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Takeaways from Day 10 of the Donald Trump hush money trial


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

(CNN) — Donald Trump’s attorneys on Thursday sought to paint one of the witnesses at the heart of the hush money deal with Stormy Daniels as someone with a long history of extracting money from celebrities while going “up to the line without committing extortion.”

Trump attorney Emil Bove raised a host of celebrities Keith Davidson has dealt with – Hulk Hogan, Lindsay Lohan, Charlie Sheen and Tila Tequila – seeking both to undercut Davidson’s credibility as a witness and to argue that the deals he cut involving the former president followed a long-running pattern. Davidson was evasive responding to the battery of questions about his prior celebrity dealings, in testimony that got heated at times.

Trump’s attorney also used recordings Michael Cohen secretly taped of his conversations with Davidson against the witness, including from 2018 of the two talking about the “leverage” of the Daniels story.

Before the testimony began, Judge Juan Merchan held a second hearing on Trump’s alleged violations of his gag order where prosecutors raised four more statements Trump had made that they say violated the judge’s gag order barring discussion of witnesses and the jury. Trump has already been fined $9,000 for nine violations earlier this week.

After Davidson left the stand, prosecutors called a digital evidence expert from their own office to enter evidence into records, continuing to move forward with their hush money case against Trump.

Here are the top takeaways from Day 10 of the Trump hush money trial:

Trump lawyer drags Davidson through the celebrity mud

After prosecutors finished walking Davidson meticulously through the deals he cut before the 2016 election for both Daniels and Karen McDougal, Trump’s attorney dragged Davidson through the proverbial celebrity mud, ticking through a host of deals he was involved with related to other high-profile figures.

Bove pressed Davidson on whether he had studied up on extortion law when he sought money from AMI and Cohen for the McDougal and Daniels deals. Bove asked Davidson whether he went “right up to the line without committing extortion” with the Trump deals.

“I don’t understand your question,” Davidson responded.

Then Bove turned to celebrity deals he was tied to. Davidson was questioned about investigations by federal and local authorities over his dealings to sell Hulk Hogan a sex-tape from his client, which was revealed in court by Bove. Davidson conceded there “was a monetary demand” made to Hogan to try to sell him the tape.

That deal and the other celebrity agreements all sought to secure hefty monetary payments for Davidson’s clients to keep damaging information out of the media, Bove alleged. Without saying so specifically, the upshot from Trump’s attorney was that the Trump deals followed a pattern that bordered on extortion.

“One of the issues you had to be sensitive about was not to threaten [that] the payment needed to be made prior to the election?” Bove asked.

“I don’t recall that,” Davidson responded.

It was one of several exchanges where Davidson was evasive in response to Bove’s questions. The other celebrity allegations were not directly relevant to this case, but it’s hard to say how they might have affected jurors’ thoughts about his credibility with the other testimony he has given.

Even when prosecutors questioned Davidson, he was at times evasive. Assistant district attorney Joshua Steinglass got into an extended conversation with Davidson about whether the two denials Stormy Daniels issued were true, including as to whether she had a romantic and sexual relationship with Trump and whether she received hush money.

Davidson parsed the definitions of both allegations to argue the denials were technically true. He claimed the payment to Daniels was a settlement payment for “considerations,” not hush money, and he questioned the definition of the word “relationship.”

Another gag order hearing over Trump comments

Merchan held a second hearing Thursday morning over more gag order violations prosecutors want Trump held in contempt for.

Merchan did not rule on the latest allegations after Thursday’s hearing.

Prosecutor Chris Conroy pointed to four of Trump’s comments since last Monday – two were about Cohen, the others were about the jury and former AMI chief David Pecker.

The district attorney’s office wants Trump fined $1,000 for each of the violations but is not yet asking Merchan to jail him, noting the inconvenient slowing effect it’d have on the trial.

“He’s already been found to have violated the court’s order nine times and he’s done it again here,” Conroy said.

The prosecutor also said Merchan’s original gag order “was issued because of the defendant’s persistent and escalating rhetoric” aimed at those involved in this trial, pushing back on Trump’s claim that the order lets others attack him while he can’t respond.

In one public comment Trump made about the jury leaning Democratic, Conroy said Trump “used his platform here to criticize the seated jury in this case.”

“By talking about the jury at all,” Conroy said, Trump places the process of the trial “in jeopardy.”

Trump attorney Todd Blanche argued Thursday morning that Cohen, who Blanche said has been “poking” Trump about the gag order on social media, doesn’t need protection from a gag order.

“I understand your concerns with Mr. Cohen,” Merchan said, adding that he expressed those concerns in his decision on Tuesday when he fined Trump over earlier comments.

After the lunch break, Trump attorney Susan Necheles said Trump’s legal team feels the gag order is ambiguous about whether Trump can repost article written by lawyers analyzing the trial.

Merchan said he “appreciated” them bringing it to his attention but said he thinks the gag order is clear and he will not prescreen Trump’s social media posts.

“I’m not going to be in the position of looking at posts in advance and determining whether you should or should not post them,” Merchan said.

“I think when in doubt, steer clear,” he added.

Jurors hear recorded calls between ex-Daniels’ lawyer and Michael Cohen

The jury heard a series of phone calls between Cohen and Davidson that Cohen secretly recorded in 2018, around the time media reports revealed details of Trump’s nondisclosure agreement with Daniels.

Cohen, Trump’s former fixer, could be heard telling Davidson about the Daniels deal, “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.’”

On the call, Cohen also talked about fronting the money for the payment to Daniels. “I did it because I care about the guy, and I wasn’t going to play pennywise pound foolish.”

“I’m sitting there and I’m saying to myself, ‘What about me?’” Cohen could also be heard saying.

On cross examination, Bove played audio clips from the calls for Davidson, who listened to them with headphones on the witness stand and then confirmed with him certain statements made.

Bove confronted him with a recording where Davidson can be heard telling Cohen that Daniels “wanted this money more than you could ever imagine” and pushed her then-lawyer to get the deal closed with Cohen before Election Day in 2016 because she was concerned that if Trump lost the election, they’d lose all leverage and her story would be “worth zero.”

Prosecutors later submitted the audio into evidence so the jury could hear the clip for themselves – while clarifying that Davidson was telling Cohen at the time that he expected the boyfriend of Daniels’ then-manager to make public statements to the press to that effect. Davidson confirmed he wasn’t relaying sentiments from Daniels in the call.

Jurors also heard a clip of a widely reported conversation Cohen recorded in August 2016 in Trump’s office when they discussed the $150,000 payment to McDougal.

Witnesses don’t have nice things to say about Michael Cohen

Davidson was just the latest witness to testify to unsavory things about Cohen – a key prosecution witness who will testify later in the case.

Davidson described how Cohen was difficult to deal with, frequently acting in a “pants on fire” manner. Davidson testified that he had “lost trust” with Cohen to actually pay the money he’d agreed to in the Daniels deal – and at one point he said the deal was off after Cohen failed to meet a deadline.

He also described Cohen as despondent during a December 2016 phone call after learning that he would not be getting a job in the White House.

“He said something to the effect of, ‘Jesus Christ can you f**king believe I’m not going to Washington after everything I’ve done for that f**king guy. I can’t believe I’m not going to Washington. I’ve saved that guy’s a** so many times you don’t even know,’” Davidson testified Cohen told him.

During Tuesday’s session, Davidson testified that he ended up getting involved with the Daniels deal because Cohen was being so difficult. “The moral of the story was: No one wanted to talk to Cohen,” Davidson said.

Davidson’s testimony followed Cohen’s onetime banker, who said that everything was urgent with Cohen and that he was given Cohen’s account because he was used to dealing with difficult clients. And Pecker recounted the prickliness of Cohen, describing him as agitated and frequently upset, particularly when Pecker told him the Daniels deal was off.

Jurors have heard plenty about Cohen already, but they also got the first listen to Cohen’s voice on Thursday thanks to the audio recordings he surreptitiously took of conversations.

The recordings were a reminder that, like him or not, Cohen’s story will be central to jurors’ understanding of the case.

Trump denies reports that he is sleeping during the trial

Since the trial began more than two weeks ago, reporters in the courtroom have frequently spotted Trump with his eyes closed while sitting at the defendant’s table.

Trump had not addressed questions of whether he’s been sleeping until Thursday, when he posted about it during a lunch break in the trial:

“Contrary to the FAKE NEWS MEDIA, I don’t fall asleep during the Crooked D.A.’s Witch Hunt, especially not today. I simply close my beautiful blue eyes, sometimes, listen intensely, and take it ALL in!!!” Trump said.

Trump certainly has closed his eyes for significant stretches of the trial. At times, it appears to be part of a strategy for him not to react to the testimony from witnesses about allegations of his affairs with McDougal and Daniels (which he denies) and the hush money payments made to keep them quiet before the 2016 election.

True to form, Trump’s eyes were closed during several stretches of Steinglass’ questioning of Davidson on Thursday, as he walked the attorney through the final steps of the $130,000 payment Davidson facilitated from Cohen on Daniels’ behalf in October 2016.

Once his attorney took to the lectern, however, Trump sat up in his chair and faced Davidson while he was peppered with questions by Bove about his other celebrity dealings – paying much closer attention to what was transpiring.

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