The Latest | Defense resumes its cross-examination of Davidson in Trump's hush money trial

NEW YORK (AP) — Lawyer Keith Davidson returned to the witness stand in Donald Trump’s hush money trial on Thursday following a contempt hearing over whether the former president violated a gag order again.

Judge Juan M. Merchan heard from both prosecutors and one of Trump’s defense attorneys about four more prospective violations, including comments Trump made about the political makeup of the jury and comments he made to reporters in the courthouse hallway. No immediate decision on the potential sanctions would made and it was unclear when Merchan might rule.

Merchan already sanctioned the former president on Tuesday, fining him $9,000 over nine online posts and threatening him with jail time if he continues violating the gag order.

The trial is in its 10th day and second week of witness testimony.

Prosecutors have said that Trump and others conducted a scheme to illegally influence the 2016 election by purchasing and burying salacious stories that might hurt his campaign.

Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records to cover up hush money payments — including $130,000 given to porn actor Stormy Daniels by Cohen — recording them instead 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:

— 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

— Read the judge’s full order on Donald Trump’s gag order violations

— Trump calls judge ‘crooked’ after facing a warning of jail time if he violates a trial gag order

Here’s the latest:

JUDGE DECLINES REQUEST TO PRE−APPROVE TRUMP’S SOCIAL MEDIA POSTS

Before Keith Davidson’s testimony in Donald Trump’s criminal trial resumed on Thursday, the judge rebuffed a defense request to rule in advance on whether the former president would violate his gag order by posting certain articles to his Truth Social account.

Trump lawyer Susan Necheles had asked Judge Juan M. Merchan to review the articles, written by legal scholars such as Jonathan Turley who are critical of his prosecution, and decide whether they would run afoul of a ban on commenting about people involved in the case.

She argued that the gag order, issued March 26, was somewhat ambiguous and that while she thought the articles were fine to post, she wasn’t sure.

Merchan said there “is no ambiguity, I believe, in the order,” citing an appeals court ruling upholding the commentary ban. The judge said he wouldn’t give advance rulings on what posts would and wouldn’t violate the gag order, advising Necheles: “When in doubt, steer clear.”

TRUMP RETURNS TO COURT AFTER LUNCH BREAK

Court proceedings in Donald Trump’s hush money trial resumed Thursday after a lunch break.

After returning to the courtroom, Trump sat at the defense table, chatting with lawyer Todd Blanche and reviewing a stack of photographs of what appears to be a crowd at a political rally.

Lawyer Keith Davidson is expected to return to the stand as cross−examination resumes.

COURT BREAKS FOR LUNCH

Court in Donald Trump’s hush money trial has recessed for lunch. The former president waved but did not speak to reporters on his way out of the courtroom just after 1 p.m.

BOVE VISIBLY FRUSTRATED DURING CROSS−EXAMINATION OF DAVIDSON

Defense attorney Emil Bove was visibly frustrated at times while questioning Keith Davidson in Donald Trump’s hush money trial on Thursday, raising his voice as the hush money negotiator refused to answer certain questions about his previous work securing settlements for clients to suppress embarrassing information about other celebrities.

Bove twice sought Judge Juan M. Merchan’s help to compel answers from Davidson, who said he either does not remember the deals or isn’t authorized to speak about them.

Merchan refused.

After Davidson invoked attorney−client privilege in response to questions about past deals, one of several times he did so, Bove shot back: “We’re both lawyers. I’m not here to play lawyer games with you.” Bove later suggested Davidson’s memory was intentionally “fuzzy” around some of the more controversial settlements he worked on.

Bove’s style stands in contrast to Trump’s lead lawyer Todd Blanche, who has been more soft−spoken in his questioning and interactions with the judge.

DAVIDSON QUESTIONED ON PRIOR ATTEMPTS TO BROKER HUSH MONEY DEALS

Defense lawyer Emil Bove pressed Keith Davidson Thursday on his understanding of extortion law, grilling him about previous instances in which he solicited money to suppress embarrassing stories, including one involving wrestler Hulk Hogan.

By the time Davidson negotiated hush money payments for McDougal and Daniels, Bove suggested to the witness, “You were pretty well versed in coming right up to the line without committing extortion, right?”

“I had familiarized myself with the law,” Davidson replied.

Davidson was previously investigated by the FBI but not charged after he asked Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, to pay his client $300,000 to head off the release of the wrestling star’s sex tape, portions of which ended up published by Gawker.

Bove noted Davidson also helped a client get paid $10,000 off the release of Lindsay Lohan’s private medical files. He also had a role in brokering a sex tape involving early 2000s MTV personality Tila Tequila.

CROSS−EXAMINATION OF DAVIDSON BEGINS

As the defense began its cross−examination of Keith Davidson in Donald Trump’s hush money trial, lawyer Emil Bove elicited testimony from Davidson that he’d never had any interactions with Trump — only Cohen.

The lawyer testified that he never met Trump, nor had he ever been in the same room as him until he began testifying in court on Tuesday.

Davidson said he was unfamiliar with the Trump Organization’s record−keeping practices — a key issue in the trial — though he did receive some emails from Cohen’s company email address.

Any impressions he had of the former president came through others, the lawyer testified.

Bove appeared to be underscoring the defense’s points that Trump was removed from the negotiations — that Cohen was handling the hush−money matters on his own — and that his testimony isn’t relevant to the charges at hand, which allege Trump falsified business records by logging reimbursement payments to Cohen as legal fees.

DAVIDSON SAYS COHEN TOLD HIM TO KEEP DANIELS FROM SPEAKING TO THE PRESS

Before a short midday break, prosecutor Joshua Steinglass wrapped his questioning of Keith Davidson by asking about texts Michael Cohen sent, instructing him to prevent Stormy Daniels from doing interviews.

Cohen texted at one point that the “wise men think the story is dying” so she shouldn’t do any interviews, and any statements from her should come from Davidson.

Shortly after that exchange, which was shown on courtroom monitors, Daniels declined to appear on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show.

In another instance, Davidson issued a statement for Daniels again denying she’d had a sexual encounter with Trump, drafting it in a Hollywood hotel suite as she was getting ready to appear on Jimmy Kimmel’s late night show.

But Daniels then disavowed the statement on the show, noting that the signature on it didn’t match her own.

This enraged Cohen, who threatened to sue Daniels “to hell” and sent other threatening messages, Davidson testified.

“He can be a very aggressive guy,” he said.

DAVIDSON DEFENDS 2018 DENIAL OF HUSH MONEY DEAL

Keith Davidson went to great lengths in testimony Thursday to defend a January 2018 statement he penned on behalf of Stormy Daniels denying a news report that Michael Cohen had paid $130,000 to silence her claims of a sexual encounter with Donald Trump.

For example, the statement’s claim that Daniels never had a “sexual and/or romantic affair with Donald Trump” could technically be true, Davidson contended, if you were to “hone in on the definition of romantic, sexual and affair.”

“I don’t think anyone has ever alleged that any interaction between she and Mr. Trump was romantic,” the lawyer testified, drawing a laugh from prosecutors.

Likewise, Davidson said, the denial about hush money payments could be considered factual, since the payments made to Daniels were, legally speaking, “consideration in a civil settlement.”

Trump had denied having a sexual encounter with Daniels.

COHEN GRIPED ABOUT TRUMP NOT REIMBURSING HIM, SAYS LAWYER

Keith Davidson testified Thursday that Michael Cohen ranted to him about Donald Trump in a phone conversation about a month after the 2016 election, complaining the president−elect wasn’t taking him to Washington D.C. and hadn’t paid him back for the payment to Stormy Daniels.

“Jesus Christ, can you believe I’m not going to Washington?” Davidson recalled Cohen saying during the Dec. 9, 2016, call.

Davidson was doing some Christmas shopping at a California store that he said was bizarrely and memorably decorated in an “Alice in Wonderland”−type theme with representations of huge rabbits and a “Cat in the Hat” on the ceiling, amid other holiday decor.

“I’ve saved that guy’s ass so many times, you don’t even know,” Cohen continued, according to Davidson. Using an expletive, he said Trump “isn’t even paying me the $130,000 back.”

‘WHAT HAVE WE DONE?’ DAVIDSON AND TABLOID EDITOR JOKED ON ELECTION NIGHT

When it became clear on election night in 2016 that Donald Trump would be elected president, Keith Davidson texted then−National Enquirer editor Dylan Howard: “What have we done?” Howard responded: “oh my god.”

Explaining the message on the witness stand in Trump’s hush money case Thursday, Davidson said, “This is sort of gallows humor. It was on election night as the results were coming in. There was sort of surprise among the broadcasters and others that Mr. Trump was leading in the polls and there was a growing sense that folks were about ready to call the election.”

“There was an understanding that our efforts may have in some way — strike that — our activities may have in some way assisted the presidential campaign of Donald Trump,” Davidson added.

DAVIDSON: COHEN AND TRUMP WERE ‘VERY UPSET’ OVER ARTICLE ON MCDOUGAL’S HUSH MONEY DEAL

Keith Davidson testified Thursday that Michael Cohen told him he and Trump were “very upset” when The Wall Street Journal published an article that exposed the hush money arrangement with former Playboy model Karen McDougal just days before the 2016 presidential election.

“He was very upset that the article had been published,” Davidson said of Cohen. “He wanted to know who the source of the article was, why someone would be the source of this type of article, he was upset by the timing. He stated his boss was very upset and he threatened to sue Karen McDougal.”

Davidson had represented McDougal in negotiating that arrangement.

The article was published on Nov. 4. Election Day was Nov. 8.

JURORS SEE STORMY DANIELS SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT

As Keith Davidson returned to the witness stand Thursday, jurors got a look at the confidential settlement agreement he negotiated on behalf of Stormy Daniels.

Under the deal dated Oct. 28, 2016, Michael Cohen paid Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet about her claims that she had a sexual encounter with Donald Trump a decade earlier.

The document referred to Daniels and Trump by pseudonyms Peggy Peterson and David Dennison, but it also contained a side letter that identified them by name.

“It is understood and agreed that the true name and identity of the person referred to as “DAVID DENNISON” in the Settlement Agreement is Donald Trump,” the document stated, with Trump’s name written in by hand.

The side letter said only Davidson and Cohen were to keep copies of the document, deeming it “ATTORNEY’S EYES ONLY.”

Davidson testified that was done because of the sensitive nature of the deal.

NO IMMEDIATE RULING ON SANCTIONS, TESTIMONY RESUMES

There was no immediate decision from Judge Juan M. Merchan on Thursday on whether Donald Trump violated his gag order again.

Prosecutors had requested sanctions over four more alleged violations of the court mandate that bars the former president from speaking publicly about witnesses, jurors and others in the case.

It was unclear when Merchan would rule on the issue.

Keith Davidson, the lawyer who negotiated hush money deals for Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, returned to the witness stand shortly thereafter.

JUDGE AND DEFENSE SPAR OVER TRUMP’S CLAIMS ABOUT THE JURY

Judge Juan M. Merchan grew impatient during Thursday’s contempt hearing as the defense tried to justify Donald Trump’s April 22 comments to the Real America’s Voice TV network about the jury.

Trump told the network that the jury was “95% Democrats,” “the area’s mostly all Democrat,” and, “It’s a very unfair situation that I can tell you.”

Merchan interrupted Todd Blanche as he argued the comments were permissible because Trump believes the trial is a “political persecution” and that the location, in heavily Democratic Manhattan, put him at a distinct disadvantage.

“Did he violate the gag order?” Merchan asked.

“Absolutely, positively not,” Blanche responded.

“He spoke about the jury, right?” an incredulous Merchan said. “He said the jury was 95% Democrats and the jury had been rushed through and the implication being that this is not a fair jury.”

Blanche reasoned that the comment — a few seconds from a 21−minute interview — was said a passing reference to “the overall proceedings being unfair and political” and was not directed at any specific jurors.

BLANCHE ARGUES THAT COHEN SHOULD NOT BE PROTECTED BY GAG ORDER

Donald Trump’s defense attorney argued during a contempt hearing Thursday that Michael Cohen should not be protected by a gag order barring the former president from speaking about witnesses and others connected to the hush money trial.

Todd Blanche argued that shouldn’t be the case.

He cited examples of social media posts from Cohen that were critical of Trump, including one that appeared to include a fabricated image of the former president in an orange superhero costume.

He said Cohen’s TikTok and other social media accounts “repeatedly” criticize and mock Trump and the gag order.

“This is not a man that needs protection from the gag order,” Blanche said.

Cohen was previously Trump’s attorney and personal fixer.

JUDGE NOT CONCERNED ABOUT ONE ALLEGED GAG ORDER VIOLATION

Judge Juan M. Merchan indicated Thursday that he would not sanction Donald Trump for a comment last week wherein he called David Pecker, former publisher of the National Enquirer, “a nice guy,” in response to a question about Pecker’s testimony.

“Just to save you time, I’m not terribly concerned about that one,” Merchan told Trump’s attorney Todd Blanche. The judge, however, did express concern about the three other comments at issue in the hearing.

Pecker’s witness testimony last week shed light on the tabloid’s practice of paying sources for stories, including paying to bury stories about Trump.

ATTORNEY CITES BIDEN’S WORDS IN DEFENDING TRUMP

Attorney Todd Blanche began his defense of Donald Trump’s statements Thursday morning by invoking a recent comment by President Joe Biden forecasting “stormy weather” for Trump, an “obvious” reference to Stormy Daniels, Blanche said.

“President Trump can’t respond to that in the way he wants to because of this gag order,” he added.

Judge Juan M. Merchan said Trump was not barred from responding to his Democratic rival, but “is not allowed to refer to foreseeable witnesses.”

Blanche also said media coverage of the trial has made it impossible for Trump to conduct interviews without being bombarded with questions about the trial.

“He can’t just say no comment repeatedly. He’s running for president,” the attorney said, adding the gag order should be seen in the context of “what’s happening behind us,” a reference to the high volume of journalists in the courthouse.

Merchan quickly batted down the argument, noting that members of the press are “not defendants in this case.”

“The former president of the United States is on trial,” the judge continued. “He’s the leading candidate for the Republican party right now. It’s not surprising that we have press here, we have press in the overflow room, we have people throughout the world that are interested.”

PROSECUTORS SEEK MORE FINES FOR ALLEGED VIOLATIONS

Prosecutors in Donald Trump’s hush money case are seeking more fines — and not jail time — for the former president over more alleged violations of his gag order.

Assistant District Attorney Christopher Conroy asked the judge to impose a $1,000 fine for each of the four violations, which prosecutors contend include comments made in the hallway outside the courtroom, where Trump often speaks to reporters.

In one of those monologues, Trump attacked Michael Cohen as a “liar.”

“The defendant is talking about witnesses and the jury in this case, one right here outside this door,” said Conroy, the prosecutor. “This is the most critical time, the time the proceeding has to be protected.”

Conroy said prosecutors were not yet seeking jail time as punishment because the alleged violations at issue happened before Merchan ordered Trump on Tuesday to pay a $9,000 fine for nine previous violations.

“Because we’d prefer to minimize disruption to this proceeding, we are not yet seeking jail, but the court’s decision this past Tuesday will inform the approach we take to future violations,” Conroy told the judge.

CONTEMPT HEARING UNDERWAY

Judge Juan M. Merchan opened Thursday’s proceedings in Donald Trump’s hush money trial with a contempt hearing on prosecutors’ allegations that the former president violated his gag order four more times.

Those are in addition to nine violations Trump was fined for earlier in the week.

Merchan said prosecutors had submitted four exhibits, constituting a video clip of each violation, which will not be played in court. Trump’s lawyers submitted nearly 500 pages of evidence in a bid to refute the alleged violations.

In a court filing, his lawyers argued that the gag order was designed to silence him while his enemies — including witnesses Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels — are allowed to repeatedly attack him.

Assistant District Attorney Christopher Conroy said in court Thursday that’s not true, arguing that the gag order was imposed as a result of Trump’s “persistent and escalating rhetoric aimed and participants in this proceeding.”

“By talking about the jury at all, he places this process and this proceeding in jeopardy. That is what the order forbids and he did it anyway,” Conroy added.

The jury was not present for the proceeding.

TRUMP ARRIVES AT COURTHOUSE

Donald Trump arrived at the courthouse in lower Manhattan for the 10th day of his hush money trial just after 9 a.m. on Thursday.

Speaking to reporters on his way in, the former president criticized the proceedings as “a ridiculous show trial” and “bogus.”

He also griped that the case should have been brought “eight years ago,” which would have been before prosecutors allege a crime was committed.

Karen McDougal sold her story to the National Enquirer in August 2016 and Stormy Daniels made her deal with Michel Cohen in October 2016. Trump didn’t start making reimbursement payments to Cohen, which prosecutors say were falsely logged as legal fees, until 2017.

Trump strode into the courtroom trailed by his lawyers and aides including Boris Epshteyn.

THE TRIAL COULD LAST ANOTHER MONTH OR MORE

Donald Trump’s hush money trial is expected to last another month or more, with jurors hearing testimony four days a week. The former president — who has cast the prosecution as an effort to hurt his 2024 campaign — is required to be there, much to his stated dismay.

“They don’t want me on the campaign trail,” he said Tuesday.

The judge said Tuesday that there will be no court on May 17 so Trump can attend his son Barron’s high school graduation.

Court also won’t be in session on May 24 to accommodate a juror who has a flight that morning, the judge said. That means the trial will be off for four straight days for the Memorial Day weekend, resuming on May 28.

KEY WITNESS TO TAKE THE STAND AGAIN

Keith Davidson, a lawyer who represented former Playboy model Karen McDougal and porn actor Stormy Daniels in hush money deals with Michael Cohen and the National Enquirer, returns to the witness stand on Thursday.

His testimony dominated Tuesday afternoon as he outlined the sequence of events that led up to the agreements, including his first interactions with Cohen, who was then Trump’s lawyer and personal fixer. Among other things, Davidson testified that pseudonyms were used in the deal with Daniels and that Cohen was late in delivering the agreed−upon $130,000 payment for the porn performer.

He also testified that he thought Daniels’ story would be a “tornado” if it got out.

Daniels has alleged that she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006 while McDougal alleged a yearlong affair with him. Trump has denied both allegations.

TRUMP: JUDGE IN CASE IS ‘CROOKED’

During a one−day break in Donald Trump’s historic hush money trial, the former president lashed out at the judge overseeing the case and complained about a gag order that bars him from speaking publicly about key witnesses and others.

“There is no crime. I have a crooked judge, is a totally conflicted judge,” Trump told supporters at a Waukesha, Wisconsin, event on Wednesday.

While the gag order pertains to speaking publicly about jurors, key witnesses and others in the case, Trump remains free to criticize Judge Juan M. Merchan.

TRIAL TO RE

SUME WITH A NEW GAG ORDER HEARING

Witness testimony in Donald Trump’s criminal trial is set to resume Thursday, but only after a hearing on more potential gag order violations takes place.

Prosecutors have said that Trump, in four new online posts, again violated a court mandate barring him from speaking publicly about jurors, witnesses and others in the hush money case. Judge Juan M. Merchan already sanctioned the former president on Tuesday for nine online posts, fining him $9,000 and threatening him with jail time if he continues violating the order.

The sanctions — and the prospect of more — highlight the difficulty Trump has had adjusting to his court responsibilities as a criminal defendant while also campaigning as the presumptive GOP presidential nominee.

The Associated Press

Photo: AP