Witness testimony continues in Trump’s New York hush money trial

Defence continues cross-examination of tabloid publisher David Pecker as ex-US president’s historic trial continues.

Donald Trump
Former US President Donald Trump exits Trump Tower to attends his hush money criminal trial at Manhattan criminal court in New York City on April 26, 2024 [Eduardo Munoz/Reuters]

Donald Trump’s defence team has sought to discredit a key witness in the former United States president’s New York trial over a hush-money payment made to an adult film star.

Trump’s lawyers on Friday questioned former tabloid publisher David Pecker, who has detailed how he entered into a deal with Trump to “catch and kill” negative stories to try to help the ex-president’s 2016 White House campaign.

US prosecutors have spent days trying to establish a wider pattern of efforts by Trump to seek to illegally influence that year’s election.

Pecker has testified that he hatched the plan with Trump and the former president’s then-lawyer, Michael Cohen, in August 2015.

Under questioning by Trump lawyer Emil Bove, Pecker acknowledged on Friday there was no mention at that meeting of the term “catch-and-kill”.

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

Trump has been charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business documents related to payments made to adult film star Stormy Daniels.

The charges concern the alleged mislabelling of repayments that Trump made to Cohen, who had paid $130,000 to Daniels in return for her silence over an alleged sexual encounter with Trump. The former president has denied the affair took place.

For the felony charges to hold, prosecutors must persuade the jury that the misrepresentations were done with the intent to commit or cover up another crime. They have primarily focused on what they called “election fraud, pure and simple”.

Trump’s defence team has argued that he did nothing illegal to justify the felony charges.

In the first portion of cross-examination on Thursday, Trump’s lawyer sought to portray agreements to “catch and kill” negative stories related to prominent individuals as “standard operating procedure”.

Pecker said similar deals had been made with Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff to former President Barack Obama, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former governor of California.

Prior to that, prosecutors had focused on how Pecker had agreed to be the Trump campaign’s “eyes and ears”.

During earlier questioning, Pecker said Trump never mentioned concerns about his family when discussing efforts to stifle claims of an alleged affair by model Karen McDougal as well as Daniels.

That appeared aimed at undercutting a central tenant of Trump’s defence: that he was seeking to stop personally damaging allegations from going public but not seeking to influence the election.

Prosecutors were also awaiting a decision from Judge Juan Merchan on whether Trump had violated a partial gag order in the case, which prevents him from publicly discussing individuals involved in the legal proceedings.

On Tuesday, they presented 10 such alleged violations, and prosecutors said on Thursday that Trump had committed four more since then.

They have called for Trump to be reprimanded for the violations.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies