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Stormy Daniels testifies in hush money trial against Donald Trump

The porn actress, who described in detail her alleged sexual encounter with the Republican, claims that she did not negotiate the payment in the final stretch of the 2016 presidential campaign

María Antonia Sánchez-Vallejo
Donald Trump
Donald Trump greets journalists with his fist raised in the hallway that leads to the courtroom, on Tuesday in New York.David Dee Delgado (REUTERS)

Stormy Daniels — whose claims about her extramarital affair with Donald Trump in 2006 are at the root of the first criminal trial against a former U.S. president — testified on Tuesday in a Manhattan court, providing salacious details into the sexual encounter that the Republican has always denied.

The testimony of the porn actress — who on the eve of the 2016 elections received $130,000 from Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer, in exchange for keeping silent about the alleged affair — is the highlight of the third week of the trial against Trump for falsifying business records. On Monday, the prosecution presented a dozen checks related to the payment and Trump was fined for once again violating Judge Juan Merchan’s gag order.

Under oath, Daniels described the sexual encounter with Trump in great detail. The session adjourned for lunch before Trump’s defense team could question the porn actress.

Daniels told the court that Trump suggested that she take part in his reality television program The Apprentice — his springboard into politics—, and said her first impression of him was that he was “arrogant and pompous.” The alleged sexual encounter took place in 2006, but it was not until 10 years later, in the final stretch of the presidential campaign that led Trump to the White House, that steps were taken to silence Daniels. Fearing a scandal, Trump’s strategy to quiet any stories that could hurt his presidential chances — a campaign that had been running for a year with the help of tabloid editor David Pecker — went into action. In addition to giving Daniels money in exchange for her silence, two other women were also paid hush money.

Daniels told the court that she was not motivated by money, which is why she did not negotiate the payment agreement. In the end, she received $130,000. This money was recorded irregularly in the accounts of the Trump Organization, which is the crux of the case against the former president — the first of the four against him.

Text messages between Daniels’ then representative and Pecker, however, show that there was a negotiation. When the editor of the National Enquirer, a friend of Trump, did not want to bid more, Cohen ended up taking charge of the negotiation and payment. The falsification of business records to cover up Trump’s reimbursement of money to Cohen — he returned a total of $420,000: the amount paid to Daniels, plus taxes and a generous bonus — is also central to the case, since it was recorded as “legal expenses.” Prosecutors claim that Trump violated electoral financing laws, since the objective of the payment was to prevent a scandal from hurting the Republican’s presidential campaign.

After being warned by the judge that he will be sent to prison if he continues to violate the gag order by criticizing judges and witnesses, Trump told journalists at the court: “The trial is a very unfair trial, a very, very unfair trial.” In an appearance that lasted less than three minutes — on other days, he has spoken at greater length — he did not respond to questions about why he had deleted a message from his Truth Social platform.

Early Tuesday morning, Trump posted an angry message saying that he had just learned of the arrival of a witness (possibly Stormy Daniels?) and that his lawyers had “no time” to prepare. Within 30 minutes, he had deleted the post, most likely to avoid being accused of violating the gag order, which bans him from attacking witnesses and other people connected to the trial. Only the judge and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who investigated the case, are exposed to his insults. The presumptive Republican presidential candidate has already been fined $10,000 after being found in contempt.

A day after a dozen checks for the reimbursement of the money paid by Cohen to Daniels were examined in court, Trump launched into one of his usual tirades about the state of the country. “The country is on fire, there are protests all over the country. I’ve never seen anything like this,” Trump said on Tuesday. “Many graduations […] they canceled, as you know Columbia, they’re canceling a lot of them. And we have a president that just refuses to talk,” he said in reference to the pro-Palestine protests at university campuses, which he has strongly condemned.

Trump also rejected claims that he falsified business records, arguing that he was the victim of a “witch hunt” and criticizing statements from the “fake news” media. “You pay a lawyer, expense payments. We didn’t put it down as construction costs, the purchase of sheet rock, the electrical cost. The legal expense that we paid was put down as legal expense. There’s nothing else you can say. You don’t have to put down anything, I guess. But we put down legal expense was legal expense,” he said, with limited eloquence.

Regarding the gag order imposed by the judge, Trump seized on a comment made by the ultra-conservative Fox network: “So Fox News… said that the gag order is unconstitutional, which of course it is. The gag order is unconstitutional. So with all that’s going on, they have no case. Every single legal scholar that I see — maybe there’s some whack job out there [who thinks otherwise] — but virtually everyone I have seen has said that there is absolutely no case, it is a case that should not have been brought.”

Trump also accused his Democratic rival in the November presidential election, President Joe Biden, of instigating the case against him. “This all comes from the White House and crooked Joe Biden. This comes from the White House, and it is all Biden because it’s an attack on his political opponent that hasn’t happened in this country. It does happen in Third World countries, but it hasn’t happened in this country, and it’s a shame,” he ended.

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