Trump prosecutors prepare to call final witnesses in hush money trial

By Thomson Reuters May 10, 2024 | 5:08 AM

By Luc Cohen and Jody Godoy

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Donald Trump is set to return to court Friday after porn star Stormy Daniels’ lurid testimony about her alleged sexual encounter with him, as prosecutors prepare to call their final witnesses in the first-ever criminal trial of a sitting or former U.S. President.

In seven hours of testimony this week over two days in New York state criminal court in Manhattan, Daniels spared few details. She told jurors she had sex with Trump in a Lake Tahoe hotel suite in 2006 while he was married to his wife Melania, testifying about gold tweezers she saw in his toiletry bag and stating that he did not wear a condom.

Trump, 77, has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records to cover up his former lawyer Michael Cohen’s $130,000 payment to Daniels, 45, for her silence ahead of the 2016 U.S. presidential election about the alleged encounter. He denies having sex with Daniels and has called the case a politically motivated effort to interfere with his campaign to win back the White House  in the Nov. 5 U.S. election against his Democratic opponent, President Joe Biden.

Friday’s proceedings are expected to kick off with more cross-examination of Madeline Westerhout, the former White House aide who testified on Thursday about checks Trump signed in the Oval Office and a meeting he scheduled with Cohen early in his 2017-2021 presidency.

Cohen, Trump’s onetime loyal “fixer” who is now an outspoken antagonist, is chief among the remaining witnesses. Prosecutors with Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office have not said when he will be called to the stand, and his testimony could last several days.

Prosecutors say Trump falsely labeled his reimbursement payments to Cohen in 2017 as legal retainer fees in his New York-based real estate company’s books to obscure the payment to Daniels, which they say violated campaign finance law.

They say the payments to Daniels and another woman who says she had an affair with Trump, Playboy model Karen McDougal, were part of a broader scheme to corrupt the 2016 election by buying the silence of people with potentially damaging information in violation of campaign finance laws. Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in the race for president that year. Trump has also denied the alleged affair with McDougal.

Prosecutors have now called 16 witnesses, and said they could rest their case by May 21. Last month, defense lawyer Susan Necheles said prosecutors had provided them a list of 20 potential witnesses. They may not call all those witnesses, and prosecutor Joshua Steinglass said in court on Thursday they do not plan to call McDougal.

Todd Blanche, a defense lawyer for Trump, on both Tuesday and Thursday asked Justice Juan Merchan to declare a mistrial, arguing Daniels’ detailed testimony had prejudiced the jury and was not relevant to the charges. Merchan denied both those requests, pointing out that Blanche in his April 22 opening statement said Daniels’ story was false and prosecutors had a right to try to repair her credibility.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen and Jody Godoy in New York; Editing by Noeleen Walder and David Gregorio)