The Latest | Trump arrives at hush money trial, wishing Melania a happy birthday from afar

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

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

Pecker so far 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:

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

Photo: AP