The Latest | Ex-tabloid publisher is a vivid narrator in Trump's hush money trial

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump returned to court Thursday for the third day of witness testimony in his hush money trial.

The trial resumed around the same time the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Washington over whether he should be immune from prosecution for actions he took during his time as president.

At his trial in Manhattan, veteran tabloid publisher David Pecker took the stand again Thursday after testifying previously about his longtime friendship with the former president and a pledge he made to be the “eyes and ears” of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

The testimony was sought to bolster prosecutors’ premise that Trump sought to illegally influence the 2016 election through a “catch−and−kill” strategy to buy up and then spike negative stories. Key to that premise are so−called hush money payments that were paid to porn actor Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, along with the doorman.

Prosecutors say Trump obscured the true nature of those payments and falsely recorded them as legal expenses. He has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.

The case is the first−ever criminal trial of a former U.S. president and the first of four prosecutions of Trump to reach a jury.

Currently:

— No one is above the law. Supreme Court will decide if that includes Trump while he was president

— The National Enquirer was the go−to tabloid for many years. Trump helped change that

— Investigator says Trump, allies were uncharged co−conspirators in plot to overturn Michigan election

— Trump trial highlights: David Pecker testifies on ‘catch−and−kill’ scheme

— Key players: Who’s who at Donald Trump’s hush money criminal trial

— The hush money case is just one of Trump’s legal cases. See the others here

Here’s the latest:

FORMER TABLOID PUBLISHER IS VIVID NARRATOR

The silver−haired, mustachioed former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker appeared at ease on his third day on the witness stand Thursday at Donald Trump’s hush money trial, calmly bringing to life the machinations he says were involved in identifying and burying stories on Trump’s behalf.

He vividly recounted conversations he says he had with Trump and the former president’s onetime lawyer and henchman Michael Cohen. He recalled meetings at Trump Tower and a dinner at the White House.

He shed light on the inner workings of the Enquirer and the supermarket tabloid industry — and its use of “checkbook journalism” and “catch−and−kill” tactics — and the frantic race to pay off porn actor Stormy Daniels after the release of Trump’s infamous “Access Hollywood” tape.

Many of the details were previously known, but they’d been relegated to court papers and news articles. At Trump’s trial they have a narrator — a grandfatherly figure who made his living in the world of celebrity gossip.

The ex−publisher divided his focus between the jury and the prosecutor questioning him. Jurors looked on, often with rapt attention.

PECKER IS BACK ON THE WITNESS STAND

David Pecker, the former publisher of the National Enquirer, did not look at Donald Trump while walking by him on his way back to the witness stand at the former president’s hush money trial Thursday in New York.

Pecker testified that Trump invited him to a White House dinner in July 2017 to thank him for helping the campaign — and asked for an update on former Playboy model Karen McDougal. The Enquirer had paid McDougal for the rights to her story claiming an affair with Trump and then kept it under wraps, Pecker testified earlier.

Trump was furious when McDougal gave an interview to CNN’s Anderson Cooper in March 2018, Pecker testified.

“I thought you had and we had an agreement with Karen McDougal that she can’t give any interviews or be on any TV channels,” Pecker testified that Trump told him by phone.

He said he explained to Trump that the agreement had been changed to allow her to speak to the press after a 2016 Wall Street Journal article about his tabloid’s $150,000 payout to McDougal.

“Mr. Trump got very aggravated when he heard that I amended it, and he couldn’t understand why,” Pecker told jurors.

JUDGE SETS STAGE FOR ARGUMENTS ON CONTEMPT

Donald Trump waved his fist as he returned to the courtroom after a lunch break in his hush money trial in New York.

He did not respond to a shouted question about the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard arguments earlier Thursday in his bid to avoid prosecution over his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss.

Meanwhile, the judge in the New York case signed an order setting in motion arguments, not necessarily immediately, over prosecutors’ request earlier in the day for more contempt findings against Trump.

Prosecutors had already asked the judge to fine Trump over 10 social media posts they say violate a gag order that bars him from making public statements about witnesses and jurors.

Thursday morning, they flagged four additional episodes, including comments at a press event earlier in the day about key witness David Pecker.

PECKER RECALLS MEETING WITH TRUMP BEFORE INAUGURATION

Former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker recalled Thursday a meeting with Donald Trump on Jan. 6, 2017, about two weeks before his inauguration, at which they discussed former Playboy model Karen McDougal.

The testimony came in Trump’s hush money trial in New York shortly before the court broke for lunch.

As Pecker recalled it, Trump introduced him to a group of top aides as the National Enquirer owner and joked: “He probably knows more than anyone in this room.”

After dismissing the aides, Trump asked Pecker for an update on “our girl,” meaning McDougal, according to Pecker. The Enquirer had paid McDougal for the rights to her story claiming an affair with Trump, Pecker testified earlier.

Pecker said he reassured Trump that McDougal was keeping quiet, and Trump thanked him for handling the matters with McDougal and Dino Sajudin, the former doorman at one of Trump’s buildings who was also paid for his claims.

“He said that the stories were very embarrassing,” Pecker recalled.

EX−PUBLISHER RECALLS TRUMP AS ‘VERY UPSET’

Former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker recalled an irate Donald Trump calling him a day after The Wall Street Journal published an article shortly before the 2016 election.

Pecker’s testimony came in his third day on the stand in Trump’s hush money trial in New York, and as arguments at the Supreme Court in Washington in a separate case over Trump’s presidential immunity were concluding.

The Journal article broke the news of the Enquirer’s $150,000 payment to Karen McDougal for the rights to the former Playboy model’s story claiming an affair with Trump.

“Donald Trump was very upset, saying, ‘How could this happen? I thought you had this under control. Either you or one of your people leaked the story,’” Pecker testified.

He said he told Trump that perhaps McDougal or someone connected with her had tipped off the Journal.

“Our call ended very abruptly. He didn’t say goodbye, which was very unusual,” Pecker testified.

Pecker testified that Enquirer owner American Media’s response to the Journal that the company had “not paid people to kill damaging stories about Mr. Trump” was a lie.

“I wanted to protect my company, I wanted to protect myself, and I wanted also to protect Donald Trump,” Pecker explained on the witness stand.

The court broke for lunch shortly afterward. Trump left the courtroom without addressing reporters in the hallway.

TESTIMONY TURNS TO STORMY DANIELS

Former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker was asked by a prosecutor Thursday in Donald Trump’s hush money trial in New York about porn actor Stormy Daniels and her claim of a 2006 sexual encounter with Trump. The former president denies it happened.

On the stand, Pecker recalled the night after the public learned of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump discussed grabbing women sexually without asking permission, when the Enquirer’s editor at the time called with an urgent matter.

The editor said he had heard from Daniels’ representatives that she was trying to sell her story and that the tabloid could acquire it for $120,000 if it decided right away, Pecker told jurors.

Pecker said he put his foot down, noting to the editor that the magazine was already $180,000 in the hole for Trump−related catch−and−kill transactions.

“I said we already paid $30,000 to the doorman, we already paid $150,000 to Karen McDougal,” Pecker recalled. “I am not a bank and we are not paying out any further disbursements or monies.”

At the same time, Pecker said, he told former Trump lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen that he should buy the story and “take it off the market” to avoid it getting out.

A DISPUTE OVER EXHIBITS

While jurors were on a break Thursday in Donald Trump’s hush money trial in New York, both sides debated disputed exhibits that prosecutors want jurors to see.

Some of the disputed evidence, which the judge is keeping out of the trial for now, involved text messages then−National Enquirer editor Dylan Howard exchanged with a relative around the time of Trump’s 2016 election.

“At least if he wins, I’ll be pardoned for electoral fraud,” Howard said in one of the messages, which was read aloud in court by a prosecutor.

In another message, Howard informed his relative that Trump has “just been named president elect.”

The relative’s response — “Oh dear” — elicited laughter from the gallery when it was read in the courtroom.

The messages were not shown in court.

Trump’s lawyers argued the messages were hearsay, not business records, and couldn’t be used as evidence.

The jury then returned to hear more from former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker.

A SPLIT−SCREEN MOMENT FOR NEWS OUTLETS

Former President Trump’s hush money trial in New York and his lawyers’ arguments about presidential immunity before the U.S. Supreme Court provided news outlets with an extraordinary split−screen moment Thursday.

“To put it plainly, there is a lot going on,” said MSNBC’s Jose Diaz−Balart shortly before the Supreme Court arguments started.

MSNBC, Newsmax and NewsNation concentrated fully on the Supreme Court arguments as they were taking place. As they began, Fox News Channel covered them with a small box on its screen giving a live view outside the Manhattan courtroom where Trump was on trial, but it quickly dropped the box.

CNN tried to capture both, its audio carrying the Supreme Court arguments, while a live written blog with details of what was going on in the New York trial took up about one−third of its screen.

The New York Times’ website carried live blogs of both trials side by side under the headline, “Keeping track of Trump’s legal woes.” News sites for both The Washington Post and The Associated Press also had two live blogs but gave the Supreme Court case more prominence than the hush money trial.

Trump left the New York courtroom after a break from the morning’s testimony, giving a thumbs up to reporters who shouted questions, but he didn’t say anything.

PECKER SAYS HE BELIEVES TRUMP KNEW ABOUT MCDOUGAL CONTRACT

Former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker testified Thursday at Donald Trump’s hush money trial in New York that he believes Trump was aware of a contract with Karen McDougal as she sought to sell her story about claims of an affair.

Asked by a prosecutor whether he knew if anyone other than former Trump lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen was aware of the Enquirer’s contract with McDougal, Pecker said: “I believe that Donald Trump did.”

Pecker testified he was leery of paying McDougal on Trump’s behalf because of trouble he ran into with an earlier arrangement benefiting Arnold Schwarzenegger during the movie star’s run for California governor in 2003.

McDougal’s contract gave American Media Inc., which owned the Enquirer and several fitness magazines, exclusive rights to her story on any relationship with a married man. Pecker said that clause was specifically about Trump.

Based on his experience with Schwarzenegger, Pecker said he “wanted to be comfortable that the agreement that we were going to prepare for Karen McDougal met all the obligations with respect to a campaign contribution.”

But he said the real purpose of the deal was to keep McDougal’s story from becoming public and potentially influencing the 2016 presidential election.

TRUMP LISTENS INTENTLY AS PECKER TESTIFIES

Former President Donald Trump listened intently Thursday at his hush money trial as longtime friend David Pecker testified in detail about the National Enquirer’s efforts to buy and kill unflattering stories related both to Trump and other celebrities.

He passed along notes to the two attorneys on either side of him.

Pecker testified that Karen McDougal demanded $150,000 — plus writing assignments and other business opportunities — for the rights to her story about claims of an affair with Trump. But according to Pecker, it wasn’t clear who was going to pay for it.

Pecker said Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, initially asked him to front the costs: “I said, ‘Michael, why should I pay? I just paid $30,000 for the doorman story. Now you’re asking me to pay $150,000 for the Karen story, plus all of these other additional items that she wants to do.’”

When asked how he would be reimbursed, Pecker said, Cohen assured him: “Don’t worry about it. I’m your friend. The boss will take care of it.”

EX−PUBLISHER SAYS HE BELIEVED MCDOUGAL AFFAIR STORY WAS TRUE

Former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker took the stand Thursday in Donald Trump’s hush money trial in New York and recalled receiving a telephone call from Trump during the tabloid’s pursuit of former Playboy model Karen McDougal’s claims of an extramarital affair.

“When I got on the phone, Mr. Trump said to me, ‘Karen is a nice girl. Is it true that a Mexican group is looking to buy her story for $8 million?’" Pecker said. “I said, ‘I absolutely don’t believe there’s a Mexican group out there looking to buy her story for $8 million.’”

Trump then asked Pecker what he should do, the ex−publisher said. Pecker testified that he told Trump, “I think you should buy the story” and keep it quiet.

“I believed the story was true,” Pecker explained. “I thought it would be very embarrassing to himself and to his campaign.”

PROSECUTORS FLAG TRUMP’S RECENT REMARKS

Prosecutors asked the judge Thursday as former President Donald Trump’s hush money trial resumed to consider whether he violated a gag order four more times with remarks he made outside court this week.

Among others, prosecutor Christopher Conroy flagged comments that Trump made just Thursday morning at an early−morning press event about David Pecker. Pecker, the former National Enquirer publisher who has been testifying as a prosecution witness, returned to the stand Thursday.

Trump had said Pecker has “been very nice,” which Conroy characterized as “a message to Pecker: Be nice." He argued that it’s also a message to other potential witnesses that Trump has a platform and will use it to attack them if they aren’t kind to him.

The judge hasn’t immediately ruled on Conroy’s request to hold Trump in contempt and levy “appropriate sanctions.”

TRUMP ARRIVES AT COURTHOUSE

Donald Trump’s motorcade arrived at the courthouse in lower Manhattan as his criminal hush money trial readied to resume Thursday.

After a morning campaign event in midtown, the former president returned to Trump Tower, then left again in the motorcade.

Addressing reporters in the hallway before court resumed, Trump began by speaking not about the trial, but instead the economy, griping about gas prices and the latest economic numbers.

He again addressed the Supreme Court, which is hearing oral arguments Thursday on whether he’s immune from prosecution in a case charging him with plotting to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

“I would have loved to have been there,” Trump said.

TRUMP: ‘NO IDEA’ IF I’D PAY A CONTEMPT FINE

Donald Trump, visiting construction workers for a campaign stop Thursday before heading to court in his criminal hush money case, was dismissive when asked about prosecutors’ push for the judge to hold him in contempt of violating a gag order because of his social media posts.

“Oh, I have no idea,” Trump said when asked whether he would pay the $1,000 fine for each of 10 posts. He then said, “They’ve taken my constitutional right away with a gag order.”

Trump also briefly remarked on his friendship with tabloid publisher David Pecker, who began testimony Tuesday and is expected to retake the stand again Thursday.

Trump was asked by reporters what he thought of the testimony and when he last spoke to Pecker, the former publisher of the National Enquirer, and Trump responded by saying, “David’s been very nice, a nice guy.”

TRUMP ADDRESSES SUPREME COURT ARGUMENTS DURING A CAMPAIGN STOP

Donald Trump addressed Thursday’s Supreme Court arguments from New York, where he was visiting construction workers for a campaign stop before heading to court in his criminal hush money case.

“A president has to have immunity,” he told reporters as a crowd cheered behind him. If you don’t have immunity, you just have a ceremonial president.”

He again complained that the judge in his case in New York wouldn’t excuse him from court to attend the Supreme Court arguments in person. Criminal defendants are expected to appear in court every day during their trials.

A QUICK REMINDER OF THE ALLEGATIONS AT THE HEART OF THIS CASE

Donald Trump is accused of falsifying internal Trump Organization records as part of a scheme to bury damaging stories that he feared could hurt his 2016 campaign, particularly as Trump’s reputation was suffering at the time from comments he had made about women.

The allegations focus on payoffs to two women, porn actor Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, who said they had extramarital sexual encounters with Trump years earlier, as well as to a Trump Tower doorman who claimed to have a story about a child he alleged Trump had out of wedlock. Trump says none of these supposed sexual encounters occurred.

Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, paid Daniels $130,000 and arranged for the publisher of the National Enquirer supermarket tabloid to pay McDougal $150,000 in a journalistically dubious practice known as “catch−and−kill” in which a publication pays for exclusive rights to someone’s story with no intention of publishing it, either as a favor to a celebrity subject or to gain leverage over the person.

Prosecutors say Trump’s company reimbursed Cohen and paid him bonuses and extra payments, all of which were falsely logged in Trump Organization records as legal expenses. Cohen has separately pleaded guilty to violating federal campaign finance law in connection with the payments.

PECKER’S PRIOR TESTIMONY SHED LIGHT ON AGREEMENT TO BURY NEGATIVE TRUMP STORIES

David Pecker, formerly the publisher of the National Enquirer, took the stand both Monday and Tuesday and testified about how his longtime friendship with the former president culminated in an agreement to warn Donald Trump’s personal lawyer about stories that could damage the White House hopeful’s 2016 campaign and help quash them.

Pecker told the court that the agreement followed an August 2015 meeting with Trump, Michael Cohen and Hope Hicks. He further testified that he told the National Enquirer bureau chiefs to be on the lookout for any stories involving Trump and said he wanted them to verify the stories before alerting Cohen.

“I told him that we are going to try to help the campaign and to do that I want to keep this as quiet as possible,” Pecker testified. “I did not want anyone else to know this agreement I had and what I wanted to do.”

WHAT HAPPENS IF TRUMP IS CONVICTED?

Donald Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records — a charge punishable by up to four years in prison — though it’s not clear if the judge would seek to put him behind bars.

A conviction would not preclude Trump from becoming president again, but because it is a state case, he would not be able to pardon himself if found guilty. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

DECISION STILL YET TO BE MADE ON WHETHER TRUMP VIOLATED GAG ORDER

Judge Juan M. Merchan has yet to rule on whether or not Donald Trump violated a gag order barring him from making public statements about witnesses in his hush money case.

Merchan held a hearing Tuesday on prosecutors’ earlier request that Trump be held in contempt of court and fined at least $3,000 for allegedly violating his gag order.

Prosecutors cited 10 posts on Trump’s social media account and campaign website that they said breached the order, which bars him from making public statements about witnesses in the case.

They called the posts a “deliberate flouting” of the court’s order.

In one post, from April 10, Trump described his former lawyer−turned−foe Michael Cohen and porn actor Stormy Daniels as “two sleaze bags who have, with their lies and misrepresentations, cost our Country dearly!”

Prosecutors are seeking a $1,000 fine — the maximum allowed by law — for each of the first three alleged violations.

The Associated Press

Photo: AP