5 takeaways from the second week of Trump’s hush money trial testimony

NEW YORK — Salacious celebrity scandal peppered with foundation-building evidence defined the second week of testimony in former President Trump’s New York criminal trial.

Witnesses this week began digging into the minutiae of the Manhattan district attorney’s case, from bank records and non-disclosure agreements to text messages suggesting efforts to keep quiet negative stories about Trump to help his 2016 campaign.

But key witnesses’ credibility has also been sharply drawn into question, setting the stage for defense attorneys to take aim at critical future testimony.

Here are five takeaways from the second week of testimony in the hush money trial.

Celebrity scandals make a cameo

Keith Davidson, a lawyer for two women paid to keep their alleged affairs with Trump secret, gave a behind-the-scenes account of efforts to execute the agreements with the National Enquirer and ex-Trump fixer Michael Cohen.

But Davidson’s testimony during cross-examination by Trump’s attorneys also dredged up a graveyard of celebrity scandals he also appeared to be linked to.

The likes of Lindsay Lohan, Charlie Sheen, Hulk Hogan and Tila Tequila were name-dropped as clients or casualties of Davidson’s work, which defense attorneys used to suggest the lawyer has a habit of extorting famous figures.

At one point, Trump’s attorneys attempted to paint Davidson as an extortionist for stories involving everything from sex tapes to rehab stints.

Davidson’s testimony to start exposed his relationship with National Enquirer editor Dylan Howard as he worked to keep affairs alleged by porn actress Stormy Daniels and ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal, who Davidson represented, from going public as Trump mounted his first presidential campaign.

But by the time election night 2016 came around, Davidson expressed remorse in a text message to Howard as Trump stunned the nation by inching toward becoming president-elect.

“What have we done?” Davidson wrote.

Hope Hicks: 2016 damage control 

Trump may be running for president in 2024, but it was the chaos of his 2016 campaign that became central to the case Friday, when his ex-political adviser Hope Hicks took the stand.

Hicks testified for hours about how she was central to mitigating damage caused by a series of scandals just before Election Day.

The first “crisis” came when a Washington Post reporter reached out to the campaign about the “Access Hollywood” tape, a 2005 recording of Trump bragging about grabbing women inappropriately and seemingly without their consent.

“I was concerned,” Hicks said of her initial reaction to learning of the tape – and the news organizations intent to publish it along with a story. “I was very concerned.”

When confronted with the Post’s comment request, Trump told Hicks that it “didn’t sound like something he would say,” she testified. But he later told her he believed the remarks were “pretty standard stuff for two guys chatting.” The first time Trump saw the tape he was upset, she said, describing her own reaction as “just a little stunned.”

Hicks also testified that, just four days before Election Day 2016, Cohen blew off a Wall Street Journal story that revealed McDougal’s hush money deal. Cohen, she said, didn’t believe the story would get much traction.

“Just a little irony there,” she noted on the witness stand, discussing the story in detail nearly eight years later.

Cohen credibility war underway 

Cohen was already in the hot seat this week – before he takes the stand himself – as witnesses took turns taking shots at the former president’s ex-fixer, making clear the challenges of the controversial character’s impending testimony.

Davidson testified that he and others in his orbit at the time took measures to actively avoid Cohen because they disliked him so much. Texts between a top editor at the National Enquirer and Daniels’s manager revealed descriptions of Cohen as “some jerk” and “that asshole.”

In his testimony, Davidson described Cohen as a “highly excitable, sort of a pants-on-fire kind of guy.”

“He had a lot of things going on,” the lawyer said.

Even Cohen’s old banker, Gary Farro, revealed that the onetime fixer became his client because he maintained a reputation as someone who can handle clients “who may be a little challenging.”

Having coordinated the payments to a Trump Tower doorman and McDougal – in addition to paying off Daniels himself – Cohen’s testimony is expected to provide prosecutors with a key link to Trump. Cohen has said that his actions were done at the behest of his then-boss.

But testimony this week gave defense attorneys significant fodder to undercut the credibility of the soon-to-be star witness, whose own testimony is expected to mark the climax of the trial.

Trump’s courtroom entourage grows  

Early in the trial, some observers noted that the former president’s family was not in court with him.

But Trump’s entourage grew this week to include a wider set of aides and family.

The former president’s son, Eric Trump, attended on Tuesday, sitting in the courtroom gallery alongside Trump campaign adviser Susie Wiles.

They were joined by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) and Club For Growth President David McIntosh.

Trump himself has turned his body to face a witness testify at times, while at other moments, the former president faced straight ahead to read texts, emails and other exhibits displayed on the monitor in front of him.

Throughout the week, Trump often whispered to his lawyers — sometimes appearing frustrated — or looked through written press clippings provided to him by an aide. The former president has also closed his eyes for multiple minutes on multiple occasions, though he has denied sleeping in court.

“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 posted on Truth Social on Thursday.

Trial schedule comes into view

The trial schedule is constantly being tweaked, and the latest changes make one thing clear: Many partial weeks lay ahead.

The trial as of now will meet next week on its normal schedule of all weekdays except Wednesday, when the judge attends to his other active cases.

But after that, the schedule is regularly interrupted.

Judge Juan Merchan agreed to skip trial on Friday, May 17 so Trump can attend his son Barron’s high school graduation.

The following Friday, the court will not meet because a juror has plans to leave town that day for Memorial Day weekend. And, the court won’t meet on the holiday itself that Monday.

The week after that? Another skipped day. If the jury hasn’t started deliberating yet, the judge signaled he’ll skip trial on June 3 so one of Trump’s lawyers can attend a graduation.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.