in Courtroom 1530 at the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse for the continuation of his trial, the New York Court of Appeals issued a decision overturning Weinstein's conviction and ordering a new trial.

Reporters who had covered both Trump's trial and Weinstein's case were actively refreshing the appeals court's website, eager to catch the decision and promptly inform their newsrooms about this significant development.

Judge Merchan Will Consider Four New Trump Gag Order Violations

Judge Juan Merchan has signed an order to show cause concerning four new alleged violations of a gag order by former President Donald Trump.

He had previously signed a similar order for the first 10 violations as requested by the district attorney. This indicates that he will consider the newly added four violations as well. However, no decision has been made yet, nor has Trump been held in contempt.

One Of Trump's Closest Advisors Is Present In The Courtroom Today

Boris Epshteyn, a former White House aide and one of Trump's closest advisers, is present in the courtroom today.

Yesterday, a grand jury in Arizona issued an indictment against Trump allies, which includes Epshteyn. The indictment relates to their involvement in attempts to overturn the outcome of the 2020 election, which involved fabricated electors from Arizona and several individuals associated with Trump's campaign. Read More

Questioning Shifted Back To Cohen's Payment To Daniels

The line of questioning has shifted back to the topic of Michael Cohen's payment to Stormy Daniels in exchange for her silence regarding her relationship with Trump.

Steinglass is presenting evidence to the jury, including the January 12, 2018, article from the Wall Street Journal, which initially reported the $130,000 payment to Daniels. During the testimony, Joshua Steinglass prompted David Pecker to recall a phone conversation he had with members of Trump's White House staff.

Pecker testified that he recalls speaking with Hope Hicks and Sarah Huckabee Sanders. He stated that both Hicks and Sanders expressed support for the idea, referring to the extension of Karen McDougal's contract.

Trump Had Invited Pecker To A White House Dinner In 2017

Pecker testified that Trump extended an invitation for him to attend a White House dinner in July 2017 as a gesture of gratitude for his assistance during the campaign. Additionally, Trump expressed interest in receiving an update on Karen McDougal during the event.

According to Pecker, Trump encouraged him to bring whoever he pleased, emphasizing that it was "his dinner." Pecker recounted that during the dinner, which was attended by Howard, the former National Enquirer editor, as well as some of his other business associates, they took photos with Trump in the Oval Office. Notable attendees also included Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and press adviser Sean Spicer.

During their walk from the Oval Office to the dining room, Trump inquired about Karen's well-being, to which Pecker responded affirmatively, stating that she was doing well and everything was proceeding smoothly.

Trump Was Furious Over McDougal's CNN Interview 

Pecker testified that Trump was angery when Karen McDougal gave an interview to CNN's Anderson Cooper in March 2018.

During a phone conversation recounted by Pecker in court, Trump voiced his frustration, stating, "I thought you and I had an agreement with Karen McDougal that she wouldn't give any interviews or appear on any TV channels."

Pecker explained to Trump that the agreement had been modified to permit McDougal to speak to the media following a November 2016 Wall Street Journal article detailing the tabloid's $150,000 payment to McDougal.

Pecker informed jurors that Trump became visibly irritated upon learning about the amendment to the agreement and struggled to comprehend the reason behind it.

AMI's 2018 Non-Prosecution Agreement With Federal Authorities 

Prosecutor Steinglass guided Pecker through American Media Inc.'s (AMI) 2018 non-prosecution agreement with federal authorities.

Under this agreement, federal prosecutors refrained from prosecuting AMI in return for its cooperation in a campaign finance investigation, which resulted in Michael Cohen's guilty plea and subsequent prison sentence that same year.

The Federal Election Commission imposed a fine of $187,500 on the company, characterizing the McDougal deal as a "prohibited corporate in-kind contribution."

When questioned about the unidentified presidential candidate referenced in the document, Pecker identified him as "Donald Trump."

Prosecution Concludes David Pecker's Examination

On his third day on the witness stand Thursday, Pecker appeared comfortable and composed as he delved into the intricate maneuvers he alleges were undertaken to suppress stories on behalf of Trump.

He provided vivid recollections of conversations with Trump and his former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, detailing meetings held at Trump Tower and a dinner hosted at the White House.

Peeker illuminated the inner workings of the National Enquirer and the supermarket tabloid industry, elucidating the practices of "checkbook journalism" and "catch-and-kill" tactics. He also revealed the frantic rush to silence Stormy Daniels following the release of Trump's infamous "Access Hollywood" tape.

While many of these details were previously documented, they now came to life with Pecker serving as a narrator—a seasoned figure from the realm of celebrity gossip.

Throughout his testimony, Pecker adeptly balanced his attention between the jury and the prosecutor, with jurors often observing with keen interest.

Trump Attorny Begins Pecker's Cross-Examination

Trump's lawyer, Emil Bove, steps up to the podium to initiate the cross-examination of David Pecker, the prosecution's first witness in the trial. Trump briefly glances back at Bove as he begins.

It's important to note that in a trial, defense attorneys like Bove can cross-examine prosecution witnesses to challenge their credibility. The witnesses' answers are considered evidence, but not the questions asked by the attorney. Bove starts by asking Pecker to confirm his tenure with AMI, the parent company of the National Enquirer, from 1999 to 2020.

Pecker acknowledges that he still holds equity in AMI.

Defense Inquires The Origin Of "Catch And Kill" Term

Bove's inquiry also highlighted the origin of the term "catch-and-kill," particularly concerning Trump's situation.

"Prior to this investigation, you were unfamiliar with the term 'catch-and-kill,' correct?" Bove queried.

"Yes," Pecker confirmed.

"The initial exposure to this term came from a prosecutor, is that accurate?" Bove inquired.

"Indeed," Pecker affirmed.

Trump Attorny Bove Questions Pecker's Memory Of Dates And Meetings

Defense attorney Emil Bove rigorously questioned Pecker about his memory of specific dates and meetings, seemingly aiming to emphasize the challenge of recalling details pertinent to allegations against Trump dating back several years.

After highlighting Pecker's error in recalling the specific week Trump was in New York City, Bove suggested: "There are occasions when gaps in your memory necessitate filling them with assumptions based on other events."

Pecker refuted this notion. Later, he informed Bove that he had met with Manhattan prosecutors between three and five times since the beginning of the year, with the most recent meeting occurring just a few weeks prior. He emphasized that his testimony was based on his "best recollection at the time."

Judge Dismisses Jury For The Day

Judge Juan Merchan has asked the jury court to wrap up for the day. He's dismissing them for the day.

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