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Takeaways from Day 9 of the Trump hush money trial


By Jeremy Herb, Kara Scannell and Lauren del Valle, CNN

(CNN) — Judge Juan Merchan handed down his first punishment to Donald Trump for violating the judge’s gag order in the New York hush money trial Tuesday, fining Trump $9,000 for nine violations.

The judge also warned the former president in his written order that continued violations could also lead to imprisonment – a striking reminder of the historic and surreal nature of this trial.

Once the trial itself began Tuesday, jurors heard from the attorney who negotiated both the Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal hush money agreements, Keith Davidson, who detailed his tribulations with Trump’s then-fixer Michael Cohen in the final days of the 2016 campaign to get the money promised to Daniels for her to stay quiet.

Davidson testified that a tabloid editor believed Daniels’ story would be the “final nail in the coffin” for Trump’s presidential aspirations in October 2016 after the Access Hollywood tape came out. Instead, Davidson negotiated a $130,000 hush money deal with Cohen on Daniels’ behalf, and she did not speak out publicly before the 2016 election.

Here are the takeaways from day nine of the Trump hush money trial:

Trump is fined – and faces more later this week

Before the jury was called in Tuesday morning, Merchan levied a $9,000 fine against the former president for multiple violations of the judge’s gag order barring public discussion of witnesses in the case or the jury.

Merchan fined Trump for nine violations – $1,000 each, the maximum allowed by law – after prosecutors had filed a motion to hold the former president in contempt over his social media posts and public comments about Cohen, Daniels and the makeup of the jury pool.

This won’t be Trump’s last run-in with Merchan’s gag order, either. Last week, the district attorney’s office cited another four comments from Trump that allegedly violated the order. Merchan has scheduled a hearing on those violations for Thursday.

The comments cited by prosecutors pointed to Trump’s continued commentary about witnesses, including that he thought AMI chief David Pecker was “nice.” Prosecutors argued that the remark was a message to other witnesses to “be nice” on the stand.

In his order, the judge warned Trump that he could be imprisoned if he continues to willfully violate the gag order. Merchan could jail Trump for 30 days for finding him in contempt.

“The Court will not tolerate continued willful violations of its lawful orders and that if necessary and appropriate under the circumstances, it will impose an incarceratory punishment,” Merchan wrote.

Stormy’s lawyer takes the stand

Davidson, an LA-based attorney, represented both McDougal and Daniels when they were shopping stories about their romantic relations with Trump in 2016.

He described in detail his conversations with American Media Inc.’s then-chief content officer Dylan Howard – aided by text exchanges between the two rich in detail to help freshen up Davidson’s memory – as he cut a $150,000 deal with AMI for McDougal’s story and then struck a $130,000 deal directly with Cohen for Daniels after AMI backed out.

Davidson said Daniels’ manager, Gina Rodriguez, approached him and asked him to close the deal. “It’s going to be the easiest deal you’ve ever done in your entire life,” Davidson said, before pausing and letting out a little laugh.

Rodriguez told him it had already been negotiated. “All you have to do is talk to that a**hole Cohen,” Davidson recalled.

Davidson walked jurors through the contracts he drew up with Cohen and the excuses he got when Cohen initially didn’t pay.

“I thought he was trying to kick the can down the road until after the election,” Davidson testified about Cohen’s excuses for not coming up with the funding, which prompted him to tell Cohen at one point that the deal was off.

Davidson’s testimony also provided some lighter moments. In the contract, he used pseudonyms: Peggy Peterson for Daniels because she was the plaintiff and David Dennison for Trump because he was the defendant.

Assistant district attorney Joshua Steinglass asked if Dennison was a real person. “Yes, he was on my high school hockey team,” Davidson said.

“How does he feel about you now?” Steinglass asked.

“He’s very upset,” Davidson said, holding back a laugh.

Daniels’ attorney also had some choice words for Cohen. Asked to describe Cohen’s demeanor while negotiating the payment with him, Davidson said, “He was highly excitable, sort of a pants on fire kind of guy.”

Cohen, Davidson added, was like the cartoon dog who yells “squirrel!”

Jurors hear about the Stormy Daniels payment paper trail

Cohen’s former banker Gary Farro returned Tuesday morning to walk the jury through Cohen’s bank activity around the payment to Daniels.

Records show it took Cohen less than 24 hours to open an account for a shell company and use it to wire the money to Daniels’ attorney.

On October 27, 2016, Cohen pushed his bank to expedite a $131,000 advance on the home equity line of credit tied to his personal property he shared with his wife. That was approved and the money was transferred to the new Essential Consultant LLC account Cohen opened, telling his banker at the time it was for a rushed real estate deal.

The next morning Cohen wired $130,000 to an account facilitated by Daniels’ lawyer.

Farro testified that when he dealt with Cohen, 90% of the time it was an “urgent matter.”

The banker also said First Republic Bank closed all of Cohen’s accounts, leaving only his existing mortgages with the institution, after news of the Daniels hush money payment became public.

Trump videos played for the jury in court

Prosecutors used records custodians to enter several video clips into evidence Tuesday morning.

Three C-SPAN clips of Trump speaking at public events were played for the jury in open court. Two clips from October 2016 campaign events showed then-candidate Trump vehemently denying allegations from women who publicly accused him of sexual assault after the “Access Hollywood” tape was released earlier that month.

“As you have seen, right now I’m being viciously attacked with lies and smears. It’s a phony deal. I have no idea who these women are,” Trump says in one clip.

In a clip from January 11, 2017, President-elect Trump said, “Michael Cohen is a very talented lawyer. He’s a good lawyer in my firm.”

Snippets from Trump’s October 2022 deposition taken for his E. Jean Carroll defamation lawsuits were also admitted into evidence and played in court.

Prosecutors also played a clip from the deposition where Trump described that Truth Social was a platform he opened as an alternative to Twitter. In another clip Trump responds to questions confirming that he is married to Melania Trump, since 2005.

Jurors also saw Trump identify himself as the speaker in the Access Hollywood tape during that deposition – although no video clip was played in relation to the question about the Access Hollywood tape, nor the tape itself. (The judge previously ruled only a transcript of the audio could be admitted into evidence not the video footage.)

Tuesday is a family affair

Trump had several visitors in the gallery behind him in court on Tuesday, beyond the typical accompaniment of aides there each day.

His son, Eric Trump, attended the trial – the first family member of the former president to appear during the trial. Susie Wiles, Trump’s senior campaign adviser, was sitting beside the former president’s son.

Ken Paxton, the Texas attorney general, and David McIntosh, who has cofounded conservative political groups including the Club for Growth, stopped into the courtroom for some of Tuesday’s session, too.

Tuesday’s appearances could be the beginning of a new kind of pilgrimage for Trump’s allies: instead of visiting him at Mar-a-Lago, they come to see the presumptive GOP nominee stand trial in New York.

Former Trump 2016 campaign adviser Carter Page – who was wiretapped by the FBI and later sued the Justice Department over it – was also inside the Manhattan courtroom, CNN’s Kaitlan Collins reported.

Though Trump brought a slew of aides and allies with him to court, Page was not sitting near them and instead entered through security with reporters and members of the public. Page declined to comment to CNN on why he was present, but his presence speaks to the circus-like atmosphere that has enveloped Trump’s trial.

Page was a key name during Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, and his presence emphasizes the throwback nature of this trial — where many figures from Trump’s past and several whom he no longer speaks with have taken center stage.

Trump on Tuesday also got another dose of family friendly news: Before the trial began his attorneys had asked for May 17 off so that Trump could attend his son Barron’s graduation. The judge had said he didn’t know yet if that was possible – but on Tuesday, Merchan said things were moving quickly enough that he was comfortable having no court that day so Trump could attend graduation.

Trump had previously attacked the judge for preventing him from attending Barron’s graduation, even though the judge had only previously said he was withholding a decision on the request.

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Article Topic Follows: CNN - US Politics

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