Key takeaways from the second week of testimony in Trump’s hush money trial

While Michael Cohen isn’t on the witness stand yet, Mr Trump’s former ‘fixer’ is still the star of the show

Related video: Michael Cohen claims Trump told him ‘I hate that we did that’ about Stormy Daniels payment

Former President Donald Trump was back in court this week for three days of testimony in his hush money trial in which he stands accused of election interference by paying adult film star Stormy Daniels to remain quiet about an alleged affair.

Mr Trump faces 34 counts of falsifying business records, which becomes a felony when it’s done in furtherance of another crime – that being the election interference, according to the prosecution.

While Michael Cohen isn’t on the witness stand yet, he’s still the star of the show. The man who arranged the payment to Ms Daniels and negotiated a tentative deal for former Playboy model Karen McDougal is on the lips of nearly every witness, we see his texts and emails to multiple witnesses, and we even hear his voice on secretly recorded audio collected from his phones. He will soon be a central witness.

Here are the key takeaways from the second week of testimony in Mr Trump’s hush money trial:

Day five

Day five of testimony in the Trump trial began on Tuesday morning, with Mr Trump being hit with a $9,000 gag order fine and being granted his request to attend his son Barron’s graduation all before a witness even took the stand.

Jurors then heard from multiple witnesses with a brief stint from Michael Cohen’s banker Gary Farro and attorney Keith Davidson, who previously represented Ms Daniels and Ms McDougal – the two women who allegedly had affairs with Mr Trump.

Trump can attend Barron’s graduation

The first order of business was an announcement by Judge Juan Merchan that, given how jury selection was completed in a week and the trial is moving forward at a good pace, Mr Trump will be allowed to attend his son Barron’s graduation from high school on 17 May.

Gag order ruling and threat of jail

Any good feeling was soon dispelled when Judge Merchan issued his ruling on Mr Trump’s violation of the gag order imposed on him to protect witnesses, jurors, court staff, and their families.

Last week, prosecutors cited 10 violations made by Mr Trump, with the judge agreeing with nine of the occurrences.

As a result, the judge fined the former president $1,000 for each incident and ordered him to remove the offending Truth Social posts and campaign messages by the lunch break at trial. The posts were taken down with minutes to spare.

In his written ruling, Judge Merchan recognised that for Mr Trump the $9,000 was a small punishment given his wealth and warned that Mr Trump could face an “incarceratory punishment” if he continues his “wilful violations” of the court’s order, if “necessary and appropriate under the circumstances”.

Donald Trump speaks to reporters at the end of the day of his criminal trial on 2 May
Donald Trump speaks to reporters at the end of the day of his criminal trial on 2 May (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

‘A blockbuster Trump story’

The day’s key witness was Mr Davidson, who previously represented both Ms McDougal and Ms Daniels during negotiations for payments to keep their respective stories about alleged affairs with Mr Trump quiet during the 2016 election.

Mr Davidson first represented Ms McDougal and, in a series of text messages with then-National Enquirer editor Dylan Howard shown to the court, brokered a deal with publisher David Pecker to buy the rights to her story for $150,000 and a series of magazine columns.

“I have a blockbuster trump [sic] story,” Mr Davidson wrote to Mr Howard on 7 June 2016, according to messages shown in court.

“It was sort of an entree or a teaser to Dylan to let him know perhaps I had an opportunity for him,” Mr Davidson testified on Tuesday. “Regarding the interaction between Karen McDougal and Donald Trump.”

Mr Howard promised to “talk 1st thing”.

“I will get you more than ANYONE for it,” Mr Howard wrote, according to messages shown in court. “You know why…”

“I don’t know if I had a clear understanding at that time but I knew Dylan’s boss David Pecker and Mr Trump were longtime friends,” Mr Davidson told the court about what he thought that meant.

A contract was signed in August 2016 for the rights to Ms McDougal’s story.

How the Access Hollywood tape fuelled Trump’s campaign to bury Stormy Daniels’ allegations

While Mr Trump’s campaign was spiralling after a leaked tape caught him bragging about sexually assaulting women, an attorney and tabloid editor brokering deals to keep damaging stories about him out of the press thought his chances of winning the 2016 presidential election were over, his hush money trial heard on Tuesday.

Mr Davidson testified that interest in his client’s story “reached a crescendo” after the 2005 Access Hollywood tape leaked just weeks before Election Day in 2016.

That deal is at the heart of the hush money case against the former president, who is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records in an alleged effort to cover up his reimbursements to Cohen as “legal expenses.”

Mr Davidson spent the morning testifying about a separate scheme involving Ms McDougal, whose story of an alleged affair with Mr Trump was buried by the publisher of the National Enquirer for $150,000.

Then the Access Hollywood tape happened.

Manhattan prosecutors have built their case on the story of a candidate desperate to keep his election chances afloat while his campaign was in “damage control mode” after the tape’s release.

Mr Davidson discussed the tape with Mr Howard, who fed potentially damaging allegations about Mr Trump to Mr Pecker as part of a secret “catch and kill” scheme to purchase the rights to those stories without any intention of publishing them.

Day six

Bombshell audio captures Trump and Cohen discussing hush money ‘catch and kill’ plot

For the first time in Mr Trump’s hush money trial, jurors heard the former president’s own voice discussing a deal with his former attorney to buy the silence of Ms McDougal.

A portion of the recording – secretly recorded by Cohen while Mr Trump was in the middle of his 2016 campaign for the presidency – was played inside a Manhattan courtroom on Thursday, giving the jury a brief but crucial look into how his “fixer” kept his boss up to date with a scheme that is now central to the criminal case against him.

“I need to open up a company for the transfer of all that info regarding our friend, David, you know, so that – I’m going to do that right away,” Cohen can be heard saying on the recording.

“And I’ve spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up,” Cohen says, referencing the now-convicted former chief financial officer for the Trump Organization.

Trump and Cohen discuss hush money ‘catch and kill’ plot

“So, what do we got to pay for this?” Mr Trump can be heard saying. “150?”

That “David” appears to be Mr Pecker, the former National Enquirer publisher.

In his trial testimony, Mr Pecker admitted to an agreement with Cohen and Mr Trump in August 2015 to buy the rights to politically compromising stories about Mr Trump’s affairs.

Two months before Election Day, under Cohen’s direction, Mr Pecker arranged the payment of $150,000 to Ms McDougal.

Mr Pecker was never reimbursed, he told the court.

In his testimony last week, he explained that he entered the contract to buy the rights to her allegations to boost Mr Trump’s chances of winning the 2016 election.

On the recording, Cohen can be heard saying: “We’ll have to pay him something.”

Mr Trump suggests paying in “cash.”

Cohen objects, repeatedly saying “no,” and then, “I got it.”

Mr Trump then says “check.”

In court, Mr Trump hunched over and squinted at the small screen in front of him on the defence table, whispering to his defence attorney Todd Blanche as he read a transcript of the recording.

Trump fawns over his own ‘beautiful blue eyes’ as he denies falling asleep at trial

Mr Trump hit back at reports that he has dozed off during his high-profile criminal trial in New York, claiming that at times he simply closes his “beautiful blue eyes”.

The former president insisted that, while his eyes may be closed on occasion, he is listening “intensely” and taking it “ALL in!” in a self-complimentary social media post on Truth Social on Wednesday.

It comes following several reports from journalists inside the courtroom, including a reporter from The Independent, present throughout proceedings, that Mr Trump fell asleep during the first day of his historic trial in Manhattan.

The alleged slumber was also captured in a court sketch of the weary former president, which showed him with his eyes closed and his head tilted to the side.

“Contrary to the FAKE NEWS MEDIA, I don’t fall asleep during the Crooked DA’s Witch Hunt, especially not today. I simply close my beautiful blue eyes, sometimes, listen intensely, and take it ALL in!!!” Mr Trump wrote on 2 May.

His furious denial echoes that of his campaign, who previously blasted the claims in a statement to The Independent as “100% Fake News coming from ‘journalists’ who weren’t even in the courtroom.”

Stormy Daniels’ lawyer thought Michael Cohen ‘was going to kill himself’ when Trump didn’t give him White House role

Keith Davidson thought Mr Trump’s then-attorney was going to “kill himself” after learning he had been left out of a job in the White House after the 2016 presidential election.

In his second day of testimony on Thursday, Mr Davidson told jurors that Cohen was distraught by mid-December 2016.

“I thought he was going to kill himself,” Mr Davidson said.

Earlier, Mr Davidson told the court that Cohen had voiced disbelief that Mr Trump was not offering him a role in his administration after he allegedly helped him win the election by suppressing negative stories about his alleged affairs with women.

“Jesus Christ, can you believe I’m not going to Washington?” Mr Davidson recalled Cohen saying.

“I’ve saved that guy’s ass so many times you don’t even know. That guy’s not even paying the $130,000 back.”

Mr Davidson testified that Cohen had believed he would be in the running to serve as Mr Trump’s White House chief of staff or US attorney general.

Trump blames Cohen for breaking gag order as judge fires back at jury comments

The judge presiding over the trial fired back at his attorney’s attempts to dodge punishment for his comments about the jury – remarks that appear likely to violate a gag order that blocks him from public attacks on witnesses and jurors.

In a contempt hearing on Thursday morning, the former president’s legal team tried to blame at least some of Mr Trump’s potential violations on Cohen, arguing his former attorney and the potential star witness in the case has made “multiple and repeated attacks” on his “credibility” and campaign.

Pulling up several social media posts from Cohen, Mr Trump’s attorney argued that he is “inviting and almost daring Trump to respond to everything he’s saying”.

Trump backtracks on false claim about gag order

Throughout the hearing, New York Justice Juan Merchan appeared unconvinced by the defence’s arguments and grew increasingly frustrated with Mr Trump’s attorney Todd Blanche.

At one point, when Mr Blanche claimed that the trial was “political persecution” and a “political trial” in a “jurisdiction” that is politically biased against the former president, Judge Merchan cut him off.

“Did he violate the gag order? That’s what I want to know,” he said. “He spoke about the jury, right? And he said the jury was 95 per cent Democrats and the jury had been rushed through, and the implication that this was not a fair jury?”

Stormy Daniels’ disgraced ex-attorney Michael Avenatti fires back at Trump trial testimony from prison cell

Ms Daniels’ disgraced former attorney Michael Avenatti fired back at testimony from Mr Davidson in the hush money trial of former President Donald Trump.

On Thursday, the Trump legal team brought up an April 2018 conversation between Mr Davidson and Cohen regarding a CNN interview in which he said that he didn’t give any indication that the money was coming from Mr Trump.

On a recording of the conversation, Mr Davidson says he was asked whether “Cohen needed authority from Donald Trump to make that payment and I said no, it was never discussed”.

Mr Davidson said it was “about completing a deal between two consenting adults, or that my client wanted and that his entity wanted [it]. That’s it”.

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass noted that at the time of that April 2018 conversation with Cohen, Ms Daniels was being represented by Avenatti – who was suing both of them.

Mr Davidson said on Thursday that Avenatti was trying to drive a wedge between him and Ms Daniels.

“Keith Davidson is lying,” Avenatti wrote on X on Thursday. “After I confronted her [with] her own text [messages], Daniels admitted to me in early 2019 that she [and] Davidson had extorted Trump in [October] 2016 – it was a shakedown. This was one of the many reasons I fired her as a client in [February] 2019.”

Avenatti has said he has been in contact with Mr Trump’s legal team and is willing to testify. He’s currently serving a prison sentence for attempting to extort Nike and for embezzling settlement funds from several other clients.

Mr Trump told Cohen: ‘I hate that fact that we did it’

Manhattan prosecutors played a tape of a call between Mr Davidson and Cohen on Thursday.

Cohen said, “What would you do if you were me? … Would you write a book? … Would you break away from the entire Trump, you know, we’ll call it, doctrine? Would you go completely rogue? … Any thoughts? Because it’s not just me that’s being affected.

The former Trump lawyer continued, “It’s my entire family. … Nobody’s thinking about Michael. Know what I’m saying? … I’m saying to myself, What about me? What about me?”

Then, in a shocking moment, Cohen said, “I can’t even tell you how many times he said to me, ‘I hate that fact that we did it.’”

In the tape, Cohen then said, “And my comment to him was, ‘But every person you spoke to said it was the right thing to do.’”

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass clarified who Cohen was referring to; Mr Davidson said he believed Cohen was referring to Mr Trump.

Mr Davison also clarified that the “right move” meant the settlement with Daniels.

Michael Cohen claims Trump told him 'I hate that we did that' about Stormy Daniels payment

Day seven

Hope Hicks cries recalling what Trump said about Michael Cohen’s payment to Stormy Daniels

A former aide and press secretary to Mr Trump, Hope Hicks, testified on Friday.

Ms Hicks was a crucial part of the 2016 Trump campaign and allegedly part of at least 10 telephone conversations with Mr Trump and Cohen regarding the hush money payments and alleged reimbursements.

Her testimony covered the impact on the campaign of the Access Hollywood tape and news of the McDougal affair.

She said Mr Trump told her that Cohen made the Daniels transaction because “Michael felt like it was his job to protect him” and that “he did it in the kindness of his own heart and he didn’t tell anyone about it.”

She was asked if the idea that Cohen would’ve made a $130,00 payment out of the kindness of his own heart was consistent with what she knew about him.

“I’d say that would be out of character for Michael,” she responded. “I didn’t know Michael to be an especially charitable person or a selfless person. The kind of person who seeks credit.”

Hicks reacts to Access Hollywood tape

Ms Hicks says she found out about the Access Hollywood tape on the afternoon of 7 October 2016 after she “received an email from The Washington Post asking for comment” while she was in her office on the 14th floor of Trump Tower.

“I was concerned. Very concerned. Um… yeah. I was concerned about the contents of the email, concerned about the lack of time to respond, concerned that we had a transcript and not a tape. There was a lot at play,” she said.

She went to a conference room where Trump and others were doing debate prep and motioned for other aides to come over.

“The sight of the five or six of us gathered out there was a sign that something was afoot. Trump called us in at some point and told us to share what was happening,” she added.

“I shared the email with Mr Trump sort of verbally and we were at the time … trying to get a copy of the audio of the tape, to assess the situation further, and we weren’t sure how to respond yet.”

Trump said, “That didn’t sound like something he would say.”

He saw the tape within a matter of minutes after it was live.

Ms Hicks said she was “Just… a little stunned,” by the tape.

“Just… yeah, it’s hard to describe. It was definitely concerning. And I had a good sense that this was going to be a massive story and sort of dominate the news cycle for the next several days, at least,” she added.

“Obviously it wasn’t helpful ...There were a lot of layers to it, for where we were trying to go with the campaign and this was kind of pulling us backwards. And it was going to be difficult to overcome,” she said.

How was the discussion with Trump about how the campaign would respond?

“I don’t really have a strong recollection of that conversation,” but Trump said it was “two guys, discussing privately, locker room talk.”

“I think he felt like it was pretty standard stuff for two guys, you know, chatting with each other.”

They acknowledged that it was “not good,” she said.

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