Hush money testimony expected to focus on payment to ex-Playboy model

By Thomson Reuters Apr 25, 2024 | 5:09 AM

By Jack Queen

(Reuters) – Donald Trump’s criminal hush money trial is set to resume in New York on Thursday with a former tabloid publisher testifying about efforts to help Trump’s 2016 presidential bid by burying negative stories, including an alleged affair with a former Playboy model.

Former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, 72, is a key witness in the case against the former U.S. president, who is accused of falsifying business records documenting a $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet about an affair she said she had with Trump in 2006.

Pecker, who has not been charged with a crime, testified on Tuesday that the Enquirer paid two people for stories of Trump’s alleged sexual misbehavior but never published them — a practice known as “catch and kill.”

He is expected to testify on Thursday about a similar payment to former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who said she had a yearlong affair with Trump in 2006 and 2007.

McDougal is also expected to testify during the trial, along with Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, who says he arranged the Daniels payment and was reimbursed by Trump.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts and denied having an affair with Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. He has also denied having an affair with McDougal.

Hush money payments themselves are not illegal, and Trump’s lawyers have argued the Daniels payout was personal and unrelated to his campaign.

Prosecutors say the payment was a campaign expense that should have been disclosed and that Trump’s arrangement with the Enquirer deceived voters by suppressing stories of alleged extramarital affairs at a time when he faced accusations of sexual misbehavior.

The trial is the first of a past or present U.S. president and carries political risks for Trump as he prepares for a November rematch with President Joe Biden and fends off three other criminal indictments, all of which he has pleaded not guilty to.

Also on Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear Trump’s arguments that he is immune from prosecution for actions taken as president, an appeal that has held up his prosecution on charges related to his attempts to reverse his 2020 election defeat.

Trump, who is required to be present for the New York trial, previously asked for permission to attend the Supreme Court arguments, but his request was rejected by Justice Juan Merchan, who is overseeing the criminal case.

Trump has also complained that the trial, which began on April 15 and is expected to last six to eight weeks, is preventing him from campaigning, though he uses his courthouse appearances as mini-stump speeches.

Merchan has imposed a limited gag order on Trump that bars him from publicly attacking witnesses, jurors and other people close to the case, including court staff and their families.

Prosecutors have asked Merchan to fine Trump $1,000 apiece for 10 social media posts they said violated the order, including one where he called Cohen and Daniels “sleazebags.”

Trump has said the gag order violates his right to free speech and says he is being treated unfairly by Merchan.

(Reporting by Jack Queen in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis)