The Latest | Attentiveness and whispers at Trump's hush money trial

NEW YORK (AP) — Defense lawyers in Donald Trump’s hush money trial dug Friday into assertions of the former publisher of the National Enquirer and his efforts to protect Trump from negative stories during the 2016 election.

David Pecker returned to the witness stand for the fourth day as defense attorneys tried to poke holes in his testimony, which has described helping bury embarrassing stories Trump feared could hurt his campaign.

Pecker has painted a tawdry portrait of “catch and kill” tabloid schemes — catching a potentially damaging story by buying the rights to it and then killing it through agreements that prevent the paid person from telling the story to anyone else.

The cross−examination, which began Thursday, will cap a consequential week in the criminal cases the former president is facing as he vies to reclaim the White House in November.

The charges center on $130,000 in payments that Trump’s company made to his then−lawyer, Michael Cohen. He paid that sum on Trump’s behalf to keep porn actor Stormy Daniels from going public with her claims of a sexual encounter with Trump a decade earlier. Trump has denied the encounter ever happened.

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.

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Here’s the latest:

ATTENTIVENESS AND WHISPERS IN THE COURTROOM

In their fourth day of hearing testimony from former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, jurors in Donald Trump’s hush money trial in New York remained attentive Friday even as cross−examination turned technical.

As Pecker and Trump defense lawyer Emil Bove parsed a 2018 nonprosecution agreement between federal authorities and the Enquirer’s parent company, members of the jury variously watched them, looked at the document on big screens or appeared to take notes.

Trump sat chatting and gesturing with lawyer Susan Necheles while the other lawyers had an extended conversation with Judge Juan Merchan at the bench.

After the sidebar conversation broke up for a few minutes, Trump leaned over to another of his lawyers, Todd Blanche, whispering something to him. Blanche then leaned toward Trump and covered his mouth as he whispered a response, while Bove resumed questioning Pecker.

PUBLISHER CHALLENGED ON PAST STATEMENTS

In the most confrontational moment so far Friday in Donald Trump’s hush money trial, defense lawyer Emil Bove said former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker’s testimony has been inconsistent with statements to federal prosecutors in 2018.

Pecker testified that Trump thanked him for his help handling potential stories involving former Playboy model Karen McDougal and Dino Sajudin, a Trump Tower doorman, during a White House visit on Jan. 6, 2017.

But according to notes cited by Bove in court, Pecker had previously told federal authorities that Trump did not express any gratitude to him or American Media during the meeting.

Pecker stuck Friday to the story he has given in court.

“I know what the truth is,” he said.

FORMER PLAYBOY MODEL’S WORK HIGHLIGHTED

A lawyer for Donald Trump in his hush money trial turned Friday to the 2016 deal the National Enquirer’s parent reached with former Playboy model Karen McDougal.

The $150,000 agreement gave American Media exclusive rights to McDougal’s account of any relationship with “any then−married man.” McDougal claims she and Trump had an affair. Trump denies it.

The contract also called for McDougal to do work for various American Media titles. Former Enquirer publisher David Pecker earlier testified the provision was really about keeping McDougal’s story from becoming public and influencing Trump’s chances at the presidency.

But under questioning Friday from Trump lawyer Emil Bove, Pecker added that American Media had pitched itself as a venue to help McDougal restart her career.

When American Media signed its agreement with her, “you believed it had a legitimate business purpose, correct?” Bove asked.

“I did,” Pecker said.

The company ended up running more than 65 stories in her name, he said.

McDougal’s story, and American Media’s deal with her, ultimately became public anyway, in a Wall Street Journal article four days before the 2016 election, after early and absentee voting had started.

PROSECUTORS OBJECT TO USE OF ‘PRESIDENT’ TRUMP

The insistence of Donald Trump’s defense in his hush money trial to refer to him as “President Trump,” even when describing events that took place before his election, is rankling prosecutors.

Trump’s lawyers said at the outset of the trial that they’d refer to their client as “president” out of respect for the office he held from 2017 to 2021.

But Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass suggested Friday that using the title is anachronistic and confusing when tacked onto questions and testimony that involve things that happened while he was campaigning in 2015 and 2016.

“Objection. He wasn’t President Trump in June of 2016,” Steinglass noted after one such mention. The judge sustained the objection.

QUESTIONING TURNS TO EARLIER SALACIOUS TESTIMONY

A lawyer for Donald Trump in the former president’s hush money trial Friday got to a salacious story at the center of former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker’s earlier testimony.

Emil Bove brought out that the Enquirer’s parent company — not Trump or his former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen — paid a former Trump Tower doorman $30,000 in 2015 for the rights to an unsubstantiated claim that Trump had fathered a child with an employee there.

Pecker testified earlier that the Enquirer thought the tale would make for a huge tabloid story if it were accurate but eventually concluded the story was “1,000% untrue” and never ran it. Trump and the woman involved both have denied the claims.

Bove asked Pecker whether he would run the story if it were true. Pecker replied: “Yes.”

SPECIFICS OF HELPING TRUMP CAMPAIGN

Former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker has testified in Donald Trump’s hush money trial that he hatched a plan with Trump and former Trump henchman Michael Cohen in August 2015 for the tabloid to help Trump’s presidential campaign.

But under questioning by Trump’s lawyer, Pecker acknowledged Friday there was no mention at that meeting of the term “catch−and−kill,” which describes the practice of tabloids purchasing the rights to story so they never see the light of day.

Nor was there discussion at the meeting of any “financial dimension,” such as the Enquirer paying people on Trump’s behalf for the rights to their stories, Pecker said.

Pecker also acknowledged that the National Enquirer had been running negative stories about Trump’s 2016 rival Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, long before the August 2015 meeting. Pecker previously testified that stories about the Clintons boosted sales of the supermarket tabloid.

DIGGING INTO NATIONAL ENQUIRER’S EDITORIAL PROCESS

Donald Trump’s lawyer Emil Bove is getting under the hood of the National Enquirer’s editorial process, seeking to show the tabloid had its own incentives unrelated to any deal with Trump, in the fourth day of testimony in the former president’s hush money trial.

To underscore his point, Bove pulled up five unflattering headlines that ran in 2015 about Ben Carson, who ran against Trump in the 2016 GOP primary. Bove noted the information was pulled from publicly available information published in other outlets, including The Guardian.

In his testimony, former Enquirer publisher David Pecker, on the stand for a fourth day, acknowledged that it was standard practice at the publication to recycle stories from other outlets with a new slant.

“Because it’s good, quick and cost efficient, and you would’ve done it without President Trump?” Bove asked.

“Um, yes,” Pecker replied.

JUDGE ISSUES INSTRUCTIONS, AND QUESTIONING RESUMES

The jury’s day in Donald Trump’s hush money trial began Friday with an instruction from the judge that it’s OK for prosecutors or defense lawyers to meet with witnesses ahead of a trial to help them prepare to testify.

That pertains to testimony that came out toward the end of Thursday, when Trump lawyer Emil Bove was cross−examining former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker.

Bove resumed questioning Pecker as the fourth day of testimony began in a Manhattan courtroom.

TRUMP WISHES MELANIA A HAPPY BIRTHDAY

Donald Trump entered court Friday in his hush money trial in Manhattan carrying a thick stack of bound papers, which he said was a report put out by the U.S. House Judiciary Committee about the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

The former president said he had not read the report, “but it could be interesting.”

Trump told reporters that he wanted to wish his wife, former first lady Melania Trump, a happy birthday, saying, “It would be nice to be with her, but I’m in a courthouse.”

He said he planned to fly home to Florida, where she is, Friday evening after court wraps for the week.

PECKER OFFERED INSIGHT INTO THE NATIONAL ENQUIRER

Even by National Enquirer standards, testimony by its former publisher David Pecker at Donald Trump’s hush money trial this week has revealed an astonishing level of corruption at America’s best−known tabloid and may one day be seen as the moment it effectively died.

“It just has zero credibility,” said Lachlan Cartwright, executive editor of the Enquirer from 2014 to 2017. “Whatever sort of credibility it had was totally damaged by what happened in court this week.”

On Thursday, Pecker was back on the witness stand to tell more about the arrangement he made to boost Trump’s presidential candidacy in 2016, tear down his rivals and silence any revelations that may have damaged him.

GAG ORDER HEARING RESCHEDULED DUE TO CAMPAIGN EVENTS

A change in the court schedule means Donald Trump won’t be forced off the campaign trail next week to attend a hearing in his hush money criminal trial in New York.

Judge Juan M. Merchan moved a hearing on the former president’s alleged gag order violations to next Thursday, avoiding a conflict with his scheduled campaign events next Wednesday.

Merchan had initially set the hearing for next Wednesday, the trial’s regular off day. Trump is scheduled to hold campaign events that day in Michigan and Wisconsin. His lawyers have urged the judge not to hold any proceedings on Wednesdays so he can campaign.

The hearing — now set for 9:30 a.m. next Thursday, May 2 — pertains to a prosecution request that Trump be penalized for violating his gag order this week on four separate occasions.

The order bars Trump from making comments about witnesses and others connected to the case. Merchan is already mulling holding Trump in contempt of court and fining him up to $10,000 for other alleged gag order violations.

The Associated Press

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