United States

Trump Hush Money Trial Day 12 Updates: Deborah Tarasoff Concludes Testimony

Former President Donald Trump is facing charges of paying hush money to settle down stories that would be harmful to his image. The trial has entered in its third week.

Former US President Donald Trump attends his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs, at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City, on May 6, 2024. Getty images

A quick recap of last week:

Key witnesses testified in the second week of Donald Trump's hush money trial, including a California lawyer central to the case and a longtime adviser to the former president.

Crucial evidence, such as a 2016 recording of Trump discussing silencing a Playboy model, was presented to jurors, along with testimony on unrelated topics like Hulk Hogan and hurricanes.

Trump faced a fine for violating a judge's gag order, with potential further sanctions looming for the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

Get a recap of day 11 here.

Judge Again Fines Trump. Which Comment Violated Gag Order?

Judge Juan M. Merchan fined Trump $1,000 for violating a gag order, warning of potential jail time for future breaches. Despite facing accusations of four violations, the judge only upheld one. Trump had been fined $9,000 for nine previous violations on Truth Social and his website.

The judge determined that Trump violated the gag order through comments he made on the program "Just the News No Noise," broadcast on Real America’s Voice, on April 22. Trump criticized the rapid jury selection process, alleging a predominantly Democratic composition, stating, “The jury was picked so fast. 95 percent Democrats. The area’s mostly all Democrat.”

Judge Merchan's ruling emphasized that these remarks "not only called into question the integrity, and therefore the legitimacy of these proceedings, but again raised the specter of fear for the safety of the jurors and of their loved ones."

Former Trump Organization Controller Jeffrey McConney Begins Testimony

In an anecdote recalling his early days working for Trump, McConney recounted Trump's meticulous attention to finances and his assertive approach to managing bills.

During a visit to deliver a report to Trump's desk in the late 1980s, Trump interrupted a phone call to quip, “Jeff, you’re fired,” startling McConney. Trump quickly clarified, saying, “You’re not fired, but my cash balances went down from last week.”

McConney explained the reasons for the decrease in cash balances, to which Trump advised him to "focus on my bills, negotiate my bills."

Reflecting on the incident, McConney described it as a teaching moment, emphasizing the importance of negotiation when dealing with financial matters.

Throughout the retelling, Trump, seated at the defense table, appeared amused, smiling broadly in McConney’s direction.

McConney Testifies About Michael Cohen

As questioning shifts to Cohen, McConney, like previous witnesses, expresses a lack of enthusiasm. He acknowledges conversing with Cohen informally and dryly notes Cohen's position as a lawyer within the Trump Organization. Details emerge about Cohen's payment to Daniels' lawyer, Davidson, with Weisselberg's reimbursement plan outlined in handwritten notes.

McConney's own notes indicate monthly payments from Trump's personal account. This marks the first mention of reimbursements central to Trump's charges of falsifying business records. McConney recalls discussions with Weisselberg about reimbursing Cohen, providing insight into the situation.

Cohen, having recently been removed from the Trump Organization's payroll, had worked there for about a decade.

McConney Testifies About Reimbursements

McConney testified about how Cohen's reimbursement for the payment to Daniels was recorded as a legal expense. He instructed an accounting department employee to categorize the expense as such, based on Cohen's status as a lawyer.

The first two payments were labeled as a "retainer" for January and February 2017, although McConney had not seen a retainer agreement. After initially paying through a trust, subsequent payments were made from Trump's personal account, requiring a new process due to Trump's presidency.

Defense Begins McConney's Cross-Examination

After completing their initial round of questioning for McConney, prosecutors have concluded. Trump's lawyer, Emil Bove, has now commenced his cross-examination.

Bove's line of questioning initially focuses on a central defense narrative: the assertion that Cohen, being a lawyer, received payments classified as legal expenses. McConney affirmed this perspective. This theme underscores the defense's argument that the payment method to Cohen was lawful.

McConney Describes About The Payments Made To Cohen And Their Records

During the trial, Trump's lawyer, Bove, highlighted Cohen's role as Trump's attorney by referencing an email signature identifying Cohen as Trump's personal attorney. McConney confirmed that the email did not label Cohen as a "fixer." Bove suggested that after leaving the Trump Organization, Cohen acted as a vendor to Trump.

McConney testified that Trump never instructed him to categorize Cohen’s payments as legal expenses, and he had minimal interaction with Cohen regarding reimbursements. While McConney categorized Cohen's payments as legal expenses, he expressed doubt about this decision.

Bove pointed out that McConney didn't know if Cohen performed legal work for Trump in 2017, citing the Zervos defamation lawsuit. McConney admitted he had no knowledge of Cohen's involvement in the Zervos case.

McConney Ends Testimony

Responding to prosecutors' questions revealing McConney's lack of sight of a legal retainer agreement for Cohen, Bove inquired about the possibility of verbal retainers. McConney affirmed that, to his understanding, retainers can indeed be verbal.

Subsequently, Bove concluded his cross-examination of McConney. Following additional queries from prosecutor Matthew Colangelo and Bove, McConney's testimony concluded.

Next Witness Is Deborah Tarasoff

Tarasoff received a 2017 email from then-controller Jeffrey McConney instructing her to categorize reimbursement payments to Michael Cohen as legal expenses. She processed the checks used for these payments. Both Tarasoff and McConney worked under Allen Weisselberg, the longtime CFO of the Trump Organization.

Tarasoff previously testified in the 2022 trial on tax fraud charges, where she claimed ignorance of Weisselberg's tax evasion scheme and stated she followed orders when processing payments for his personal expenses. She described Weisselberg as an exacting micromanager trusted by the company.

Tarasoff also mentioned Weisselberg instructing her to delete transaction notations in the company's records in September 2016, prior to Trump's presidential election, which she complied with because he was her boss, even if she didn't think it was illegal.

Tarasoff Begins Testimony

Tarasoff's testimony commenced with her delineating her job responsibilities and her acquaintance with notable individuals within the Trump Organization, namely Michael Cohen and two witnesses from the trial, Rhona Graff and Jeffrey McConney.

In response to prosecutor Christopher Conroy's query about Allen Weisselberg's management approach, she remarked, "He had his hands in everything." Conversely, Tarasoff indicated that her role primarily involved adhering to directives from higher authorities.

"I get approved bills, I enter them in the system, and I cut the checks," she stated matter-of-factly.

Tarasoff Testifies About ProcedureFor Checks After Trump Became The President

Tarasoff testified that after Donald Trump became president, payments from his personal account had to be sent to the White House for his signature before being returned. She described the process of receiving and mailing out checks, including those used to reimburse Michael Cohen for the Stormy Daniels payment, bearing Trump's signature.

Most checks were from Trump's personal account, signed at the White House, while others came from his revocable trust, signed by Donald Trump Jr. and Allen Weisselberg. The checks were logged as legal expenses, but prosecutors allege they were mislabeled to conceal Cohen's reimbursement and hush-money payment. Cohen received monthly payments of $35,000, totaling $420,000, covering various expenses and taxes.

Tarasoff's Cross Examination Begins

After prosecutor Christopher Conroy extensively reviewed invoices, vouchers, checks, and stubs related to the 2017 payments to Cohen, Trump's lawyers now have the opportunity to question Tarasoff.

Tarasoff Concludes Testimony

After a short cross-examination, Tarasoff concluded her testimony on the witness stand. Trump lawyer Todd Blanche's inquiries centered on confirming with the accounts payable supervisor that she obtained authorization to issue the checks from Trump's company's chief financial officer and controller, not directly from Trump himself.

Blanche questioned, "You never had any reason to believe that President Trump was hiding anything or anything like that?"

Tarasoff responded, "Correct."

Trial Wraps Up For The Day

The trial concluded for the day, approximately thirty minutes earlier than anticipated. It seems that prosecutors decided against presenting another witness due to the limited time remaining in the day.

Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass informed Judge Juan M. Merchan that the prosecution's case is progressing faster than expected, and he anticipates finishing calling witnesses two weeks from Tuesday.

Upon the completion of the prosecution's case, Trump's lawyers will have the opportunity to summon their own witnesses.