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    Friday, June 21, 2024

    Jury hears Trump discuss plans to pay hush money to Playboy model in secret recordings

    New York — Jurors at Donald Trump’s Manhattan trial on Thursday heard audio of him discussing plans to pay hush money to a Playboy model with his former fixer-turned-foe Michael Cohen — tying him to the deal his legal team has vigorously sought to distance him from.

    “I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David,” Cohen was heard saying on a recording he secretly made in September 2016, in seeming reference to David Pecker, the former head of tabloid publisher American Media.

    On the recording, Cohen tells Trump, “I’ve spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up,” in terms of “funding,” referring to the Trump Organization’s longtime, twice-convicted finance chief.

    “What do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?” Trump said.

    Later on the tape, which CNN reported on in 2018, Cohen is heard saying, “We’ll have to pay,” and Trump says, “Pay with cash,” prompting his fixer to respond, “No, no, no,” before Trump says “check” and the recording ends.

    The potentially damning evidence came in during testimony from Doug Daus, a staffer at the Manhattan district attorney’s high-tech analysis unit who authenticated digital evidence. Members of the jury appeared riveted as Trump and Cohen’s voices echoed off the courtroom walls. Trump looked peeved.

    The tape was played shortly after the jury heard extensive testimony from Keith Davidson, the lawyer who repped McDougal and porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016 as the two women mulled coming forward with unflattering information about Trump in the leadup to the election.

    AMI, the National Enquirer’s parent company, handled the $150,000 payment to McDougal in a deal finalized in August 2016, the jury heard from the women’s former lawyer and last week from Pecker. The model has long claimed she had a nearly yearlong affair with Trump starting in 2006, not long after he wed Melania.

    Trump is charged in the case with 34 counts of falsification of New York business records, accusing him of covering up payment to Cohen in 2017 to disguise that it was reimbursement for paying Daniels $130,000 in late October 2016. He’s pleaded not guilty and could spend up to four years in prison if convicted.

    Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office alleges the payments to Cohen during Trump’s first year in the White House rounded off an illicit scheme to defraud the American electorate devised at an August 2015 meeting at Trump Tower attended by Trump, Cohen and Pecker, who told jurors last week he agreed to be the budding Trump campaign’s “eyes and ears.”

    Testimony on Thursday also suggested Trump was similarly aware of the Daniels payoff, which Davidson said was hastily arranged on the eve of the election between him and Cohen after the Enquirer backed out of a deal with her at the last minute.

    “I can’t even tell you how many times he said to me, ‘You know, I hate the fact that we did it.’ And my comment to him was, ‘But every person that you’ve spoken to told you it was the right move,’” Cohen said in another undated recording played during Davidson’s testimony, relaying his communications with Trump about the adult film star to Davidson.

    Descriptions by Davidson of chaotic eleventh-hour negotiations with Cohen to buy Daniels’ silence on the eve of the election stood in contrast to Team Trump’s position that efforts to silence women were executed to protect his reputation and his family rather than win him the election.

    In one text exchange dated the night of the 2016 election between the lawyer and Dylan Howard, the former top editor of the National Enquirer, Davidson expressed shock at his potential role in Trump’s stunning victory against Hilary Clinton.

    “What have we done?” the lawyer wrote in the text displayed in court Thursday.

    “Oh my god,” Howard replied.

    Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass asked Davidson what he meant.

    “There was sort of surprise among the broadcasters and others that Donald Trump was leading in the polls,” Davidson said, calling it “gallows humor” and saying there was an understanding “our activities may have in some way assisted the presidential campaign of Donald Trump.”

    Davidson said Cohen — who was convicted of federal charges related to the hush money scheme in 2018 — became increasingly frantic after the election when his boss still hadn’t paid him back for the Daniels payoff.

    Recalling a phone call he received from Cohen in December 2016, Davidson said Trump’s then-personal lawyer sounded “depressed and despondent,” later saying he sounded suicidal.

    On a red-hot cross-examination, Trump attorney Emil Bove sought to portray Davidson as a shady lawyer by bringing up other hush money arrangements he was involved in, including with Hulk Hogan, Lindsay Lohan, and Charlie Sheen.

    Bove asked Davidson if he was “pretty well versed in coming right up to the line without committing extortion.”

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

    The lawyer admitted to Bove that he had never met Trump, spoken to him or been in a room with him until the trial. Toward the end of his testimony, Bove zeroed in on the Daniels agreement Davidson said was for “attorneys’ eyes only,” in which Trump and Daniels were referred to under pseudonyms, questioning why it didn’t bear Trump’s signature.

    Before jurors took their seats for the day, state Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan heard arguments from prosecutors and the former president’s attorneys concerning four more instances of Trump publicly commenting on witnesses and jurors in the case.

    Prosecutor Chris Conroy said Trump should be fined another $4,000 for public remarks he made about the jury and witnesses like Pecker and Cohen.

    Trump lawyer Todd Blanche said his client had not willfully violated the order and was defending himself against criticism as a presidential candidate. He said Cohen’s constant taunts, like recently calling Trump “Von Sh–zInPantz,” were essentially “daring” him to respond.

    On Tuesday, the judge imposed $9,000 in sanctions for other comments Trump made about trial participants. Merchan did not immediately rule on the latest alleged violations but sounded unconvinced by Blanche’s arguments.

    “Other people are allowed to do whatever they want to us,” Trump said after the trial wrapped for the day. “And I’m not allowed, as a presidential candidate.”

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