Trump Hush-Money Trial: Key Takeaways From Week Two of Testimony

(Bloomberg) -- The second week of testimony in Donald Trump’s hush-money criminal trial gave jurors first-hand accounts of negotiations for payments to two women and how the former president’s 2016 campaign reacted when news of their alleged affairs leaked out anyway.

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Hope Hicks, who was press secretary for Trump’s campaign and became a top White House aide, described how the campaign was disrupted by the surprise disclosures of the so-called Access Hollywood tape and news articles revealing Trump’s alleged affairs with adult-film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal.

Trump is accused of falsifying business records to conceal a sex scandal before the 2016 election.

Here are five key takeaways from the trial this week in lower Manhattan:

‘A Crisis’

Hicks, who was testifying under a subpoena from prosecutors, described on Friday how she was stunned by the October 2016 release of the Access Hollywood tape — a 2005 hot-mic recording of Trump saying he kisses women without asking and boasting that “stars” can grab women’s genitals without consent.

“This was a crisis,” Hicks said of the tape, adding that it caused an immediate uproar for the campaign and criticism from Trump’s fellow Republicans.

Prosecutors have focused in particular on the Access Hollywood tape as a key motivation for Trump to pay Daniels when she later threatened to go public with her claim about an affair with him on the eve of the election.

Hicks, who said she felt she had Trump’s trust and respect while working for him, broke down in tears at the start of cross-examination, forcing a brief recess in the proceedings. Her testimony is likely to help the government’s case against a man she appears to respect deeply.

Contempt Fine

Justice Juan Merchan on Tuesday found Trump in contempt of court and fined the former president $9,000 for repeatedly violating a gag order that bars him from publicly discussing trial witnesses or jurors. The judge warned that future breaches could result in jail time.

Prosecutors sought the penalties after Trump repeatedly took to social media to attack his former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen as well as Daniels, two of the government’s top witnesses. The former president’s lawyers argued he should be able to respond to Cohen attacking him.

The judge also is weighing whether to hold Trump in contempt for three additional statements he made after the government’s first contempt motion but before the first fine was issued.

Deal Maker

California lawyer Keith Davidson described the genesis of the hush payments to McDougal and Daniels. Davidson, who he represented both women before the 2016 election, explained how he got American Media Inc., the publisher of the National Enquirer, to pay McDougal $150,000, and convinced Cohen to pay Daniels $130,000.

Davidson recounted his frantic talks with Cohen and AMI’s then-CEO David Pecker, who testified last week. “I have a blockbuster Trump story,” Davidson said in a June 2016 text to an Enquirer editor.

Trump’s lawyer sought to portray Davidson as a sleazy lawyer employing the same playbook he’d used before to extract money from famous men seeking to avoid scandals. Much of Davidson’s testimony was backed up by extensive evidence, including text messages and emails.

Secret Recording

Jurors heard a recording Cohen secretly made in which Trump discussed financing a $150,000 payment just a few months before the 2016 election.

The recording didn’t name names, but the timing coincides with the McDougal payout arranged by Pecker, who had testified earlier about his efforts to help Trump win the election by buying and burying negative stories about the real estate mogul.

In the recording, Cohen can be heard saying he needs to set up a shell company to facilitate a payment, and mentions “David” — an apparent reference to Pecker.

“I need to open up a company regarding the transfer of information related to that info for David,” Cohen tells Trump in the recording. “It’s all the stuff, because you don’t know...I am all over that, when it comes to the financing.”

“What financing?” Trump asks.

“No, no, no I’ve got it,” Cohen assured him.

Harvey Weinstein

The disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein got a brief mention early in the week, after a New York state appeals court overturned his rape and sexual assault conviction because of evidence the panel concluded was prejudicial.

Trump attorney Todd Blanche argued the ruling means prosecutors shouldn’t be permitted to use some evidence related to the Access Hollywood tape.

Judge Merchan pushed back on Blanche’s argument, saying he would permit some testimony about the Access Hollywood tape, but not the recording itself.

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