Prosecutors Play Recording Of Donald Trump And Michael Cohen Discussing Hush Money Payments — Update

UPDATE: Jurors today heard a recording in which Donald Trump and his then-lawyer and “fixer,” Michael Cohen, discuss payments to Karen McDougal, the former Playboy model who claimed to have had an affair with The Apprentice host.

The recording was made by Cohen in September of 2016 — and first reported on by CNN in 2018. In it, Trump and Cohen discussed buying the rights to McDougal’s story.

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“I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David,” Cohen said, referring to David Pecker, then-CEO of American Media, the tabloid publisher that bought McDougal’s story for $150,000 with the intention of burying it.

When Cohen turned to the subject of “financing,” Trump asked, “What financing?”

“We’ll have to pay,” Cohen said. It wasn’t clear from the garbled audio at that point whether Trump agreed. Pecker, a prosecution witness last week, said he was never reimbursed for the $150,000 and cited that as one reason he wanted no part in a similar catch-and-kill agreement with Daniels.

Prosecutors played the recording shortly after the testimony of Keith Davidson, who represented McDougal as well as former porn actress Stormy Daniels, who also accused Trump of an affair.

Cohen also secretly recorded a phone call with Davidson of a conversation in October 2017. Cohen said, “I can’t even tell you how many times he said to me, you know, ‘I hate the fact that we did it.’ And my comment to him was, ‘But every person that you’ve spoken to told you it was the right move.’”

During his testimony this afternoon, Davidson faced a contentious cross examination by a lawyer for Trump, Emil Bove.

Bove sought to leave jurors thinking that Trump was a victim of extortion, and not the prime mover behind a hush-money scheme to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Bove highlighted Davidson’s history of cutting deals for clients selling celebrity gossip. He repeated the word “extortion” several times during a cross examination that dredged up details of payments that Davidson had “extracted,” or tried to, from celebrities including Charlie Sheen, Hulk Hogan and Lindsay Lohan.

Davidson denied extorting anyone, but acknowledged he was investigated by Tampa, FL police and the FBI in connection with an offer to sell Hulk Hogan a video of him having sex with a friend’s wife.

Bove also had jurors listen to other recordings of phone calls between Davidson and Cohen. The calls were of conversations after Cohen had paid $130,000 to Daniels days before the 2016 election for her silence about a claim of a sexual encounter with Trump.  The calls also were secretly recorded by Cohen.

In one call, Davidson recounted to Cohen what he told CNN during an April 2018 interview that hadn’t yet aired. Davidson said he was asked, “Was there ever, ever any indication that the money was coming from him? And I said no.” The “him” referred to Trump.

“You and I both want the truth out there,” Davidson said.

“I do,” Cohen agreed.

Bove accused Davidson of trying to squeeze Trump for more money. He played back one phone call in which Davidson told Cohen, “Sometimes people get settler’s remorse,” an apparent reference to Daniels. “Hypothetically speaking,” Davidson added.

Davidson told Bove that pornographer Larry Flynt had offered Daniels $1 million and lawyer’s fees to break the agreement.

Bove also suggested, without saying it outright, that Davidson and Cohen had effectively become partners in their own scheme to shake down then-President Trump, with Cohen acting out of revenge for not being appointed to a post in the Trump Administration.

Earlier, Davidson told a prosecutor about a phone call with Cohen the month after Trump was elected. Davidson said he was shopping that day in a warehouse with Alice in Wonderland-themed decorations, and on the call remembered Cohen saying, “Jesus Christ, can you believe I’m not going to Washington? After everything I’ve done for that f—ing guy? … I’ve saved that guy’s ass so many times you, don’t even know.”

Bove returned to that call, saying Cohen sounded “disheartened.”

“I thought he was going to kill himself,” Davidson replied. Cohen had thought he might be in line for White House chief of staff or U.S. Attorney General, Davidson said.

The prosecutors wrapped up Thursday’s testimony with a digital data analyst who works for the Manhattan District Attorney. The forensic analyst, Douglas Daus, said he extracted data from two mobile phones belonging to Cohen.

One contained the September 2016 recording made by Cohen of his client Trump. Jurors also saw screenshots of contacts that Cohen kept on one phone for Trump, and learned that Cohen also had contacts for Trump aide Hope Hicks, Trump organization accountant Allen Weisselberg, First Lady Melania Trump, Pecker’s American Media deputy Dylan Howard, banker Gary Farro, and Davidson, among others.

The phone contained 39,745 contacts in all, Daus testified, the most he’d ever seen on a single phone. Daus was being cross-examined by Bove about the chain of custody of the phones and the risk of their data being manipulated when Judge Juan Merchan ended court for the day. Daus is expected to return to the stand on Friday.

PREVIOUSLY: The lawyer representing Stormy Daniels in her $130,000 settlement with Michael Cohen — who prosecutors say was acting on behalf of Donald Trump — was confronted on the stand today with his past dealings in earlier cases involving Hulk Hogan, Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan and Tia Tequila.

Keith Davidson, cross examined by Trump lawyer Emil Bove, acknowledged that he’d been investigated in 2012 by Tampa, FL police and the FBI in connection with a video of Hogan — whose real name is Terry Bollea — having sex with a friend’s wife. The tape was ultimately published by the now-defunct gossip site Gawker.

Davidson, a prosecution witness in the Manhattan hush-money trial of Trump, also acknowledged that he’d been the target of a law enforcement sting operation where, in a meeting with Bollea about the video, the conversations were secretly taped.

Bove said that Tampa police were concerned about “extortion” based on past statements he attributed to Davidson, including telling Bollea’s representatives that the Gawker revelations were “a shot across the bow” and that he wanted $1 million to keep the tape under wraps. Davidson, who was never charged, denied trying to extort anyone and said he was offering to sell Bollea the sex tape.

Davidson said repeatedly during cross examination that he couldn’t recall specific statements he might have made.

“That experience gave you familiarity with extortion law, correct?” Bove asked.

“Perhaps, I don’t know,” Davidson replied.

Bove was seeking to connect that experience to Davidson’s handling in 2016 of negotiations for Karen McDougal to sell — and conceal — her story of an affair with Trump.

“One of your concerns was staying on the right side of the law with respect to extortion, right?” Bove asked.

“I suppose,” Davidson replied.

In exchanges that grew testy, Bove also raised Davidson’s connections to a TMZ revelation that actress Lohan was undergoing rehab, a sex tape involving model and actor Tequila, and clients who received settlements from actor Sheen.

“Is it fair to say that your memory seems a little fuzzy around these issues?” Bove asked. Davidson replied that he had more than 1,500 clients and he was being asked to remember events from several years ago. He also declined to discuss a $2 million settlement paid to a client by Sheen, citing attorney-client privilege.

Davidson objected to Bove saying he had “extracted” money from Sheen. “And if you’re not here to play legal games,” he retorted to Bove, “then don’t say ‘extract.’”

During a discussion of the Tequila sex tape, Bove asked, “You don’t recall at the time of that transaction you were on a 90-day bar suspension?”

“I don’t recall,” Davidson replied.

In his second day on the stand, Davidson finished direct examination by explaining how a statement he drafted for Daniels was “technically true” even though it read, “Rumors that I have received hush money from Donald Trump are completely false.”

It was January 10, 2018, one year into Donald Trump’s presidency, and The Wall Street Journal was two days away from publishing an exposé headlined, “Trump Lawyer Used Private Company, Pseudonyms to Pay Porn Star ‘Stormy Daniels.’” Before then, The Journal had asked Daniels to comment. The Journal had already revealed the existence of a $150,000 agreement regarding Trump between former Playboy model Karen McDougal and American Media, publisher of the National Enquirer.

But Daniels was bound by the $130,000 confidentiality agreement that she had struck with Cohen, and believed she would have to repay the money plus $1 million in damages if she went public with her claim of a long-ago sexual encounter with Trump, when he was a famous real estate mogul with a newborn child by his second wife.

So Davidson drew up a statement for Daniel to put out. As he explained it to Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass, “It wasn’t a payoff. It wasn’t hush money. It was a consideration in a civil settlement.”

In the statement, Daniels also denied having a romantic sexual relationship with Trump. “I think you’d have to hone in on the definition of ‘romantic sexual affair,’ “ Davidson said. “I don’t think anybody ever alleged any interaction between she and Mr. Trump was romantic.” He said the statement was “technically true with an extremely fine reading” of the language.

As the secrecy around the arrangements with Daniels unraveled, lawyer Cohen was becoming increasingly agitated, Davidson testified, especially as Daniels went on a round of talk show interviews including Jimmy Kimmel Live! and The View to discuss her new-found fame. As Daniels was getting makeup and hair done at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood for the Kimmel interview, Davidson said he sat in the hotel’s Marilyn Monroe suite — where Kimmel’s producers had put Daniels up — on January 30, 2018 and typed up another statement of denial for Daniels.

PREVIOUSLY: Donald Trump was the subject of another contempt hearing this morning in his Manhattan hush-money trial.

In a repeat of an earlier courtroom debate that led to a contempt ruling and a $9,000 fine for Trump, prosecutors argued that the defendant had committed still more violations of the judge’s gag order restricting attacks on trial jurors and witnesses.

Trump has “willfully and knowingly violated the lawful order of this court,” assistant District Attorney Christopher Conroy told Judge Juan Merchan, citing four more instances of Trump sounding off against witnesses and jurors. The instance that appeared to interest Judge Merchan most was a comment by Trump to a radio show on April 23: “That jury was picked so fast—95 percent Democrats. The area is mostly all Democrats.”

Trump’s lawyer, Todd Blanche, explained Trump’s remark by saying, “We very much believe that this is a political trial, and part of President Trump’s belief is the location of the trial.”

Merchan cut Blanche off, asking, “Did he violate the gag order?” Blanche replied that he was making an argument that Trump did not violate the gag order and laying the foundation for his argument. “I’m not accepting your argument,” Merchan snapped.

Blanche insisted Trump was talking about the political climate that the jury represented, not attacking the jury or individual jurors.

The 30-minute hearing ended with no ruling. Prosecutors said they want fines, not jail, for Trump, but allowed that they could ask for stronger penalties if the gag order violations continue.

The judge found Trump in contempt on Tuesday for online posts in April targeting jurors and witnesses — specifically, Cohen and Daniels — and fined him $9,000. Merchan warned Trump that jail is a possibility if he keeps up the attacks, and prosecutors have already teed up four more instances where they say Trump violated the gag order, including during one of his hallway press encounters.

The gag order leaves Trump free to harangue Merchan and Bragg, but forbids any statements against jurors, witnesses, other trial participants and members of Merchan’s own family — including a daughter of the judge’s who has worked for Democratic campaigns and was a target of pre-trial Trump complaints tying Merchan to Trump’s political opponents.

Blanche argued this morning that Daniels and Cohen — frequent Trump antagonists — don’t need the gag order’s protection if the order’s aim is to keep trial witnesses from feeling intimidated.

In the trial itself, prosecutors are not done yet with the Beverly Hills lawyer who represented Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal in their six-figure payouts for silence about Trump. Keith Davidson, who could face cross-examination today by the defense, returned to the stand this morning after spending much of Tuesday in court talking about his distaste for dealing with Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.

In the middle of Trump’s 2016 White House campaign, Davidson and Cohen were negotiating the sale of exclusive rights to both women’s claims of intimate extramarital encounters with the GOP nominee, with the intent of burying both stories.

Jurors saw a text exchange between Davidson and his contact at the National Enquirer tabloid, editor in chief Dylan Howard, confirming that Cohen had wired $130,000 to Davidson in late October 2016 after a long struggle to get Daniels paid.

“Money wired, I am told,” Davidson wrote.

“Unbelievable,” Howard replied.

“He was an excitable, sort of pants-on-fire kind of a guy,” Davidson said on Tuesday of Cohen as he was questioned by Joshua Steinglass, one of a handful of Manhattan assistant district attorneys trying the hush-money case against Trump. Davidson elaborated, saying Cohen reminded him of Dug, the high-strung, talking dog in Pixar’s animated hit movie, Up — “where the dog says, ‘Squirrel! Squirrel!’ “ Davidson remarked.

Cohen, who pleaded guilty to federal charges tied to his payment of $130,000 to Daniels, is expected to testify for the prosecution. The indictment of Trump broke state and federal law by disguising the hush money reimbursement to Cohen with dozens of falsified check receipts and ledger entries. Trump was en route to winning the presidency in 2016 when the payment was made. He has denied any sexual involvement with Daniels and said he paid Cohen for standard legal work.

Jurors on Tuesday saw reams of texts between Davidson and Howard. In one text to Howard after the infamous Access Hollywood tape emerged a month before the election, Davidson wrote, “Trump is f——d.” Howard replied with a white flag emoji, apparently signaling surrender despite their best efforts to contain bad news about the candidate favored by Howard’s boss, American Media CEO David Pecker. “I think he was seconding my opinion,” Davidson testified.

On his way into the courtroom this morning, Trump gave another free-ranging speech about his presidential campaign and the criminal case, which is in its third week.

“It was nice to be able to campaign one day without being in this ridiculous show trial — Biden trial, I call it,” Trump said.

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