Trump at hush money trial wishes Melania ‘happy birthday’ as Pecker testimony about trysts continues

NEW YORK — Donald Trump wished his wife Melania a happy birthday walking into his hush money trial Friday — a day after former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker said the former president never mentioned worrying about what she thought about his alleged affairs at the heart of the state’s case against him.

“I want to start by wishing my wife Melania a very happy birthday,” Trump said on his way into the courtroom. “It’d be nice to be with her but I’m at a courthouse for a rigged trial.”

Trump initially told reporters he planned to fly to meet his wife in Florida once proceedings wrapped.

Later, he challenged President Biden to participate in a nationally televised debate at the courthouse Friday night, responding to Biden telling Howard Stern during an interview on Sirius XM Radio that he’d be willing to debate Trump.

“I’ll wait around!”

The defense grills Pecker

Pecker, the former CEO of American Media, or AMI, which published the National Enquirer and other supermarket tabloids, finished on the stand Friday after four days of testimony.

In Team Trump’s cross-examination of Pecker, lawyer Emil Bove grilled Pecker about “inconsistencies” in what he testified about earlier this week and told the FBI in 2018 regarding a conversation with Trump in the weeks before his inauguration. The defense challenged Pecker’s testimony that Trump had thanked him for his role.

Pecker, who received immunity in exchange for testifying truthfully, as he did in Michael Cohen’s 2018 case related to the hush money scheme, on Thursday told jurors the president-elect thanked him for handling “the situation” with playboy model Karen McDougal and a Trump Tower doorman.

Trump has been charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records to conceal a conspiracy to influence the results of the 2016 election. The crimes, prosecutors say, revolve around a reimbursement to Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen for a hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels.

“I know what the truth is,” Pecker told Trump’s lawyer, adding he couldn’t say why the feds didn’t jot it down but was confident of his memory.

The exec remained calm on the stand, stopping and thinking for a few beats before responding to Bove’s questions. He conceded the words “catch and kill” weren’t uttered at the August 2015 Trump Tower meeting between him, Trump, and Cohen, where prosecutors say the hush money scheme was born, nor was a “financial dimension” discussed.

Peppering Pecker with rapid-fire questions that mainly elicited one-word answers, Bove sought to portray his publications’ “catch and kill” arrangement with Trump as a mere continuation of something he had been doing — and personally benefiting from — for decades, not a scheme to defraud the 2016 electorate.

The lawyer ran through multiple celebrities the media exec sought to protect from unflattering stories.

Later, on Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass’s redirect examination, the prosecutor asked Pecker if any of the “hundreds of thousands” of nondisclosure agreements he was involved in over the years, except those with Trump, aided a presidential campaign.

Pecker said no.

“Is it standard operating procedure to have a presidential campaign person weighing in on what terms of a contract ought to be amended?” Steinglass asked during another line of questioning.

“Uh, no,” Pecker said.

Pecker: Trump’s concern was his brand

On Thursday, the longtime publisher told the courtroom that after Trump announced his candidacy, he never heard him voice concerns for his family when working to cover up unfavorable stories— only for his campaign.

Pecker told the court he paid $30,000 to silence a Trump Tower doorman’s story of a child Trump allegedly fathered out of wedlock and $150,000 for Playboy model Karen McDougal’s silence on a nearly year-long affair she says she had with Trump, which he denies.

“We didn’t want the story to embarrass Mr. Trump or embarrass or hurt the campaign,” Pecker said Thursday on his motivation for the“catch and kill” scheme.

Detailing his visit to the White House in early 2017 on Thursday, Pecker said Trump remained concerned McDougal would talk about the relationship.

“As we walked out, President Trump asked me, ‘How is, eh, how is Karen doing?’” Pecker said on Thursday. “So I said, ‘She’s doing well. She’s quiet. Everything’s going good.”

The defense has countered that Trump did nothing illegal and that his interactions with Pecker both fell within legal lines and were “standard practice” for political candidates.

Since the start of the trial, prosecutors say Trump has violated his gag order more than a dozen times, which prohibits him from commenting on trial participants. Merchan is expected to hear further arguments on their request to hold Trump in criminal contempt and fine him thousands of dollars next week.