Trump Trial Shifts Focus To The Dirty World of Hush Money


Jurors on Tuesday got the sense that Donald Trump isn’t being prosecuted in New York for masterminding an airtight hush money deal—he’s actually on trial for faking paperwork in a bungled rush job all because of his sloppy greed and his right hand man’s desperation.

The third week of the former president’s first criminal trial in New York City got underway with testimony from Keith Davidson, a Los Angeles lawyer who opened up about his sleazy world of hush money deals.

“It was very frustrating that it was on again, off again… delays in funding, cancellations, disengaging from clients,” Davidson recalled.

The lawyer represented former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal and porn star Stormy Daniels, two of the women who had sexual affairs with Trump nearly two decades ago and were positioned to sully his flailing 2016 presidential campaign until they decided to remain silent in exchange for cold, hard cash.

On Tuesday morning, Trump entered the Manhattan courtroom displaying what’s become his typical sour mood, with the 77-year-old politician angrily pacing toward the maroon office chair that confines him four days a week and keeps him off the 2024 presidential campaign trail.

The former president’s mood only got worse when Justice Juan Merchan fined him $9,000 for violating a gag order by continuing to direct his menacing rhetoric online toward witnesses and even jurors—and then threatened to throw him behind bars if he continues to act out like a petulant child.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump returns to the courtroom following a break during his trial.

Justin Lane — Pool/Getty Images

But Trump’s mood seemed to ease as the day went on and the focus shifted toward the nuts and bolts of the deal that got him indicted on 34 felony counts of falsifying business paperwork.

There were brief witness appearances by technicians who merely served to verify videos that established Trump really does run his Truth Social account and felt compelled to decry accusations of sexual misconduct at political rallies—elements that prosecutors hope to employ to build the idea that Trump was incentivized to shut up these women to protect his campaign.

But the ninth day at trial was really defined by what became an introduction into the seedy world of irresponsible entertainment “journalism.”

On the witness stand, Davidson explained how he tried to leverage McDougal’s salacious story—which might show that Trump was cheating on his new wife Melania around the time she gave birth to their son, Barron—to score his new client everything she wanted.

McDougal sought three things. First, she wanted to rejuvenate her career—after all, she held herself out to be the second sexiest “playmate” of the 1990s. Second, she wanted to make money. And third, she didn’t actually want to go public and get branded with what Davidson called “the scarlet letter” of being the “other woman.”

“She did not want to tell her story,” Davidson testified.

So instead, she relied on her lawyer to cut a deal with the likes of AMI, then the publisher of the unreliable supermarket tabloid National Enquirer.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump appears in court during his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments at Manhattan Criminal Court.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump appears in court during his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments.

Justin Lane — Pool/Getty Images

It started with a June 7, 2016, text Davidson sent to his longtime contact—and then friend— Dylan Howard, the Enquirer’s top editor.

“I have a blockbuster trump story,” Davidson sent him.

In court, Davidson explained it as “an entree, a teaser, perhaps an opportunity for him.” He told jurors that this was his typical approach to generate interest with someone in the publishing industry. And in this case, it was someone willing to cross a clear red line in journalistic principles and pay for the scoop—with no intention to ever publish it.

“Talk 1st thing. I will get you more than ANYONE for it. You know why…” Howard responded, just 32 seconds later.

On the stand, Davidson told jurors why Howard was so excited to pounce.

“I knew that Dylan’s boss—David Pecker—and Mr. Trump were longtime friends. Pecker published Trump Magazine and at the time AMI had explicitly implied to me they had endorsed Mr. Trump’s candidacy,” he said.

It was a standard catch-and-kill scheme, a public relations industry term that was little known at the time but has since become the topic of exposés and memoirs, such as former Enquirer editor Lachlan Cartwright’s piece in The New York Times earlier this month. (Cartwright is a former Daily Beast reporter.)

After much negotiating that brought the initial price down from over $1 million to a paltry sum of $150,000 and what amounted to a fake writing gig at the Enquirer, Pecker forked over the cash on the company dime and the deal was sealed long before it could see the light of day.

Midday on Tuesday in court, Davidson uttered the exact words the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office wanted to hear. When prosecutor Joshua Steinglass asked why AMI would buy a story it never intended to print, Davidson connected the dots—and established what jurors might end up considering the motivation for Trump to commit the crime.

Davidson mentioned “an unspoken understanding that there was a close relationship between David Pecker and Donald Trump,” one that wouldn’t allow the publisher “to hurt Donald Trump.”

“You mean Donald Trump’s campaign,” Steinglass interjected.

“Yes,” Davidson clarified.

That point will become the fulcrum of the overall trial, as prosecutors strive to convince jurors that Trump didn’t silence these women simply to avoid an expensive divorce—which hasn’t come anyway in the six years since these allegations emerged.

However, this process wasn’t so clean the second time around. Davidson detailed his many frustrations when attempting to secure a second hush money deal for the porn star while dealing with then-Trump confidant and personal lawyer Michael Cohen.

He did have one thing on his side, though. Daniels’ salacious tale—shopped around by a publicist named Gina Rodriguez—was made all the more valuable as soon as Trump was outed as a sexually abusing celebrity when the infamous Access Hollywood tape leaked.

“Before the Access Hollywood tape, there was very little interest in what Gina was trying to sell with the Stormy Daniels Donald Trump story. It wasn’t until the Access Hollywood tape that the interest sort of reached a crescendo,” Davidson testified, again hitting the high notes prosecutors hope to use later in the trial.

Except this time around, Pecker wasn’t about to be duped again. He had fronted Trump the money the first time, but this time the man who loves to flaunt his gilded penthouse and riches was going to get stuck with the bill.

Jurors saw how, instead of handling it on his own, Howard texted Cohen and Davidson about “the business opportunity” and let them hash it out. AMI had already negotiated a $120,000 deal, and now Davidson could some in and score an easy 10 grand by finalizing it.

The only downside? They’d have to deal with Trump’s untrustworthy bulldog of a lawyer—one who has since taken the fall for his former boss, lost his law license, and been convicted of perjury.

“Dylan was washing his hands of the deal,” Davidson said. “No one wanted to talk to Cohen.”

In a humorous moment, Davidson recalled how the porn star’s publicist tried to butter him up by promising this would be a quick and lucrative business transaction.

“All you’ve got to do is pay for it and talk to that asshole, Cohen…it’s going to be the easiest deal you’ve ever done in your entire life,” Davidson recalled with a chuckle, appearing to reflect on the years of drama that forced him to travel across the country to appear in a New York City courtroom that day and testify under oath.

But as the weeks went by, Cohen didn’t make good on his promise to finalize the deal and actually deliver the agreed-to $130,000. At one point, Davidson even warned Cohen that the deal was off if he didn’t wire the money by 5 p.m.—a deadline that came and went.

Davidson lamented “their failure to meet the funding deadline repeatedly and being met with a barrage of excuses as to why they had failed… there were circular arguments, excuses, contradictions. Things he was saying didn’t really make sense.”

“They had this deal on a silver platter, and the only reason it didn’t close… was because they didn’t want to spend the money,” he testified.

As the afternoon wore on, prosecutors struggled to get Davidson to outright say that the money was really always going to come from Trump, but the former president’s lawyers raised a wall of objections that were sustained by the judge. As the fight played out, Trump leaned back in his chair shaking his head with a smirk on his face.

The day ended with Davidson noting that Cohen finally decided to wire the funds from his own bank account, cursing, “God damn it, I’ll just do it myself.”

And when the deal finally came through, Davidson described Cohen as “highly excitable, sort of a pants on fire kind of guy.”

Shortly after Tuesday’s proceedings wrapped up, Trump took to Truth Social to post his usual furious, post-corut screed.

“This is a total Witch Hunt. Hours of sitting down and listening to nothing except EXONERATION AND LIES. The Trial is going like a speeding bullet, because the Judge is working hard to make all of his friends happy. Merchan is Rigged, Crooked and above all, and without question, CONFLICTED. It’s a disgrace to our Country — They’ve taken away my Right to Free Speech. ELECTION INTERFERENCE!!!” he posted.

Trial is back on Thursday, when jurors are set to hear the end of the story—and watch as Trump’s lawyers try to tear it apart on cross-examination.



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