Trump faces prospect of additional sanctions for violating gag order

Legal Business 2024/05/03 16:30   Bookmark and Share
Jurors in the hush money trial of Donald Trump heard a recording Thursday of him discussing with his then-lawyer and personal fixer a plan to purchase the silence of a Playboy model who has said she had an affair with the former president.

A visibly irritated Trump leaned forward at the defense table, and jurors appeared riveted as prosecutors played the September 2016 recording that attorney Michael Cohen secretly made of himself briefing his celebrity client on a plan to buy Karen McDougal’s story of an extramarital relationship.

Though the recording surfaced years ago, it is perhaps the most colorful piece of evidence presented to jurors so far to connect Trump to the hush money payments at the center of his criminal trial in Manhattan. It followed hours of testimony from a lawyer who negotiated the deal for McDougal’s silence and admitted to being stunned that his hidden-hand efforts might have contributed to Trump’s White House victory.

“What have we done?” attorney Keith Davidson texted the then-editor of the National Enquirer, which had buried stories of sexual encounters to prevent them surfacing in the final days of the bitterly contested presidential race. “Oh my god,” came the response from Dylan Howard.

“There was an understanding that our efforts may have in some way...our activities may have in some way assisted the presidential campaign of Donald Trump,” Davidson told jurors, though he acknowledged under cross-examination that he dealt directly with Cohen and never Trump.

The testimony from Davidson was designed to directly connect the hush money payments to Trump’s presidential ambitions and to bolster prosecutors’ argument that the case is about interference in the 2016 election rather than simply sex and money. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has sought to establish that link not just to secure a conviction but also to persuade the public of the significance of the case, which may be the only one of four Trump prosecutions to reach trial this year.

“This is sort of gallows humor. It was on election night as the results were coming in,” Davidson explained. “There was sort of surprise amongst the broadcasters and others that Mr. Trump was leading in the polls, and there was a growing sense that folks were about ready to call the election.”

Davidson is seen as a vital building block for the prosecution’s case that Trump and his allies schemed to bury unflattering stories in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. He represented both McDougal and porn actor Stormy Daniels in negotiations that resulted in the purchase of rights to their claims of sexual encounters with Trump and those stories getting squelched, a tabloid industry practice known as “catch-and-kill.”

Davidson is one of multiple key players testifying in advance of Cohen, the star prosecution witness who paid Daniels $130,000 for her silence and also recorded himself, weeks before the election, telling Trump about a plan to purchase the rights to McDougal’s story from the National Enquirer so it would never come out. The tabloid had previously bought McDougal’s story to bury it on Trump’s behalf.

At one point in the recording, Cohen revealed that he had spoken to then-Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg about “how to set the whole thing up with funding.” To which Trump can be heard responding: “What do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?”

Trump can be heard suggesting that the payment be made with cash, prompting Cohen to object by saying “no” multiple times. Trump can then be heard saying “check” before the recording cuts off.

Trump’s lawyers sought earlier in the day to blunt the potential harm of Davidson’s testimony by getting him to acknowledge that he never had any interactions with Trump — only Cohen. In fact, Davidson said, he had never been in the same room as Trump until his testimony.

He also said he was unfamiliar with the Trump Organization’s record-keeping practices and that any impressions he had of Trump himself came through others.
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