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A ‘catch-and-kill’ scheme and Trump’s pyjamas: key moments from the hush-money trial | Donald Trump trials

A ‘catch-and-kill’ scheme and Trump’s pyjamas: key moments from the hush-money trial | Donald Trump trials
A ‘catch-and-kill’ scheme and Trump’s pyjamas: key moments from the hush-money trial | Donald Trump trials

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  • 1. ‘Just take care of it’: Michael Cohen says Trump ordered him to bury Stormy Daniels story

    Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former fixer and lawyer, who once said he would “take a bullet” for his boss, spent four days on the stand in the Manhattan courtroom delivering damning testimony that placed Trump directly at the center of the alleged scheme to suppress stories about alleged sexual encounters before the 2016 presidential election.

    Cohen is central to the case against the former president, as he testified that before the election, Trump had directly instructed him to pay Daniels to buy her silence, and personally signed checks that reimbursed him for the $130,000 hush-money payment.

    “Just take care of it,” Cohen recalled Trump telling him. Cohen told jurors that he got the money to Daniels “to ensure that the story would not come out, would not affect Mr Trump’s chances of becoming president of the United States”, and that Trump told him to “push it out as long as you can, past the election, because if I win, I’ll be president, and if I lose, I won’t really care”.

    When Daniels threatened to go public if she didn’t get paid, Cohen finally paid her himself. Cohen told jurors that repayments began shortly after a February 2017 Oval Office meeting at the White House, in which Trump told him “make sure you deal with Allen [Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer at the time]”. Asked if he would have paid Daniels without getting a sign-off from Trump, Cohen responded: “No, because everything required Mr Trump’s sign-off, and on top of that, I wanted the money back.”

    During cross-examination, Trump’s lawyers poked holes in Cohen’s testimony about an October 2016 call he placed to Trump’s longtime bodyguard Keith Schiller, who Cohen said had then passed the phone to Trump to “discuss the Stormy Daniels matter and the resolution of it”.

    “That’s a lie,” Todd Blanche yelled at Cohen, pointing to a text in which Cohen sent Schiller the number of a 14-year-old who kept prank-calling him. Who the jury believed could hhave been a major factor in this case’s result.


  • 2. David Pecker and the seedy world of ‘catch-and-kill’ stories

    David Pecker, the former CEO of American Media Inc (AMI), and publisher of the National Enquirer, provided jurors with a granular look into the practice of buying the rights to potentially damaging stories about Trump and then never publishing them, a practice known as “catch and kill”.

    Pecker told the court how he ran negative stories about Trump rivals and said he promised in a meeting with Trump and Cohen to be the “eyes and ears” of the 2016 presidential campaign. Pecker was instrumental in coordinating three hush-money payments that were made during the 2016 election campaign: $30,000 to a former Trump Tower doorman who claimed Trump had a child out of wedlock; $150,000 to the former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who said she had a 10-month affair with Trump in 2006; and $130,000 to Stormy Daniels.

    Pecker testified that he worked with the former National Enquirer editor-in-chief Dylan Howard and Cohen to facilitate the payment to McDougal.

    “We didn’t want this story to embarrass Mr Trump or embarrass or hurt the campaign,” Pecker said, referring to himself and Cohen. The ex-publisher said he was nervous about the amount AMI was paying to McDougal, but that Cohen told him Trump would take care of it, reiterating: “Don’t worry, I’m your friend. The boss will take care of it.”

    Pecker later declined to help Trump pay off Daniels. He said he never met or spoke with Daniels, but that he told Howard he didn’t want the Enquirer “to be associated with a porn star”. “If anyone was going to buy it, I think Michael Cohen and Donald Trump should buy it,” Pecker recalled telling Howard.


  • 3. Stormy gets a little too detailed

    Stormy Daniels, the adult film actor at the center of Trump’s criminal trial, took the stand in a long-awaited showdown with the former president and detailed an alleged encounter with him about 18 years ago.

    Daniels, who met Trump at a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe, said she went to his hotel room believing that they would be getting dinner after meeting there. When she arrived at his penthouse Trump was “wearing silk or satin pyjamas”, she said, recalling that she joked “does [the late Playboy founder, Hugh] Hefner know you stole his pyjamas?”

    During their conversation, Trump repeatedly grilled Daniels on her time in the adult industry, including: “What about testing? Do you worry about STDs?” She said there was a very brief discussion of Melania, Trump’s wife, and that at one point Trump appeared to compare Daniels to his daughter Ivanka.

    “You remind me of my daughter, she is smart and blond and beautiful and people underestimate her as well,” Daniels recalled Trump saying.

    Daniels testified that while she was using the restroom, Trump came into the bedroom area of the suite, and was on the bed in his boxers and a T-shirt.

    “At first I was just startled, like a jump scare,” Daniels told jurors. “I just thought: oh, my God, what did I misread to get here? The intention is pretty clear if someone’s stripped down to their underwear and on the bed.”

    She tried to extract herself from the situation, but Trump stood between her and the door – but, she insisted, “not in a threatening manner”.

    “The next thing I know was: I was on the bed” and they were having sex, Daniels testified. The scant details that followed prompted a flurry of defense objections and at times during Daniels’ testimony Trump could be seen shaking his head.

    Under cross-examination, Trump’s lawyers attempted to discredit Daniels by painting her as someone who had “a lot of experience in making phoney stories about sex appear to be real”.

    “The sex in the films is very much real,” Daniels snapped back. “Just like what happened to me in that room.”


  • 4. Hope Hicks: Access Hollywood tape ‘a crisis’ for Trump campaign

    Hope Hicks, Trump’s former campaign press secretary and White House spokesperson, testified about the panic that set in within the campaign in early October 2016 when the infamous Access Hollywood recording emerged of Trump boasting about groping women without their consent.

    “It was a damaging development,” she said. “[The] consensus among us that this was damaging – this was a crisis.”

    Hicks cut a skittish figure in the courtroom – at one point bursting into tears – as she placed her former boss at the center of his campaign media strategy, telling jurors “we were all just following his lead”. Her testimony marked a turning point for prosecutors, as she was the first Trump staffer with intimate knowledge of Trump’s campaign to testify about his alleged misconduct.

    Hicks’s testimony also helped bolster prosecutors’ argument that Trump was the source of the $130,000 paid to Stormy Daniels, as she recalled Trump telling her that Michael Cohen had simply paid Daniels to keep the story quiet “from the kindness of his own heart”.

    “That would be out of character for Michael,” Hicks acknowledged. “I didn’t know him to be an especially selfless person. He was the kind of person to seek credit.”


  • 5. Trump opts not to take the stand

    Trump had previously indicated that he would “absolutely” take the stand and testify in his own criminal case.

    “All I can do is tell the truth,” he told reporters on the eve of his trial. In the end, his defense team rested on Tuesday without having him testify.

    Legal experts widely suggested that Trump testifying would almost certainly be a mistake, given his track record of making self-incriminating comments. After weeks of railing against the case on his Truth Social and campaign website, the former president was held in contempt and fined $10,000 for 10 violations of a gag order that the presiding judge, Juan Merchan, imposed during the trial. Merchan repeatedly warned Trump that he could face jail time for further violations of the gag order, which prohibited the former president from making public statements about jurors, trial witnesses or other people involved in the case.

    Trump had falsely claimed he was not allowed to testify because of the gag order. In fact, Merchan’s order did not in any way stop Trump from testifying. Trump later claimed he did not take the stand because the judge “made rulings that make it very difficult to testify”.

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