'Catch and kill' tabloid chief winds up testimony in Trump trial

Donald Trump is the first former US president to face criminal charges (Dave Sanders)
Donald Trump is the first former US president to face criminal charges (Dave Sanders)

Donald Trump's historic criminal trial wrapped up for the week on Friday following four days of testimony by a colorful ex-tabloid publisher who said he suppressed potentially damaging stories about the former president.

Trump, 77, is accused of falsifying business records to reimburse his lawyer, Michael Cohen, for a $130,000 hush money payment made to porn star Stormy Daniels just days ahead of the 2016 election against Hillary Clinton.

Daniels, 45, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, was threatening at the time to go public with her story about an alleged 2006 sexual encounter with Trump that could have potentially derailed his White House campaign.

During four days of testimony, David Pecker, 72, the first witness called by the prosecutors, outlined a scheme known as "catch and kill," which involved buying and then burying salacious stories which could have been embarrassing to the real estate tycoon.

The former publisher of the National Enquirer was not personally involved in the payment to Daniels, but prosecutors are using his testimony to demonstrate that "catch and kill" was commonly used by Trump and his "fixer" Cohen.

Pecker told the court he paid $30,000 to kill a story from a Trump Tower doorman who was peddling an apparently false claim that Trump had fathered a child out of wedlock with a maid.

He said $150,000 was paid to squash a story from Karen McDougal, a Playboy model who claimed to have had a year-long affair with Trump.

"We purchased the story so it would not be published by any other organization," Pecker told the jury. "We didn't want the story to embarrass Mr. Trump or hurt his campaign."

When it came to squashing Daniels' tale of her alleged sexual encounter with Trump, Pecker said he hesitated to pay for yet another story.

"I'm not a bank," he said.

The executive suggested to Cohen that he pay for it instead, which prosecutors say the then-Trump fixer did.

- 'Rigged trial' -

Trump has appeared increasingly disgruntled, angry even, as the trial proceeds.

The Republican presidential candidate is required to report to the chilly Manhattan courtroom multiple times a week, restricting his time on the campaign trail less than seven months before his likely election rematch with President Joe Biden.

Speaking to reporters in a hallway before entering court on Friday, Trump wished his wife, Melania, a happy birthday.

"It'd be nice to be with her but I'm at a courthouse for a rigged trial," he said.

Leaving court for the day he railed against the case, calling it a "well-coordinated attack on a political opponent."

Daniels and Cohen, who has become a vocal critic of his former boss, are both expected to testify at what is the first ever criminal trial of a former US president.

Two other witnesses made brief appearances on Friday -- Rhona Graff, Trump's long-time executive assistant, and Gary Farro, whose former bank was used to wire the payment to Daniels.

Graff testified that contact information for McDougal and Daniels was registered in the Trump Organization computer system. She also said she recalled seeing Daniels once in the reception area of Trump Tower before her boss was a candidate for the White House.

In addition to the New York case, Trump has been indicted in Washington and Georgia on charges of conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

He also faces charges in Florida of allegedly mishandling classified documents after leaving the White House.

The court is not in session Monday and prosecutors will resume presenting their case Tuesday.