Hope Hicks Weeps In Testimony At Donald Trump’s Hush Money Trial; Top Aide Details Payoff To Porn Star & How She Learned Of It – Update

2nd UPDATE 1:56 PM: Not for the first time, Donald Trump made someone cry today.

Hope Hicks wept on the stand today in the hush money trial of her former boss moments after a prosecutor had finished questioning her about her dealings with Trump and Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen. Finished talking to Assistant D.A. Matthew Coloangela on the stand in Manhattan, the former White House Communications Director had just begun taking questions from a defense lawyer when she turned her head away from the courtroom gallery and, crying audibly, reached for a tissue to dab away tears.

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“Ms. Hicks, do you need a break?” Judge Juan Merchan asked of the much anticipated witness. “Yes,” she replied in a shaky voice.

The court recessed for about 10 minutes, and Ms. Hicks returned to the stand. “Sorry about that,” she said.

Earlier, Hicks discussed the Trump campaign’s decision to deny a Wall Street Journal story about American Media’s hush money deal with former Playboy model Karen McDougal. The story was published four days before the 2016 election and it also mentioned porn actor Stormy Daniels.

Hicks, the Trump campaign’s press secretary, testified that her instructions to tell the Journal that Trump denied any sexual involvement with either woman came directly from Trump himself. “I know very clearly that he stated the denials,” she said.

When Cohen later texted her “I have a statement from Storm denying everything,” Hicks testified, “I didn’t know what he was talking about and I didn’t want to know.”

In February, after the election, The New York Times reported that Cohen admitted to paying $130,000 to Daniels for her silence — the payment that triggered the Manhattan District Attorney’s investigation of Trump and led to his indictment on charges of falsifying business records to conceal a reimbursement of Cohen.

Hicks testified that Trump told her, based on his own conversation about the Times article with Cohen, “He did it out of the kindness of his own heart and he never told anybody about it.”

Assistant District Attorney Matthew Colangelo asked Hicks if that sounded like the Michael Cohen she knew — a question that drew an objection from the defense, which Judge Merchan overruled.

“I’d say that would be out of character for Michael,” Hicks replied. “I didn’t know Michael to be an especially charitable person or selfless person.”

In a gentle cross-examination by Trump lawyer Emil Bove after her brief break to compose herself, Hicks described Cohen as a nuisance — someone continually inserting himself into a presidential campaign in which he had no official role.

“He liked to call himself a fixer or Mr. Fix-it, and it was only because he first broke it,” she said with a laugh.

But she did ask Cohen for his help after the Access Hollywood tape surfaced of Trump making crude remarks about women: Hicks called him to look into another rumor “that there may be another tape that would be problematic for the campaign,” she testified.

“There was no such tape, regardless, but he sort of chased that down for me,” Hicks said.

Hicks said Trump’s concern about rumors of infidelity were for his family. “I don’t think he wanted anyone in his family to be hurt or embarrassed by anything that was happening in the campaign,” she testified. “He wanted them to proud of him.”

After jurors were excused, Judge Merchan heard lawyers on whether to exclude his contempt findings against Trump from being brought up if Trump decides to testify — an indication that Trump could take the stand in his own defense.

Merchan quickly ruled for the defense, agreeing with Trump attorney Todd Blanche that letting jurors hear about Merchan’s contempt ruling would be prejudicial and “very very difficult” for a jury “to look past.”

Merchan still has yet to decide whether to find Trump in contempt again for more public statements aimed at witnesses and jurors that prosecutors say violate the judge’s gag order. On his way out of court, Trump was asked to comment on Hicks’ testimony and demurred, citing the gag order, per a pool report. He did allow that he was “very interested in what took place today” in court.

The trial resumes on Monday.

1st UPDATE, 11:30 AM: Former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks told a Manhattan jury today that Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign wanted Rupert Murdoch’s help in delaying an explosive Wall Street Journal story about the candidate’s alleged affair with the 1998 Playmate of the year

Having been out of the public eye since Trump left office in 2021, Hicks was testifying today in the former president’s 11-day old hush money trial, with her former boss sitting just a few feet away.

One topic that took up a lot of time in Hicks testimony was her repeated shocks of learning that the Celebrity Apprentice host had made crude remarks directed towards woman on the infamous Access Hollywood tape, followed by scandalous claims about Trump connected to former Playboy model Karen McDougal, and a porn actor, Stormy Daniels, all in the final weeks of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

“I had a good sense that this was going to be a massive story and dominate the news cycle for the next several days at least,” Hicks, who was Trump’s presidential campaign spokesperson in 2016, said on the stand, describing her reaction to a Washington Post reporter emailing her on October 7, 2016 for comment about the Access Hollywood tape.

She was sitting in her 14th floor office at Trump Tower in Manhattan when the email arrived. Trump was in a conference room on the 25th floor preparing for his second presidential debate with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. When she brought the news to the campaign officials upstairs, “I think there was a consensus amongst us all that the tape was damaging and this was a crisis,” Hicks testified.

When they brought the matter to Trump, she said his reaction was that “it was almost like two guys talking privately. It was locker room talk, It wasn’t anything to get upset over.”

The campaign issued a written statement in which Trump called it “locker room banter” and added, “Bill Clinton has said for worse to me on the golf course.” They followed up with a longer video statement, posted to Twitter, in which Trump said, “I was wrong. And I apologize.”that

Hicks proved correct about the story dominating the news cycle. Questioned by Assistant District Attorney Matthew Colangelo, she recalled on the stand that the tape was one of the first questions he faced that weekend at Sunday’s presidential debate with ex-Secretary of State Clinton.

The next reporter inquiry came on November 4, four days before the election, from a Wall Street Journal reporter asking for comment on a hush-money contract between McDougal and American Media, owner of the National Enquirer tabloid. Hicks said the email arrived as Trump’s campaign plane was about to land in Ohio for a barnstorming “hangar rally” at the airport. It was the first time she’d heard of McDougal, and she said that in a follow-up call the reporter also mentioned Stormy Daniels.

Hicks said she forwarded the reporter’s email to Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and top political advisor, and then called him, knowing that he had “a good relationship” with Murdoch, the owner of the Journal.  “I was hoping he could buy a little extra time to deal with this,” Hicks said, implying that he might intervene to delay publication. Kushner replied that “he wasn’t going top be able to reach Rupert and we should work on responding and deal with it,” Hicks said.

Hicks said her next calls were to Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, and after that, American Media CEO David Pecker. Hicks said she didn’t really remember the conversation with Cohen, “but there’s a reason I called David next,” she said, explaining that Cohen “sort of feigned — he didn’t know what I was talking about.”

Pecker told her that the payment to McDougal was for “magazine covers and fitness columns and it was all very legitimate, and that’s what the contract was for.”

In a later contact with Cohen to run a statement by him, Cohen recommended that Trump say, “These accusations are completely untrue.”

That was the gist of Trump’s replies, in statements and on Twitter, and at a rally in Greensboro, N.C., to claims of sexual infidelity with McDougal and Daniels. Jurors saw a C-SPAN clip of Trump at the Greensboro rally telling the audience, “These are all horrible lies, all fabrications.”

Hicks testified that she believed she also discussed Daniels with Cohen, who unbeknownst to Hicks had already paid Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet. “He wanted to know the context” of the reporter’s information, “and he wanted to make sure that there was a denial of any kind of relationship,” Hicks testified.

The Journal published its first story — focused on McDougal, but mentioning Daniels — that day. Asked by prosecutor Colangelo how she interpreted the article, Hicks said, “I felt that the point of the story was that the National Enquirer paid a woman for her story and never published it. It wasn’t necessarily about accusations of certain behavior.”

In about 90 minutes of testimony before a court lunch break, Hicks struck a friendly tone towards Trump as he watched her on the stand. “He’s a very good multitasker and a very hard worker,” She said of the boss she worked for on Trump company matters and then on the campaign before becoming White House communications director. She said of the Trump Organization, “It’s a very big and successful company but it was run like a small family business in several ways.”

She said that Trump “is better than anybody at communications and branding,” and that as a presidential candidate, he was “very involved” in matters of press and messaging.

“I would say that Mr. Trump was responsible” for the campaign’s messaging, Hicks said. “He knew what he wanted to say and how he wanted to say it. We were all just following his lead.”

Hicks will resume testifying after lunch.

PREVIOUSLY, 9:01 AM: “I’m really nervous,” Hope Hicks told a packed Manhattan courtroom as the former White House Communications Director began her much anticipated testimony in Donald Trump’s hush money trial.

Once one of the former Celebrity Apprentice host’s closest confidantes, Hicks’ testimony has been highly anticipated in this case of the $130,000 paid to Stormy Daniels to keep the story of the porn star’s alleged affair with Trump out of the news in the weeks leading up to the 2016 election. For lack of a better expression, Hicks is assumed to know where are all the bodies are buried in Trumpland.

This morning Hicks, who appeared in late 2022 via video deposition before House Select Committee hearing to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the US Capitol, confirmed she has not spoken to her former boss since “the summer, fall of 2022.” As the ex-White House and campaign aide began answering questions from Assistant District Attorney Matthew Coloangela, it was noticeably to those in the courtroom how Hicks mainly avoided eye contact with Trump, who is seated nearby.

However, Trump being Trump, the former POTUS looked right at Hicks when she complimented his skills in messaging in the early days of what many saw as a long shot or even joke campaign in 2015/2016. “We were all just following his lead,” Hicks said.

After a less than dramatic past few days in Trump’s trial, cable news lit up Friday as news of Hicks’ appearance in the cameraless courtroom became known. CNN and MSNBC were full-on with hosts and pundits in studio and texts from reporters in the courtroom literally being read out on-air. Even Fox News, which has been giving the past and present GOP candidate’s legal proceedings less than wall-to-wall coverage the past 11 days, went live and strong on Hicks’ presence.

In the Anderson Cooper-attended courtroom, after some quick background information and details on the initially ramshackle 2016 campaign, Hicks is now being asked about Trump’s bodyguard Keith Schiller and Trump’s executive assistant, Rhona Graff., currently jailed Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg and former fixer Michael Cohen.

Earlier in the day, lawyers in Trump’s latest New York found themselves cooling their heels and waiting to find out if the 2024 Republican presidential nominee will be hit with another contempt finding and more penalties by Judge Juan Merchan.

This morning, however, Judge Merchan began by assuring Trump that a gag order against him wouldn’t apply if he decides to take the stand. “I want to stress, Mr. Trump, that you have an absolute right to testify,” the judge said, calling it “a constitutional right that cannot be denied.”

Trump, in the hallway outside the courtroom on Thursday, said,  “I’m not allowed to testify. I’m under a gag order, I guess. I can’t testify.” He reversed himself this morning on his way into the courtroom. When a reporter asked, “Does the gag order stop you from testifying?” Trump responded, “No.”

Seated between his lawyers this morning Trump faced Merchan as the judge clarified to him that the gag order “only applies to extrajudicial statements — that is, statements made outside of court.”

As the trial nears the end of week three, Merchan has already fined Trump $9,000 and compelled him to pull down several online posts. The judge’s gag order on Trump prohibits public statements about likely witnesses, jurors and other trial participants. In a trial subplot that is happening out of view of jurors, prosecutors on Thursday argued for new sanctions based on another batch of Trump statements —”persistent and escalating rhetoric” designed to intimidate witnesses, Assistant Manhattan District Attorney Chris Conroy said.

Meanwhile, a data analyst for the Manhattan District Attorney’s office returned to the stand this morning to be cross-examined by Trump lawyer Emil Bove.

The analyst, Douglas Daus, testified on Thursday that he extracted audio from a cell phone owned by lawyer Michael Cohen of a conversation with Cohen’s boss, Trump, about a hush-money payment to former Playboy model Karen McDougal.

Prosecutors played that call for jurors on Thursday and used the cellphone data to lay out Cohen’s extensive contacts in the Trump universe. The contacts included a White House spokesperson, Hope Hicks, and a Trump Organization accountant, Allen Weisselberg, who is in jail on Rikers Island after pleading guilty to perjury in a civil case against Trump for inflating his net worth.

Bove today continued questioning Daus about who else had Cohen’s phones before the DA’s office received them, and what data might have been altered or deleted by then. Bove also sought to float doubts about the veracity of the audio in which Cohen and Trump discuss paying McDougal, noting the audio cuts out.

“And in many ways we’re just going to have to take Michael Cohen’s word for it?” Bove asked. Daus said yes.

Daus, on redirect, told prosecutor Conroy that he saw no evidence of tampering in the data extracted from Cohen’s phones. But he said yes when Bove. followed up by asking him, “Did you see gaps in the handling of this data that created risks for such tampering?”

It was a line of questioning that suggested Cohen, when his turn to testify comes, will face aggressive and skeptical questioning by Trump lawyers.

Jurors on Thursday watched Bove grill Beverly Hills lawyer Keith Davidson — who represented McDougal and porn actor Stormy Daniels — for his earlier dealings on behalf of clients with celebrity gossip to sell. Davidson worked with Cohen and a tabloid editor, Dylan Howard of the National Enquirer, to arrange payments in 2016 to McDougal and Daniels so that neither would air claims of extramarital sex with the GOP’s White House nominee.

Jurors also heard Cohen and Davidson, in calls secretly recorded by Cohen, talking about the payment to Daniels. Prosecutors and defense lawyers both played audio to bolster their dueling claims: that Trump directed Cohen to make the Daniels payment; or that Cohen acted on his own to gain leverage over his boss.

Davidson’s clients included people with dirt to sell about actors Charlie Sheen and Lindsey Lohan and professional wrestler Hulk Hogan. But as jurors saw, none of those earlier dealings came with the political or historical stakes of the claims being made by McDougal and Daniels.

“What have we done?” David texted Howard as Election Night results showed Trump winning.

“Oh my god,” Howard texted back in an exchange shown in screenshots.

By then, Davidson had brokered a $130,000 hush money payment for Daniels from Cohen, with Howard helping the negotiations stay on track. Howard’s boss, American Media CEO David Pecker, wasn’t purchasing the Daniels story in order to bury it as he had done with McDougal’s for $150,000. But Pecker, who testified last week, was a friend of Trump’s with an interest in keeping him scandal-free in his march to the White House.

Davidson told a prosecutor on Thursday that his text to Howard was “gallows humor” and an acknowledgement that “our activities may have in some way assisted the presidential campaign of Donald Trump.”

Davidson finished his two days of testimony with a grueling cross-examination. Ex-prosecutor Bove all but called Davidson an extortionist, positioning Trump as one of Davidson’s marks instead of a political candidate breaking business and election laws to conceal a sexual scandal and cover up an illegal reimbursement to Cohen.

It was the kind of aggressive pushback that Trump himself might have applauded, based on his reported unhappiness with lead defense lawyer Todd Blanche. At the contempt hearing on Thursday morning that jurors did not see, Trump looked incredulously at Blanche when the lawyer said “I agree” with Judge Merchan that “nobody forced your client” to talk to reporters in the hallway about Cohen.

“Nobody’s forcing him,” Blanche said. “But he’s running for president: He has to be able to speak.”

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