Jurors hear tape of Trump discussing deal with Playboy model

Keith Davidson, the former lawyer for porn star Stormy Daniels, faced tough cross-examination Thursday in Donald J. Trump's criminal trial, with defense attorneys describing him as a serial blackmailer of celebrities.

Judge Juan M. Merchan also heard arguments about further violations of a gag order by Mr. Trump, just days after he held the former president in contempt and fined him $9,000 for nine other violations. Judge Merchan has threatened a prison sentence if the violations continue, but did not rule on four new charges on Thursday.

Mr. Trump, 77, is accused of forging 34 business records, including checks and invoices, to conceal a $130,000 payment to Ms. Daniels, who says she and Mr. Trump dated in 2006, when he was married , had a rendezvous.

Mr Trump, the first American president to be prosecuted, has denied allegations of a crime and having sex with Ms Daniels. If convicted, he could face probation or prison.

The case is progressing and more than half a dozen witnesses have been interviewed. Here are five takeaways from his tenth day of negotiations:

Mr. Trump said he hated the deal with Ms. Daniels.

Late Thursday afternoon, prosecutors focused on a conversation between Mr. Davidson and Michael D. Cohen, the president's former lawyer and fixer, that Mr. Cohen secretly recorded.

Prosecutors played the recording for jurors and had them hear Mr. Cohen tell Mr. Davidson that Mr. Trump hated “the fact that we did it,” referring to the hush-money payment to Ms. Daniels.

It was the first time the jury heard the voice of Mr. Cohen, who was mentioned frequently in the trial – often in unflattering terms – and is expected to be a key witness.

Mr Davidson endured vigorous cross-examination.

Before the tape was revealed, Mr. Trump's legal team aggressively attacked Mr. Davidson's credibility during cross-examination that quickly turned hostile.

Emil Bove, one of Mr. Trump's lawyers, asked Mr. Davidson about his legal niche, representing people trying to get payments from celebrities while navigating hidden Hollywood. Often Mr. Davidson would reply, “I don’t remember.”

Mr Bove confronted Mr Davidson about his “fuzzy” memory and Mr Davidson replied forcefully that his answers had been truthful.

Mr. Bove also tried to put distance between Mr. Trump and the hush money payment to Ms. Daniels by shifting the blame to Mr. Cohen. He testified that Mr. Cohen wanted a job in the Trump White House and was “desperate” when he didn't get it, adding that he had hoped for a high-level position such as attorney general.

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

The jury heard a recording of Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump's longtime fixer, during the 2016 campaign.Credit…Maansi Srivastava/The New York Times

The judge will decide on possible violations of the gag order. Again.

Before Mr. Davidson's testimony, Judge Merchan heard arguments on four other statements by Mr. Trump that prosecutors ruled out violations of his order as attacks on jurors, witnesses, prosecutors and members of the judge's family.

That includes remarks in the hallway outside the courtroom, where Mr. Trump has begun attacking the case and the Democrats he says are behind it, including Judge Merchan and Alvin L. Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney.

Prosecutors argued that Mr. Trump's comments were “corrosive” but said they were not yet seeking prison time as punishment. Mr. Trump's lawyer, Todd Blanche, countered that Mr. Trump should be allowed to respond to what he described as “political attacks.”

Trump is much calmer in court than Trump is on stage.

On Wednesday, the day of the weekly trial break, Mr. Trump railed against the judge in front of thousands of supporters. At rallies in Michigan and Wisconsin, he called Judge Merchan “crooked” and “conflicted.”

On Thursday, he sat in silence – often with his eyes closed – as prosecutors laid out possible violations of the gag order. During his argument he even avoided looking at his lawyer, Mr. Blanche.

Mr. Trump attacked the judge during his campaign on Wednesday.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

But Mr. Trump became more animated as he commented on President Biden's recent jibes, made during his speech at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, that Mr. Trump had experienced “stormy weather.”

Trump threw up his hands in annoyance when the judge suggested that Mr. Trump was free to respond to President Biden without mentioning a woman who was a potential witness.

We continue.

Prosecutors also called Douglas Daus, a senior forensic analyst with the Manhattan district attorney's office, who testified about the authenticity of phone records and recordings. That included one in which Trump and Cohen discussed a hush-money deal for Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who was trying to sell a story about an affair with Mr. Trump.

The third week of the trial, which continues to attract large numbers of journalists and citizens, ends on Friday.

After this shortened three-day week, the trial will resume its regular four-day schedule while prosecutors work on their case. The list of potential witnesses includes several big names, including Ms. Daniels, Mr. Cohen and Hope Hicks, Mr. Trump's former spokeswoman.

Anna Harden

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