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Five big takeaways from Day 7 of Trump’s hush money trial

todayApril 26, 2024

Background

Former U.S. President Donald Trump, center, and Todd Blanche, attorney for former U.S. President Donald Trump, second left, at Manhattan criminal court in New York, U.S., on Thursday, April 25, 2024. (Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

(NEW YORK) — Former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker concluded his direct examination in former President Donald Trump’s criminal hush money trial after lifting the veil on his publication’s “catch-and-kill” deal with Trump — after which an attorney for the former president began cross-examination by framing that same arrangement as nothing more than “standard operating procedure” in the world of tabloids.

The day featured the first testimony about then-Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s payment to Stormy Daniels — the transaction at the heart of the district attorney’s case — and brought to life Pecker’s interactions with Trump after he secured the presidency.

Pecker returns to the stand Friday morning to continue cross-examination, while Judge Juan Merchan has also scheduled a hearing for next Wednesday on several additional alleged violations of the limited gag order Trump is under.

Here are five big takeaways from Day 7 of the trial:

Pecker described the Karen McDougal arrangement

Pecker testified that after he learned Playboy model Karen McDougal was trying to sell a story about an alleged year-long relationship she had with Trump, Michael Cohen instructed Pecker to purchase her story and suggested that Trump would compensate the company for the cost.

Pecker said that he purchased the exclusive rights to McDougal’s story for $150,000 so it wouldn’t “embarrass Mr. Trump or embarrass or hurt the campaign.”

“Were you aware that expenditures by corporations made for the purpose of influencing an election made in coordination with or at the request of a candidate or campaign were unlawful?” prosecutor Josh Steinglass asked Pecker.

Pecker said he was aware and confirmed that the Enquirer’s parent company, AMI, never reported the payment to the Federal Election Commission.

Trump kept tabs on hush payments after the election

Pecker described how Trump, after securing the presidency, kept tabs on the women Pecker and Cohen had paid off in exchange for their silence.

Describing two Trump Tower meetings during the transition period, a visit to the Oval Office, and at least two angry phone calls from Trump, Pecker detailed Trump’s concern with keeping them quiet.

“He (Trump) asked me how Karen [McDougal] was doing — how’s ‘our girl’ doing. I said, she’s writing her articles, she’s quiet, things are going fine,” Pecker testified.

When McDougal and Daniels went on television in 2018, Pecker said he fielded two calls from Trump, describing him as “very aggravated” about how the women were able to skirt the contracts they’d brokered.

Pecker helped broker the Stormy Daniels deal

Pecker explained his role in brokering Michael Cohen’s infamous $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels — the transaction underpinning the 34 felony charges Trump now faces.

Pecker recalled receiving a frantic phone call while out to dinner with his wife in 2016 — it was his editor at the National Enquirer calling with an offer to purchase Daniels’ story.

Pecker explained his reluctance to engage in another “catch-and-kill” deal on Trump’s behalf, but he instructed his editor to give Michael Cohen the chance to take the story “off the market,” which Cohen did — out of his own pocket.

Cohen later complained to Pecker that he was worried he wouldn’t be reimbursed by Trump or get a bonus, and asked Pecker to ask Trump to help him secure both.

The defense called it ‘standard operating procedure’

Trump attorney Emil Bove, cross-examining Pecker, sought to frame the “catch-and-kill” arrangement as nothing more than “standard operating procedure” in the tabloid industry.

Pecker said that his company only published about half the stories they purchased, and that Pecker began giving Trump a heads-up about negative stories nearly two decades before Trump launched his presidential bid.

“Seventeen years of providing President Trump with a heads up about potentially negative publicity?” Bove asked him.

“That’s correct,” Pecker said.

Pecker addressed other catch-and-kill deals

Under cross-examination, Pecker discussed other catch-and-kill arrangements that he had over the years, including buying and suppressing a story for Rep. Rahm Emanuel for $20,000.

He said that he made an agreement with Arnold Schwarzenegger ahead of the actor’s run for California governor in which Schwarzenegger agreed to serve as an editor-at-large for some of AMI’s fitness magazines in exchange for help quashing negative stories about Schwarzenegger’s past interactions with women.

Pressed on cross-examination about the arrangement with Schwarzenegger, Pecker acknowledged that AMI spent its own money to kill stories about the former California governor — “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Pecker said.

Pecker also testified about an effort to compel Tiger Woods to do an interview with AMI’s fitness magazines by purchasing a negative story about him as leverage.

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