Friday, May 17, 2024

Top 5 This Week

Stormy Daniels’ Explicit Testimony Rocks Trump’s Hush Money Trial

Judge Merchan denies mistrial request made by Todd Blanche, chides defense over handling of Daniels testimony.

Stormy Daniels Donald Trump hush money
Sketch: Jane Rosenberg

The hush money criminal trial of former President Donald Trump reached a pivotal moment on Tuesday as the long-awaited testimony of adult film star Stormy Daniels captivated the jury. Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, took the stand to recount her alleged sexual encounter with Trump in 2006 and the subsequent hush money payment she received to keep the affair under wraps.

Daniels’ appearance in court was highly anticipated, and her testimony did not disappoint. Clad in a black hooded sweater and dark glasses, the former adult entertainer spoke with candor and occasional flashes of humor, offering explicit details about the night she claims to have had sex with the future president.

Daniels spoke rapidly and with a slight quiver in her voice that betrayed her nerves at recounting the lurid details of her 2006 sexual encounter with Trump. She apologized for her Louisiana accent and described her journey from a poor, abusive childhood to finding success in adult entertainment as a performer and director.

Stormy Daniels Meets Trump 

When prompted by prosecutors to recount her meeting with Trump at a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe, Daniels did not hold back. She testified that after declining Trump’s initial dinner invitation, his bodyguard Keith Schiller gave her his contact information and the plan was revived. 

According to Daniels, after initially declining Trump’s invitation to dinner, she found herself in his hotel suite, where the real estate mogul was clad in satin pajamas. “Does Mr. Hefner know you stole his pajamas?” Daniels quipped, referring to the iconic Playboy founder. 

“He was just up on the bed, like this,” Daniels testified, raising her leg to demonstrate Trump’s posture on the bed when she emerged from the bathroom. “The next thing I know, I’m on the bed, somehow on the opposite side of the bed… I had my clothes and my shoes off, I believe my bra however was still on. We were in the missionary position.”

Stormy Daniels continued recounting the details of her encounter with Trump. When asked by prosecutor Susan Hoffinger if Trump wore a condom, Daniels replied, “No.” Hoffinger then inquired if Daniels said anything about it, to which she responded, “No, I didn’t say anything at all.” Daniels described the encounter as “brief”, and reiterated multiple times that she did not verbally object or say “no” at any point during the incident.

Daniels’ testimony was met with objections from Trump’s legal team, who argued that the testimony was too graphic and prejudicial. However, Judge Juan Merchan allowed Daniels to proceed, albeit with some restrictions on the level of detail she could provide.

In the weeks and months following the alleged encounter, Daniels said she continued to have conversations with Trump, who would call her “honey bunch” – a detail she found “weird.” She also mentioned that Trump introduced her to NFL quarterback Ben Roethlisberger at his vodka launch party.

The Hush Money Scheme and Alleged Threats 

Central to the prosecution’s case is the hush money payment of $130,000 that Daniels received from Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election. Daniels testified that she learned from her former publicist, Gina Rodriguez, that Trump and Cohen were interested in buying her story to keep it from being made public.

Prosecutors presented evidence that in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, as the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape threatened to derail Trump’s campaign, he and his fixer Michael Cohen sought to buy Daniels’ silence. They ultimately offered her $130,000 in exchange for a non-disclosure agreement, using coded pseudonyms – “Peggy Peterson” for Daniels and “David Dennison” for Trump – in an attempt to conceal the true nature of the transaction.

“They were interested in paying for the story,” Daniels said. “Which was the best thing that could’ve happened… because then I’d be safe and the story wouldn’t come out.”

The prosecution’s strategy was clear: to establish Trump’s motive for engaging in the hush money scheme. As prosecutor Susan Hoffinger argued, Daniels’ salacious story “is precisely what the defendant did not want to become public,” suggesting that Trump’s actions were driven by a desire to protect his political ambitions at any cost.

Daniels also recounted a chilling incident from 2011 when she was approached by an unknown man in a Las Vegas parking lot and threatened not to continue telling her story about Trump after she was offered $15,000 by In Touch magazine to discuss the affair. “He approached me and threatened me not to continue to tell my story,” she said, adding that the encounter left her “scared.”

Donald Trump’s Legal Team Pushes for a Mistrial 

After Daniels testified about being threatened in Las Vegas in 2011 to keep quiet about the affair, Trump’s lawyer Todd Blanche requested a mistrial. He argued that the “extraordinarily prejudicial” testimony about safety concerns was only meant “to inflame this jury” in a case about business records at the Trump Organization.

“We move for a mistrial based on the testimony of this witness,” said Trump attorney Todd Blanche. “The court set guardrails, and her testimony went over them.”

Prosecutor Susan Hoffinger countered that Daniels’ testimony was “highly probative of defendant’s intent” and Trump’s “motive for paying this off.” She argued that the defense had “opened the door” to this line of questioning by introducing evidence related to the alleged threat Daniels received in 2011.

After hearing arguments from both sides, Judge Merchan denied the request for a mistrial but acknowledged that “there were some things that probably would’ve been better left unsaid.” He also chastised the defense team for not objecting more vigorously during Daniels’ testimony, stating, “I will also note that I was surprised there were not more objections.”

The Cross-Examination and Lingering Tensions 

As Daniels’ testimony continued in the afternoon, Trump attorney Susan Necheles went after Daniels aggressively in cross-examination. She got Daniels to admit that she “hates Trump” and would want him jailed if found guilty, while also confirming that Daniels owes Trump around $560,000 from losing a previous defamation lawsuit against him.

The combative back-and-forth saw Necheles imply that Daniels had fabricated the parking lot threat story as a money-making opportunity. Daniels pushed back, saying, “I was terrified. I just had to change my tactic because it was a new ballgame” with Trump running for president.

Throughout her testimony, Daniels maintained that while she had planned to simply get her story out in 2016, the offer of $130,000 in hush money led her to sign a non-disclosure agreement to keep herself “safe” from any retaliation. 

The day’s proceedings concluded with Daniels’ testimony unfinished, setting the stage for her return to the stand on Thursday for further cross-examination by the defense and re-direct by the prosecution.

A Pivotal Moment in the Trial 

Stormy Daniels’ explosive testimony marked a pivotal moment in the Trump hush money trial, injecting the proceedings with a level of salacious detail and high-stakes drama that had been largely absent up until this point.

While Trump and his supporters dismiss the charges brought against him in this case as small potatoes, Daniels provided a reminder that Trump had an urgent motive to buy her silence in the 2016 campaign. If the details of their alleged affair had emerged amid the fallout from the Access Hollywood tape’s release, it could have been politically devastating and changed the outcome of the election. 

Daniels’ appearance in court has undoubtedly added a new layer of complexity to an already high-profile case, further fueling the intense media scrutiny and public interest surrounding the trial. As the trial progresses, all eyes will remain fixed on the courtroom, where the fate of a former president hangs in the balance, and the truth behind one of the most controversial episodes in modern American politics continues to unfold.