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Here’s what every key witness said at Donald Trump’s hush money trial

May 26, 2024, 6:00 PM

Michael Cohen leaves his apartment building on his way to Manhattan criminal court to testify in Do...

Michael Cohen leaves his apartment building on his way to Manhattan criminal court to testify in Donald Trump's hush money trial on Monday, May 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

(AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

NEW YORK (AP) — After 22 witnesses, including a porn actor, tabloid publisher and White House insiders, testimony is over at Donald Trump’s criminal trial in New York.

Prosecutors called 20 witnesses. The defense called just two. Trump decided not to testify on his own behalf.

The trial now shifts to closing arguments, scheduled for Tuesday.

After that, it will be up to 12 jurors to decide whether prosecutors have proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump falsified his company’s business records as part of a broader effort to keep stories about marital infidelity from becoming public during his 2016 presidential campaign. He has pleaded not guilty and denies any wrongdoing.

A conviction could come down to how the jurors interpret the testimony and which witnesses they find credible. The jury must be unanimous. The records involved include 11 checks sent to Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, as well as invoices and company ledger entries related to those payments.

Here’s a look at key trial witnesses and what they had to say:

STORMY DANIELS

As Trump sat feet away, the porn actor, writer and director, gave a detailed and at times graphic account of a sexual encounter she says she had with Trump in Nevada in 2006. After they met at a celebrity golf tournament, she said, Trump invited her to dinner but then engaged her in conversation in his hotel room and startled her by stripping to his underwear while she was in the bathroom.

“I felt the room spin in slow motion. I felt the blood basically leave my hands and my feet,” Daniels testified. “I just thought, ‘Oh, my God, what did I misread to get here?’ Because the intention was pretty clear, somebody stripped down in their underwear and posing on the bed, like waiting for you.”

Daniels said Trump did not physically threaten her, but “my own insecurities in that moment kept me from saying no.” Daniels said she kept in touch with Trump for about a year in hopes of appearing on his TV show “The Apprentice,” but it never happened.

Daniels spoke about accepting $15,000 for a magazine interview in 2011. The story was not printed at the time but ended up on a gossip website without her consent. Her lawyer, in consultation with Cohen, complained and had the story taken down.

In 2016, Daniels authorized her manager to shop her story again but found little interest until the release of the infamous “Access Hollywood” recording of Trump boasting about grabbing women’s genitals without their permission.

Daniels told the jury she accepted $130,000 from Cohen in the final weeks of the election in exchange for a legal agreement to keep the claim to herself.

Trump’s lawyers grilled Daniels about her motivation, eliciting testimony that she hates the former Republican president. She pushed back on the defense’s suggestion that her story was fabricated, saying if it was fiction, “I would have written it to be a lot better.”

Daniels’ testimony was among the most awaited in the trial. She had shared her story before, but this was the first time she testified about it in front of Trump. Trump’s lawyers objected to much of Daniels’ testimony and twice sought a mistrial, arguing that her feelings of a power imbalance with Trump and her blunt answers about the alleged sexual encounter should not have been put before the jury.

DAVID PECKER

A longtime Trump friend, Pecker was the publisher of the National Enquirer and chief executive of its parent company, American Media Inc., during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Pecker told the jury he agreed to be the “eyes and ears” of Trump’s campaign, looking out for damaging stories so they could be suppressed. He said he agreed to the role — and to a plan to publish positive stories about Trump and negative stories about his opponents — at an August 2015 meeting with Trump and Cohen.

“If there were any rumors in the marketplace about Mr. Trump or his family or any negative stories that were coming out or anything that I heard overall,” Pecker said, “I would call Michael Cohen directly.”

He said he told the National Enquirer’s editor at the time, Dylan Howard, “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 that the company squashed one potential story by paying $30,000 to a Trump Tower doorman. It paid $150,000 to former Playboy model Karen McDougal, to keep her from going public with a claim that she had had a yearlong affair with Trump.

But when Daniels came forward, Pecker said, he told Howard: “I am not a bank, and we are not paying out any further disbursements or monies.”

Instead, he alerted Cohen that Daniels was shopping a story about Trump, and let the lawyer handle it. Trump denies having sex with either McDougal or Daniels.

When The Wall Street Journal reported, just days before Election Day, that the Enquirer had paid McDougal, Pecker said Trump was upset, saying, “How could this happen? I thought you had this under control?”

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

KEITH DAVIDSON

A lawyer known for representing people trying to sell celebrity sex tapes or other embarrassing information, Davidson negotiated the hush money deals for McDougal and Daniels. He gave jurors an inside look at the negotiations and helped corroborate Pecker’s testimony.

At first, Davidson said, the National Enquirer was not interested in acquiring McDougal’s story, saying she “lacked documentary evidence.” But the tabloid eventually bought it at Pecker’s behest. Davidson said he understood it would never be published because of “an unspoken understanding that there was an affiliation” between Pecker and Trump and that the National Enquirer would not run the story “because it would hurt Donald Trump.”

Davidson said he dealt directly with Cohen, never with Trump. While Cohen may not have explicitly stated he was working on Trump’s behalf, Davidson said he felt the implication was clear.

Davidson testified that about a month after Trump won the election, Cohen complained in a phone conversation that the president-elect hadn’t yet paid him back for the $130,000 payment to Daniels.

MICHAEL COHEN

Cohen, a flawed but vital prosecution witness, testified about working with the National Enquirer to suppress negative stories about Trump. Cohen insisted he was working at Trump’s direction when the lawyer helped orchestrate the payments to McDougal and Daniels.

Cohen testified that he kept the detail-oriented Trump updated on the payoffs.

Regarding the decision to pay Daniels, Cohen said Trump felt it was best to buy her silence.

“He stated to me that he had spoken to some friends, some individuals, very smart people, and that it’s $130,000. You’re like a billionaire. Just pay it. There is no reason to keep this thing out there. So do it,” Cohen said.

“And he expressed to me: Just do it. Go meet up with Allen Weisselberg and figure this whole thing out,” Cohen said, referring to the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer at the time.

Testifying over the course of four days, Cohen told the jury he sought Trump’s approval for the Daniels payment because “everything required Mr. Trump’s sign-off. On top of that, I wanted the money back.”

When it briefly looked like the deal with Daniels might fall apart, Cohen said Trump got “really angry with me,” saying, “I thought you took care of this?”

Cohen used money he borrowed money from a bank to make the $130,000 payment to Daniels. Trump later reimbursed him. How Trump’s company recorded those reimbursements — paid out of a Trump trust and personal accounts — is the core of the prosecution’s case. Cohen said he submitted monthly invoices for a year for legal work he never actually performed, pursuant to a purported retainer agreement that he said did not exist.

Cohen said he discussed the reimbursement plan with Trump at the White House in February 2017. He recalled that Trump asked him whether he needed money, then promised a check soon would cover the first two months of invoices, totaling $70,000.

Jurors also heard a secret recording Cohen made of a meeting he had with Trump in 2016 in which he briefed his boss about the plan to buy McDougal’s story.

Trump’s lawyers have fought to discredit Cohen, pressing him on his own criminal history, past lies and his recollection of key details. On cross-examination, Cohen admitted stealing tens of thousands of dollars from Trump’s company by asking to be reimbursed for money he had not spent. Cohen acknowledged once telling a prosecutor he felt that Daniels and her lawyer were extorting Trump. Cohen also insisted he did not actually commit some crimes to which he pleaded guilty in 2018, including bank fraud and tax evasion. In that case, Cohen also pleaded guilty to lying to Congress and to campaign finance violations.

Cohen is the linchpin of the prosecution case, the only witness to testify that Trump had direct involvement in arranging his repayment. The verdict could hinge on whether jurors believe him.

HOPE HICKS

Trump’s former campaign and White House communications director, Hicks testified about the frenetic days after the “Access Hollywood” leak as she and Trump’s political advisers tried to contain the fallout. Hicks said she was “very concerned” about the impact of the tape and she subsequently asked Cohen to chase down a rumor about another potentially damaging recording, which turned out not to exist.

Hicks said that after The Wall Street Journal published its article detailing McDougal’s hush money deal, Trump was concerned about how his wife, Melania, would take it.

“He wanted me to make sure the newspapers weren’t delivered to their residence that morning,” Hicks said.

When news of the Daniels payoff started to emerge in 2018, Cohen initially told reporters he made the payment with his own money and without Trump’s knowledge. Hicks said Trump also told her “that Michael had paid this woman to protect him from a false allegation, and that Michael felt like it was his job to protect him, and that’s what he was doing. And he did it out of the kindness of his own heart.”

She said, however, that it was “out of character” for Cohen to take such an action on his own.

“I didn’t know Michael to be an especially charitable person or selfless person,” Hicks said. “He’s the kind of person who seeks credit.”

ROBERT COSTELLO

Trump’s lawyers called Costello, an attorney and ex-federal prosecutor, as their primary witness in a terse defense case aimed at undermining Cohen’s credibility.

After the FBI raided Cohen’s home and office in 2018, Costello offered to become his lawyer. He told the jury that during their first meeting, Cohen paced anxiously, saying his life, and his family’s life, had been “shattered.”

“He said: ‘I really want you to explain to me what my options are. What’s my escape route?’” Costello said.

Costello said Cohen also insisted that he had made the Daniels deal on his own, that Trump “knew nothing” about it, and that Cohen had no incriminating information about Trump he could offer to federal prosecutors.

“I swear to God, Bob. I don’t have anything on Donald Trump,” Costello quoted Cohen as saying.

Prosecutors countered that Costello, who was close to Trump ally Rudy Giuliani, cozied up to Cohen to keep him loyal to Trump.

In one email, Costello told Cohen: “Sleep well tonight. you have friends in high places,” and relayed that there were “some very positive comments about you from the White House.”

Cohen ultimately chose other lawyers.

OTHER NOTABLE WITNESSES

JEFFREY McCONNEY: The Trump Organization’s former controller testified about working with Weisselberg to set up payments to Cohen, including reimbursement for the $130,000 payment to Daniels, a bonus and money for taxes.

RHONA GRAFF: Trump’s former executive assistant testified about adding McDougal’s and Daniels’ contacts to Trump’s contact list in the company’s computer system, the latter listed simply as “Stormy.” Graff also said she had a “vague recollection” of seeing Daniels once at Trump Tower.

DEBORAH TARASOFF: The Trump Organization’s accounts payable supervisor testified about processing the payments to Cohen, including receiving checks that Trump had signed at the White House. Under defense questioning, she acknowledged permission to cut Cohen’s checks came not from Trump himself, but from Weisselberg and McConney.

MADELEINE WESTERHOUT: Trump’s White House secretary from 2017 to 2019 testified about Trump signing checks, saying he sometimes would sign without reviewing them.

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Here’s what every key witness said at Donald Trump’s hush money trial