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Trump Hush Money Trial Day 11 Updates: Defense Cross-Examines Hope Hicks

Former President Donald Trump is facing charges of paying hush money to settle down stories that would be harmful to his image. Prosecutors have presented extensive evidence, including meetings, emails, and financial transactions, alleging a clandestine effort by the 2016 Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, to sway the 2016 election outcome.

Former US President Donald Trump and his attorney Todd Blanche (R) arrive for Trump's trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs, at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City, on May 3, 2024. Getty images

A quick recap:

Throughout the week, prosecutors have meticulously presented a wealth of evidence, including detailed accounts of meetings, email correspondences, business dealings, and financial transactions.

This extensive testimony forms the bedrock of their case, alleging that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee engaged in a clandestine effort to unlawfully sway the outcome of the 2016 election.

Their efforts are aimed at laying the groundwork for crucial testimony from Cohen, who orchestrated a $130,000 payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels in exchange for her silence prior to his incarceration for his involvement in the hush money scheme.

Judge Merchan Clarifies Gag Order Won't Stop Trump From Testifying

At the outset of the trial day, Judge Juan M. Merchan clarified that Trump's gag order does not prohibit him from testifying in his own defense. This clarification seems to address remarks made by the former president following the previous day's court session.

Merchan emphasized that the order restricting extrajudicial statements does not impede Trump's ability to testify. He explicitly stated that the order does not restrict what Trump can say while on the witness stand.

Addressing Trump and his legal team, Merchan noted that there appeared to be a "misunderstanding" regarding the scope of the order, prompting his clarification.

Defense Resumes Cross-Examination Of Douglas Daus

Forensic analyst Douglas Daus, who examined Michael Cohen's phone, is back on the witness stand. Emil Bove, representing Trump, has resumed the cross-examination of Daus, a forensic analyst from the Manhattan district attorney's office. Daus is responsible for extracting recordings, text messages, and other evidence from two of Cohen's iPhones.

Judge Rules To Prevent Prosecution Present Certain Photographs To Jury

Before testimony resumed, Judge Merchan made a ruling to prevent prosecutors from presenting the jury with a photograph depicting Trump alongside Billy Bush and soap opera actor Arianne Zucker during the time of the infamous "Access Hollywood" recording.

Trump's lawyer, Todd Blanche, had requested the exclusion of the image from the trial, citing a recent court decision overturning Harvey Weinstein's rape conviction. The appeals court in that case ordered a retrial due to the allowance of unrelated testimony during the trial.

Merchan acknowledged the Weinstein case but stated that it didn't directly apply to the present case, as it didn't establish any new legal precedent. However, he agreed to bar prosecutors from introducing the photograph.

Prosecutors had argued that the image would assist in establishing the timeline of events surrounding the revelations of the "Access Hollywood" tape, in which Trump made derogatory comments about women.

Merchan had previously ruled that the 2005 tape couldn't be played in court for jurors, but allowed prosecutors to question witnesses about its contents.

Defense Raises Questions About Recordings Played

Continuing from where he left off on Thursday, Bove resumed questioning Daus, the forensic analyst, with a series of intricately technical inquiries aimed at suggesting the possibility that Cohen may have tampered with a 2016 recording played in court the previous day.

As part of his argument, Bove highlighted the sudden cutoff in the audio and pointed out "gaps" in the phone's handling, aspects that Daus acknowledged as "less than optimal."

Prosecutors contend that the abrupt ending of the recording occurred because Cohen received another call. However, under Bove's scrutiny, Daus admitted that there was no indication of an incoming call in the phone's metadata. Nevertheless, Daus conceded that confirming this would require access to call log data from Cohen's phone carrier.

“In many ways, we’re just going to have to take Michael Cohen’s word for it, aren’t we?” Bove said.

“Yes,” Daus replied.

With that, Bove concluded his cross-examination.

Next Witness Paralegal Georgia Longstreet Begins Testimony

Georgia Longstreet has been assigned to the Trump case for the past year and a half, tasked with reviewing publicly available records relevant to the case, including Trump’s social media activity on platforms like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Truth Social.

During the trial, Longstreet mentioned a government agency central to Trump’s separate case involving classified documents. She testified about using the National Archives and Records Administration’s archive of the official presidential Twitter account to verify the authenticity of Trump’s account. Longstreet highlighted that Trump's official government account, @POTUS45, often reposted tweets from his personal account, @realdonaldtrump.

Despite the mention of the National Archives, there was no visible reaction from Trump. The agency's pursuit of records he took from the White House to his Mar-a-Lago estate after his 2020 election loss led to charges alleging that he illegally hoarded classified documents.

Trump Paid $9000 Fine For Violating Gag Order

Trump has paid a $9,000 fine for violating a gag order in his hush money criminal trial. Judge Merchan ordered the fine after finding posts about ex-lawyer Michael Cohen, porn actor Stormy Daniels, and jury complexion violated the order. Merchan is considering a prosecution request for further contempt and fines.

Hope Hicks Is called To Testify

Hope Hicks, who was Trump's press secretary during 2016 election campaign, is being questioned by prosecutor Matthew Colangelo.

“Is this close enough? I’m really nervous,” Hicks said while adjusting the microphone at the witness stand.

Hope Hicks Begins Testimony

During her testimony, the former adviser praised Trump, highlighting his multitasking skills and work ethic. She described the Trump Organization as operating like a small family business despite its size. The adviser, who now runs her own communications consulting firm, testified voluntarily under subpoena and is funding her own legal representation.

The lawyer used Hicks’ testimony to provide insight into the inner workings of the Trump Organization, including its personnel and office layout. Hicks, who previously worked for the Trump Organization before joining Trump's campaign and administration, was questioned about various figures within the organization, including key individuals such as Keith Schiller, Rhona Graff, Allen Weisselberg, and Michael Cohen.

Hicks recalled the abrupt transition from working for the Trump Organization to joining the presidential campaign, recounting Trump's unexpected announcement about going to Iowa. Initially skeptical about her role as press secretary due to her lack of experience, Hicks eventually became fully involved in the campaign.

Jurors Presented WithTrump's Responses To The Release Of "Access Hollywood" Tape In 2016

Before Hicks testified, the court was presented with some of Trump’s responses to the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape in October 2016.

These included a video he posted to Twitter in which he apologized and referred to the video as a “distraction from important issues we face today.” Additionally, a tweet described his comments in the 2005 video as “locker room remarks.”

Jurors were also informed about a March 2023 Truth Social post where Trump asserted he “did nothing wrong” and included a derogatory nickname for Stormy Daniels. He referred to Cohen, his former lawyer, as a “convicted liar and felon jailbird” and stated, “Never had an affair with her. Just another false accusation by a sleazebag.”

In another social media post, he reiterated, “Nothing ever happened with these women” and asserted, “No one has more respect for women than me.”

Hicks Testifies About Trump's Involvement In Campaign's Media Strategy

When asked by prosecutors about the extent of Trump’s involvement in the campaign’s media strategy, Hicks was direct in her response.

“I would say that Mr. Trump was responsible,” she stated. “He knew what he wanted to say and how he wanted to say it, and we were all just following his lead.”

Hicks Recalls Interactions Between Trump And Cohen 

During the Trump Tower meeting, Pecker informed Trump and Cohen that he would act as the "eyes and ears" of Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, assisting in identifying negative stories to suppress. Hicks couldn't distinctly recall the details but acknowledged the possibility of being present.

Pecker had testified previously that Hicks attended parts of the meeting, and Hicks confirmed she would often enter and exit Trump's office during his meetings with various individuals.

Hicks also recounted other interactions between Trump and Pecker, including phone conversations where Trump praised the publisher for articles critical of his political opponents. She vividly remembered Trump congratulating Pecker on a National Enquirer article about allegations against Dr. Ben Carson and another instance where Trump lauded an article about Senator Ted Cruz, even suggesting it was Pulitzer-worthy.

Hicks Describes Her Response As Jurors See The Transcript Of "Access Hollywood"

Hicks stated, “I was concerned, very concerned. Yeah. I was concerned about the contents of the email. I was concerned about the lack of time to respond. I was concerned that we had a transcript but not the tape. There was a lot at play.”

She then forwarded the request to other campaign leadership, including Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway, advising them to “deny, deny, deny.”

The transcript, received in an email from a Washington Post reporter, was not read aloud in court but was displayed on monitors visible to jurors. Hicks was instructed to review portions of the transcript silently before responding.

As the transcript appeared on screen, Trump remained expressionless, occasionally whispering to his lawyers.

Prosecutors argue that the tape, emerging shortly before a debate, significantly impacted Trump’s campaign and expedited Michael Cohen’s hush money deal with Stormy Daniels to silence her allegations of a previous sexual encounter with Trump.

Hicks Testifies About Trump's Initial Opinion On Tape's Leak

After receiving The Washington Post’s request for comment, Hicks proceeded to a conference room in Trump Tower where Trump and his advisors were preparing for a debate. She called over Jason Miller and other close aides, and as they discussed, it became clear to Trump that something significant was happening. Hicks shared parts of the email and transcript with Trump, who expressed disbelief, stating it didn't sound like something he would say, and appeared upset.

When asked about Trump's level of anger, an objection was raised by a Trump lawyer, preventing Hicks from answering. Hicks admitted feeling "a little stunned" by the tape and recognized its potential to dominate the news cycle for days, considering it a damaging development for the campaign. She explained her concerns, stating that the story complicated the campaign's direction and hindered progress.

Hicks acknowledged Trump's perspective on the tape, describing it as “this wasn’t good, but it was also like two guys talking privately, locker room talk.” She noted that Trump didn't view it as a matter to become overly upset about, considering it standard conversation between men.

Hicks Describes Republicans' Reaction  After "Access Hollywood" Tape Reveal

Hicks testified that the fallout from the release of the tape overshadowed even a major hurricane, dominating news coverage for 36 hours leading up to an important debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton. She recalled receiving an email from a Washington Post reporter about the impending publication of the tape story while Hurricane Matthew, a Category 4 storm, was approaching the East Coast. Hicks remarked that the hurricane's impact became secondary amid the media frenzy surrounding the tape.

Prosecutors questioned Hicks about statements made by prominent Republicans in response to the tape, including John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Paul Ryan. She appeared increasingly annoyed by the questioning but acknowledged the likelihood of Ryan's comments, stating, "I don’t remember that but it sounds like something he would say."

Hicks Asked Cohen To Chase Down Another Rumor

Following the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape, Hicks recounted requesting Cohen, who was then serving as Trump's lawyer, to investigate a rumor about another potentially damaging tape. She emphasized her proactive approach, expressing her desire to avoid any surprises.

Hicks tasked Cohen with reaching out to a media contact, whose identity she did not disclose, to inquire about the rumored tape's existence and potential publication timeline. Despite there being no actual tape, Hicks appreciated Cohen's efforts in following up on her request.

Hicks Reached Out To Trump's Son-In-Law To Help Delay Publication Of Story Regarding The Playboy Model

Hicks testified about her actions in response to a Wall Street Journal reporter's request for comment on American Media Inc.'s acquisition of Karen McDougal's story about an alleged affair with Trump. She reached out to Kushner, hoping to leverage his relationship with Rupert Murdoch to delay the story. Despite Kushner's inability to reach Murdoch in time, Hicks attempted to buy time to handle the situation.

She also revealed her first encounter with Stormy Daniels' name on Trump's plane about a year before Cohen's payment to her. In November 2015, during a conversation about a celebrity golf tournament, Daniels' name surfaced as someone present at the event with another participant. This disclosure sheds light on the events leading up to Cohen's payment to Daniels, who claims to have had a sexual encounter with Trump.

Hicks Continues Testimony

Hicks recounted her attempts to delay the Wall Street Journal story with Kushner's help, which proved unsuccessful. Following Kushner's advice, she contacted Cohen and then Pecker. While she couldn't recall Cohen's exact words, she sensed a reason to connect with Pecker for more information.

During her conversation with Pecker, Hicks inquired about the situation, particularly regarding the email she received from the Journal reporter. Pecker clarified that McDougal's payments were for legitimate purposes, such as magazine covers and fitness columns, as outlined in their contract.

Hicks Testifies Trump Told Her To Deny Claims By McDougal And Daniels To WSJ

Hicks resumed her testimony post-lunch, with the focus shifting to the Trump campaign's response to a critical Wall Street Journal article published shortly before the 2016 election. The article revealed the National Enquirer's deal with McDougal, prompting Trump to request that Hicks convey his denial of both McDougal's and Daniels' claims to the Journal reporter.

Hicks emphasized that the denial came directly from Trump himself. The Journal, as per standard procedure, contacted Hicks before publishing the article and included her statement denying any knowledge of the agreement with McDougal. Hicks also mentioned a phone call between Trump and Cohen after the story's publication, noting that nothing particularly noteworthy occurred during the call.

Hicks Testifies About Messages Exchanged With Cohen After WSJ Article

Hicks was questioned about the text messages she shared with Cohen shortly after The Wall Street Journal published its story regarding the National Enquirer's parent company purchasing the rights to McDougal's story.

One message revealed Hicks asking Cohen to provide David Pecker's phone number, as "Mr. Trump wanted to speak with him," she confirmed.

In another message, Cohen informs Hicks about having a statement from Storm denying everything and contradicting other porn stars. Hicks admitted she was unaware of the specifics of Cohen's message and preferred not to inquire further.

Initially, both Cohen and Hicks expressed satisfaction with what Hicks described as a "muted" reaction to the Journal story. "It wasn't gaining traction like something such as the 'Access Hollywood' tape," she noted. "The coverage wasn't all-encompassing."

Hicks Was Concerned About Trump's Wife Viewing The Hush Money Article

Hicks recounted her conversation with Trump on Nov. 5, 2016, the day following the publication of the Journal article.

She stated that Trump "was concerned about the story. He was concerned about how it would be viewed by his wife, and he wanted me to make sure the newspapers weren’t delivered to their residence that morning."

Regarding Trump's concerns about the campaign, Hicks testified that all their discussions during that period were viewed in the context of the campaign. Trump frequently inquired, "How is it playing?" to gauge the public reception of his appearances, speeches, and policies.

Hicks indicated that she was nearly certain Trump used this phrase to express apprehension about how the Journal story would impact his election prospects and the final days of his campaign.

Defense Begins Cross-Examination Of Hope Hicks

Before Trump’s lawyers began their cross-examination, prosecutors concluded their questioning by asking Hicks about Trump's conversation with Michael Cohen in February 2018, following Cohen's admission to The New York Times that he paid $130,000 to Daniels out of his own pocket.

Hicks relayed that Trump told her Cohen felt it was his duty to protect him and acted out of kindness, keeping the payment secret. Despite acknowledging this as uncharacteristic of Cohen, Hicks stated that Trump eventually believed suppressing the story before the election was wise.

Trump's lawyer then asked Hicks to describe Trump's feelings on the day the "Access Hollywood" tape was released. Hicks emphasized Trump's concern for Melania's opinion and his desire to shield his family from campaign-related embarrassment. Throughout her response, Trump nodded, focusing intently on Hicks.

Court Wraps Up For The Day

After about 20 minutes of questioning by Trump's lawyer, Emil Bove, Hicks left the witness stand. Bove approached the former White House communications director with care, especially after her emotional start during cross-examination.

During his brief questioning, Bove aimed to highlight the defense's argument that Cohen acted independently when paying Stormy Daniels. Hicks confirmed Cohen's occasional unilateral actions for Trump and his unofficial campaign status. She clarified that Cohen was labeled a "fixer" because he resolved problems he had caused.

Hicks also pointed out that Cohen was absent from crucial Trump Tower meetings after the "Access Hollywood" tape release, suggesting he might have been overseas at the time.