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Former National Enquirer publisher testifies in Trump hush money trial

During opening statements, a New York prosecutor said Trump "bragged about sexual assault," which caused Trump to shake his head.
Former National Enquirer publisher testifies in Trump hush money trial
Posted at 5:28 AM, Apr 22, 2024

Manhattan prosecutors began presenting their case against former President Donald Trump to the jury on Monday. 

After the two sides gave their opening statements, questioning got underway in the first-ever trial of a former president as Trump faces 34 felony counts in a New York court for falsifying business records. The trial opened last week with jury selection.

The prosecution called on former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker as its first witness.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg alleges Trump tried to conceal an "illegal scheme to influence the 2016 presidential election" by trying to cover up extramarital affairs. Bragg claims Trump falsified records to hide payments to attorney Michael Cohen that were meant for porn actress Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, as well as a former a former doorman at Trump Towner.

On Monday, Matthew Colangelo, Bragg's senior counsel, outlined evidence that Trump, through Cohen, used a "catch and kill" scheme. Prosecutors said Trump used Cohen to buy the McDougal story from National Enquirer's publisher AMI. Prosecutors say the Trump Organization then paid Cohen in monthly installments and a year-end bonus check. 

Colangelo then read a transcript of when Trump was caught on a hot microphone talking about groping women to "Access Hollywood" host Billy Bush. Colangelo said Trump "bragged about sexual assault," which caused Trump to shake his head.

In addition to Pecker, Colangelo said prosecutors will question McDougal's lawyer Keith Davidson. 

Prior to Pecker taking the stand, both sides gave opening statements — with Trump attorney Todd Blanche insisting the payments made to Cohen were not illegal. 

“President Trump is innocent," Blanche said. "President Trump did not commit any crimes. He is in some ways, larger than life. But he is also here in this courtroom doing what any of us would do. Defending himself.”

After Monday's hearing, Trump described the nature of the payments to Cohen as "a legal expense."

Blanche said that Cohen lied under oath about the nature of the payments, which prompted an objection from the prosecution that was sustained. 

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

After the two sides gave opening statements, Pecker briefly took the stand before court adjourned for the day. He was asked whether he had the final say over publishing decisions, to which he replied yes. 

SEE MORE: Trump loses bid to halt lawsuits over Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection

The 12-member jury consists of seven men and five women. They emerged after Judge Juan Merchan dismissed dozens of potential jurors who said they could not be fair and impartial. Six alternates were also selected in case any of the 12 jurors are dismissed. 

The charges Trump faces in New York are considered a Class E felony, the lowest among felony counts in New York. The charges are arguably the least serious among the four criminal cases Trump faces.

Trump has tried to delay this trial numerous times. 

The former president has made numerous accusations that Merchan is biased against him. He has lashed out on social media over the case, which has prompted a hearing this week on whether Trump violated a gag order limiting what he can say publicly about the case. 

Trump has tried to balance his trial calendar with remaining on the campaign trail as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Over the weekend, the Trump campaign had to cancel his rally in North Carolina due to strong storms. 

The trial resumes Tuesday as prosecutors continue their questioning of Pecker. 

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