The Latest | David Pecker takes the stand as first witness in Trump's hush money trial - Hindustan Times
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The Latest | David Pecker takes the stand as first witness in Trump's hush money trial

AP |
Apr 22, 2024 09:45 PM IST

The Latest | David Pecker takes the stand as first witness in Trump's hush money trial

NEW YORK — In opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial, prosecutors said Monday that the former president “orchestrated a criminal scheme to corrupt” the 2016 presidential election.

The Latest | David Pecker takes the stand as first witness in Trump's hush money trial
The Latest | David Pecker takes the stand as first witness in Trump's hush money trial

Defense attorneys countered, calling Trump “innocent” and saying the Manhattan district attorney's office “should never have brought this case.”

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The commencement of the proceedings set the stage for weeks of unsavory and salacious testimony about Trump's personal life and placed his legal troubles at the center of his closely contested campaign against President Joe Biden.

A panel of New Yorkers — 12 jurors and six alternates — was sworn in last Friday after four days of jury selection and is hearing what is the first-ever criminal trial against a former U.S. commander-in-chief.

Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories that he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016.

At the heart of the allegations is a $130,000 payment made to porn actor Stormy Daniels by Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and personal fixer, to prevent her claims of a sexual encounter with Trump from surfacing in the final days of the race.

Prosecutors say Trump obscured the true nature of such payments in internal business documents. Trump has denied having a sexual encounter with Daniels, and his lawyers argue that the payments to Cohen were legitimate legal expenses. He has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.

The hush money case is the first of Trump’s four indictments to reach trial.

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

— Trump cancels rally because of weather, proving the difficulty of balancing a trial and campaign

— Trump was forced to listen silently as potential jurors offered their unvarnished assessments of him

Here's the latest: DAVID PECKER TAKES THE STAND AS THE FIRST WITNESS

David Pecker, the National Enquirer's former publisher and a longtime friend of Donald Trump, was the first witness to take the stand in the former president's hush money trial on Monday.

Prosecutors say he met with Trump and Michael Cohen at Trump Tower in August 2015 and agreed to help the campaign identify negative stories about him. DEFENSE ASKS JURORS TO USE ‘COMMON SENSE’ IN FINAL REMARKS

Defense attorneys concluded their opening statements in Donald Trump's hush money trial by downplaying expected testimony from porn actor Stormy Daniels, as well as emphasizing that prosecutors have not charged him with conspiracy despite describing the allegations against him as such in their opening statements.

“There’s nothing illegal about what you will hear happened among the National Enquirer, AMI, David Pecker and Donald Trump,” Blanche said, adding: “It’s not a scheme, unless a scheme means something that doesn’t matter, that’s not illegal.”

Blanche concluded by urging jurors to pay attention to all of the testimony and to use common sense, observing, “We’re all New Yorkers here.”

“If you do that, there will be a very swift ‘not guilty’ verdict,” Blanche said.

Court subsequently took a break and Trump left the courtroom without speaking to reporters in the hallway. DEFENSE ZEROES IN ON KEY PROSECUTION WITNESS

One of Donald Trump's defense attorneys zeroed in during opening statements on the credibility of one of the prosecution's key witnesses: Michael Cohen.

Attorney Todd Blanche provided an extensive account Monday of Cohen’s criminal record and his history of lying under oath. He said that Cohen turned against the former president only after he was not given a job in the administration and found himself in legal trouble.

Blanche accused Cohen of being “obsessed with President Trump,” saying “his entirely financial livelihood depends on President Trump’s destruction.”

“You cannot make a serious decision about President Trump relying on the words of Michael Cohen,” Blanche said.

Anticipating the defense’s likely attacks on their star witness, prosecutor Matthew Colangelo acknowledged Cohen’s criminal record earlier in the day.

“I suspect the defense will go to great lengths to get you to reject his testimony precisely because it is so damning,” Cohen said.

“We will be very upfront about it,” he continued, adding that Cohen, “like other witnesses in this trial, has made mistakes.”

“You can credit Michael Cohen’s testimony despite those past mistakes,” he added. TRUMP HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH PAYMENTS, DEFENSE SAYS

Defense attorneys in Donald Trump's hush money case said Monday that he had nothing to do with payments that were made to prevent stories about his sex life from being made public near the end of the 2016 presidential election.

Todd Blanche portrayed the business ledger entries at issue in the case as pro forma actions performed by a Trump Organization functionary.

Trump “had nothing to do” with the invoice, the check being generated or the entry on the ledger, Blanche said.

While prosecutors allege Trump reimbursed Michael Cohen $420,000 — more than double what Cohen paid to porn actor Stormy Daniels — because the cover-up was crucial to the campaign, Blanche said the excess payments are proof that Trump had nothing to do with the scheme.

“Ask yourself, would a frugal businessman, a man who pinches pennies, repay a $130,000 debt to the tune of $420,000?” Blanche asked.

“President Trump had nothing to do with any of the 34 pieces of paper, the 34 counts, except that he signed the checks, in the White House, while he was running the country.”

Blanche took particular issue with the prosecution’s insinuation that attempting to influence an election connotes illegality.

“I have a spoiler alert: There’s nothing wrong with trying to influence an election. It’s called democracy,” Blanche said. “They put something sinister on this idea as if it’s a crime. You’ll learn it’s not.” DEFENSE BEGINS ITS OPENING STATEMENTS

Following the prosecution's opening statements in Donald Trump's criminal hush money trial, the defense called the former president “innocent” and said the Manhattan district attorney's office “should never have brought this case.”

“He’s, in some ways, larger than life. But he’s also here in this courtroom, doing what any of us would do: defending himself,” Todd Blanche said as Trump looked on with interest. He went on to describe Trump as a former president but also an everyday person — a man, a husband, a father.

In the prosecution’s openings, Trump was referred to as “the defendant.” But his own lawyers are referring to him as “President Trump.”

“We will call him President Trump, out of respect for the office that he held,” Blanche said.

Other Trump lawyers have used the same language in previous legal cases. PROSECUTORS SAY TRUMP PAID COHEN DOUBLE FOR HUSH MONEY SCHEME

After the 2016 election, Donald Trump invited David Pecker, then publisher of the National Enquirer, to Trump Tower to thank him for his contribution to the campaign, prosecutors said Monday. He also invited the publisher to the inauguration and later to the White House, where a dinner was held to honor Pecker and then-National Enquirer editor Dylan Howard.

But prosecutor Matthew Colangelo said Trump still had a few “loose ends” to tie up at the time, including reimbursing his then-lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen for the payments he had given to Stormy Daniels.

“Neither Trump nor the Trump Organization could just write a check to Cohen with a memo line that said ‘reimbursement for porn star pay-off,’” Colangelo said. “So they agreed to cook the books and make it look like the payment was actually income, payment for services rendered.”

Colangelo added that the evidence would show that while Trump is a “very frugal businessman,” when it came to reimbursing Cohen, Trump paid him double.

“This might be the only time it ever happened,” Colangelo said. Trump’s willingness to part with so much cash showed how important it was to him to keep the hush money scheme under wraps, the prosecutor posited. TRUMP DIRECTED COHEN TO MAKE A DEAL WITH STORMY DANIELS, PROSECUTORS SAY

Within days of the “Access Hollywood” tape involving Donald Trump becoming public, Colangelo told jurors, The National Enquirer alerted Trump's then-lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen that porn actor Stormy Daniels wanted to go public with her claims of a 2006 sexual encounter with Trump.

“At Trump’s direction, Cohen negotiated a deal to buy Ms. Daniels’ story to prevent American voters from hearing that story before Election Day,” Colangelo told jurors, referring to the scheme as a “conspiracy” and “election fraud, pure and simple.” TRUMP SHOWS NO REACTION TO ‘ACCESS HOLLYWOOD’ TE TRANSCRIPT

Prosecutor Matthew Colangelo told jurors in Donald Trump’s criminal hush money case that The Washington Post’s publication of the 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape, where Trump was heard on a hot mic “bragging about sexual assaults,” had an immediate and “explosive” impact on his presidential campaign.

Colangelo told jurors that prominent Trump allies withdrew their endorsements and condemned his language. The prosecutor said evidence would show the Republican National Committee even considered whether it was possible to replace Trump with another candidate.

As Colangelo read aloud words from the tape, Trump showed no reaction. PROSECUTION HONES IN ON ‘CATCH-AND-KILL’ OPERATION

Prosecutors in Donald Trump's criminal trial honed in on what they called a “catch-and-kill" operation at the center of the allegations in the hush money case.

The plan was hatched at Trump Tower shortly after the then-presidential candidate had announced his candidacy. During that meeting, prosecutors say that David Pecker, then-publisher of the National Enquirer, agreed to “help the defendant’s campaign by working as the eyes and the ears of the campaign.”

Speaking of arrangements made to pay former Playboy model Karen McDougal $150,000 to suppress her claims of a nearly year-long affair with the married Trump, Colangelo said Trump “desperately did not want this information ... become public because he was worried about its effect on the election.”

Colangelo told jurors they would hear a recording Cohen made in September 2016 of himself briefing Trump on the plan to buy McDougal’s story. The recording was made public in July 2018. Colangelo told jurors they would hear Trump in his own voice, saying, “What do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?” TRUMP TRIED TO ‘CORRUPT’ 2016 ELECTION, PROSECUTORS ALLEGE IN OPENING STATEMENTS

Prosecutors in Donald Trump's hush money trial said in opening statements that the former president allegedly went to great lengths to “corrupt” the 2016 presidential election.

“The defendant, Donald Trump, orchestrated a criminal scheme to corrupt the 2016 presidential election. Then he covered up that criminal conspiracy by lying in his New York business records over and over and over again,” prosecutor Matthew Colangelo told jurors.

Colangelo, senior counsel to the district attorney, told jurors that though the payments to Michael Cohen were labeled as legal fees pursuant to a retainer agreement, there was no retainer and there were no legal services. “The defendant falsified those business records because he wanted to conceal his and others’ criminal conduct,” he said.

All 18 jurors looked directly at the veteran prosecutor, who stood at a lectern in the middle of the courtroom about halfway between them and Trump. JUDGE BARS PROSECUTORS FROM BRINGING UP 2 TRUMP LEGAL CASES

While prosecutors in Donald Trump's hush money trial will be allowed to question him in a limited manner — if he testifies — about his recent civil fraud and writer E. Jean Carroll's defamation lawsuit against him, the judge has barred them from bringing up two other legal cases.

One was the 2022 New York criminal tax fraud trial of Trump’s business, the Trump Organization. The company was convicted by a jury. Trump wasn’t charged in that case.

The other is the nearly $1 million fine that a federal judge in Florida last year ordered Trump and one of his attorneys to pay. The judge levied the penalty after finding that Trump filed a “completely frivolous” lawsuit against his 2016 rival Hillary Clinton and others. JURY ENTERS COURTROOM FOR TRIAL PROCEEDINGS

Members of the jury in Donald Trump's hush money case entered the courtroom just after 10 a.m. Monday. The former president turned in his seat and looked briefly in their direction before the judge began explaining the court proceedings.

“Good morning, jurors. We are about to proceed with the trial of the People of the State of New York v. Donald J. Trump,” said Judge Juan M. Merchan.

Because the panel was selected over several days, this is the first time the full jury has been together. It’s also the first time jurors are seeing the courtroom packed with reporters — a departure from last week when the gallery was full of prospective jurors and there were just a few reporters permitted inside. PROSECUTORS CAN QUESTION TRUMP ABOUT OTHER CASES, JUDGE RULES

Prosecutors in Donald Trump's hush money case can cross-examine him about several of his recent legal setbacks if he chooses to testify, the judge ruled.

Trump shook his head Monday morning as Judge Juan M. Merchan ruled that prosecutors could ask him about the outcome of his recent civil business fraud trial, in which another judge found that Trump, along with his business and key executives, fraudulently inflated his wealth on paperwork used to secure loans and insurance.

Merchan said prosecutors could challenge the former president’s credibility by questioning him about six legal determinations in four cases, including his $88.3 million in judgments for defaming writer E. Jean Carroll.

Strict limits will be placed on what prosecutors can question Trump about regarding those cases, including prohibiting them from eliciting the amounts of the monetary penalties imposed, said Merchan. JUDGE TO ALLOW PROSECUTION TO INTRODUCE ‘ACCESS HOLLYWOOD’

Judge Juan M. Merchan will allow the prosecution in Donald Trump's hush money case to introduce the notorious ‘Access Hollywood’ tape into evidence, but will not permit the showing of the actual video in court.

Trump’s lawyers have objected to the use of a transcript. But Merchan said that in his view there is “no reason” why a transcript of the video, where Trump boasted about grabbing women’s genitals without permission, “should not be admitted into evidence.” COURT TO END EARLY DUE TO PASSOVER, JUROR OBLIGATIONS

Donald Trump's hush money trial will adjourn earlier than expected on Monday to accommodate an alternate juror's emergency dental appointment in the afternoon.

Judge Juan M. Merchan had previously planned to adjourn the trial at 2 p.m. because of Passover, but will now adjourn the case at 12:30 p.m. He plans to end at 2 p.m. on Tuesday for the holiday. JUROR WHO EXPRESSED RESERVATIONS ABOUT TRIAL WILL STAY ON

A juror who expressed reservations about continuing with Donald Trump's hush money trial ahead of opening statements will remain on the jury, according to the judge.

Judge Juan M. Merchan said his understanding was “that the juror was concerned about the media attention” to the case and wasn’t “100% sure they wanted to be here today.”

The juror showed up to court Monday and was questioned in the judge’s robing room, out of the view of the press, he said. TRUMP CASTS TRIAL AS ‘UNFAIR’

Before heading into the courtroom Monday morning, Donald Trump addressed a camera in the hallway, once again saying that it’s “unfair” he has to be there, rather than out campaigning.

He once again cast the trial as a “witch hunt” and a “shame” aimed at damaging his campaign.

“I’m here instead of being able to be in Pennsylvania and Georgia and lots of other places campaigning and it’s very unfair,” he said.

Trump also spoke at length about another hearing taking place at a nearby court, regarding the $175 million bond he paid in his civil fraud case.

Once in the courtroom, the former president filled his cheeks with air and exhaled before sitting down.

Photographers quickly crowded around him, snapping photos ahead of the proceedings.

The gallery was packed with reporters, and the temperature in the courtroom was slightly warmer than on previous days, where the chill was a subject of much discussion. PROTESTERS, OTHERS GATHER OUTSIDE THE COURTHOUSE

A small group of anti-Trump protesters was outside the courthouse ahead of opening statements in Donald Trump's hush money criminal case, chanting, “No one is above the law,” while members of the media and public lined up to get inside.

Police had discussed the possibility of closing the park across the street, Collect Pond Park, after a man set himself on fire there last week, but on Monday it remained open to the public. TRUMP RETURNS TO COURT

Donald Trump has arrived at court in Manhattan for opening statements in his hush money trial.

The former president left Trump Tower on Monday morning in his motorcade and walked straight inside the courthouse after arriving. WHY ISN'T TRUMP'S TRIAL TELEVISED?

New York state law regarding media coverage of court proceedings is one of the most restrictive in the country.

Regulations limiting media coverage in courtrooms date back nearly a century, when the spectacle of bright flashbulbs and camera operators standing on witness tables during the 1935 trial of the man accused of kidnapping and killing Charles Lindbergh’s baby son horrified the legal community, according to a 2022 report by the New York-based Fund for Modern Courts.

Yet an interest in open government chipped away at these laws and — slowly, carefully — video cameras began to be permitted in courts across the country, often at the discretion of judges presiding in individual cases.

New York allowed them, too, on an experimental basis between 1987 and 1997, but they were shut down. THE TIMING OF THIS CASE LENDS TO ITS SIGNIFICANCE

The allegations at the heart of this case don’t accuse Donald Trump of an egregious abuse of power like the federal case in Washington charging him with plotting to overturn the 2020 presidential election, or of flouting national security protocols like the federal case in Florida charging him with hoarding classified documents.

But the New York prosecution has taken on added importance because it may be the only one of the four cases against Trump that reaches trial before the election.

Appeals and legal wrangling have delayed the other three cases. HERE'S WHO COULD BE CALLED TO TESTIFY

MICHAEL COHEN — Donald Trump’s former lawyer and fixer. He was once a fierce Trump ally, but now he’s a key prosecution witness against his former boss. Cohen worked for the Trump Organization from 2006 to 2017. He later went to federal prison after pleading guilty to campaign finance violations relating to the hush money arrangements and other, unrelated crimes.

STORMY DANIELS — The porn actor who received a $130,000 payment from Cohen as part of his hush money efforts. Cohen paid Daniels to keep quiet about what she says was a sexual encounter with Trump years earlier. Trump denies having sex with Daniels.

KAREN MCDOUGAL — A former Playboy model who said she had a 10-month affair with Trump in the mid-2000s. She was paid $150,000 in 2016 by the parent company of the National Enquirer for the rights to her story about the alleged relationship. Trump denies having sex with McDougal.

DAVID PECKER — The National Enquirer’s former publisher and a longtime Trump friend. Prosecutors say he met with Trump and Cohen at Trump Tower in August 2015 and agreed to help Trump’s campaign identify negative stories about him.

HOPE HICKS — Trump’s former White House communications director. Prosecutors say she spoke with Trump by phone during a frenzied effort to keep allegations of his marital infidelity out of the press after the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape leaked weeks before the 2016 election. In the tape, from 2005, Trump boasted about grabbing women without permission. JAIL TIME IS JUST ONE OF THE STAKES TRUMP FACES

Donald Trump is charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records and could face four years in prison if convicted, though it’s not clear if the judge would seek to put him behind bars. A conviction would not preclude Trump from becoming president again, but because it is a state case, he would not be able to attempt to pardon himself if found guilty. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Unfolding as Trump vies to reclaim the White House, the trial will require him to spend his days in a courtroom rather than the campaign trail. He will have to listen as witnesses recount salacious and potentially unflattering details about his private life.

Trump has nonetheless sought to turn his criminal defendant status into an asset for his campaign, fundraising off his legal jeopardy and repeatedly railing against a justice system that he has for years claimed is weaponized against him. PROSECUTORS TO MAKE HISTORY WITH OPENING STATEMENTS

For the first time, prosecutors will present a criminal case against a former American president to a jury Monday as they accuse Donald Trump of a hush money scheme aimed at preventing damaging stories about his personal life from becoming public.

The statements are expected to give jurors and the voting public the clearest view yet of the allegations at the heart of the case, as well as insight into Trump’s expected defense.

Hearing the case is a jury that includes, among others, multiple lawyers, a sales professional, an investment banker and an English teacher.

The case will test jurors’ ability to set aside any bias but also Trump’s ability to abide by the court’s restrictions, such as a gag order that bars him from attacking witnesses. Prosecutors are seeking fines against him for alleged violations of that order.

This article was generated from an automated news agency feed without modifications to text.

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