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Stormy Daniels describes meeting Trump during occasionally graphic testimony in hush money trial

By MICHAEL R. SISAK, JENNIFER PELTZ, ERIC TUCKER and JAKE OFFENHARTZ, Associated Press
Published: May 7, 2024, 1:12pm
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Former President Donald Trump arrives at Manhattan criminal court before his trial in New York, Thursday, April 25, 2024.
Former President Donald Trump arrives at Manhattan criminal court before his trial in New York, Thursday, April 25, 2024. (Spencer Platt/Pool Photo via AP) Photo Gallery

NEW YORK (AP) — Stormy Daniels took the witness stand Tuesday at Donald Trump’s hush money trial, describing for jurors a sexual encounter the porn actor says she had with him in 2006 that resulted in her being paid off to keep silent during the presidential race 10 years later.

Jurors appeared riveted as Daniels offered a detailed and at times graphic account of the encounter Trump has denied. Trump stared straight ahead when Daniels entered the courtroom, later whispering to his lawyers and shaking his head as she testified.

The testimony was by far the most-awaited spectacle in a trial that has toggled between tabloidesque elements and dry record-keeping details. A courtroom appearance by a porn actor who says she had an intimate encounter with a former American president added to the long line of historic firsts in a landmark case laden with claims of sex, payoffs and cover-ups and unfolding as the presumptive Republican nominee makes another bid for the White House.

Daniels veered into salacious details despite the repeated objections of defense lawyers, who after the lunch break demanded for the first time a mistrial over what they said were prejudicial and irrelevant comments.

“This is the kind of testimony that makes it impossible to come back from,” defense lawyer Todd Blanche said. “How can we come back from this in a way that’s fair to President Trump?”

The judge rejected the request and said defense lawyers should have raised more objections during the testimony. The Trump team later in the day used its opportunity to question Daniels to paint her as motivated by personal animus and profiting off her claims against Trump.

“Am I correct that you hate President Trump?” defense lawyer Susan Necheles asked Daniels.

“Yes,” she acknowledged.

Daniels’ statements are central to the case because in the final weeks of Trump’s 2016 Republican presidential campaign, his then-lawyer and personal fixer, Michael Cohen, paid her $130,000 to keep quiet about what she says was an awkward and unexpected sexual encounter with Trump in July 2006 at a celebrity golf outing in Lake Tahoe. Trump has pleaded not guilty.

Led by a prosecutor’s questioning, Daniels described how an initial meeting at a golf tournament, where they discussed the adult film industry, progressed to a “brief” sexual encounter that she said Trump initiated after inviting her to dinner and back to his hotel suite.

She said she didn’t feel physically or verbally threatened, though she knew his bodyguard was outside the suite. There was also what she perceived as an imbalance of power: Trump “was bigger and blocking the way.”

At the time, Trump was married to his wife, Melania, who has not been in court for the trial. She said Trump told her that they did not sleep in the same room, prompting him to shake his head at the defense table.

After it ended, Daniels said, “It was really hard to get my shoes because my hands were shaking so hard.”

“He said, ‘Oh, it was great. Let’s get together again, honey bunch,’” Daniels continued. “I just wanted to leave.”

In the years since the encounter was disclosed, Daniels has emerged as a vocal Trump antagonist, sharing her story innumerable times and criticizing the former president with mocking and pejorative jabs. But there was no precedent for Tuesday’s events, when she came face-to-face with Trump and was asked under oath in an austere courtroom to describe her experiences to a jury weighing whether to convict a former American president of felony crimes for the first time in history.

She said she met Trump because the adult film studio she worked for at the time sponsored one of the holes on the golf course. They chatted about the adult film industry and her directing abilities when Trump’s group passed through. The celebrity real estate developer remarked that she must be “the smart one” if she was making films, Daniels recalled.

Later, in an area known as the “gift room,” where celebrity golfers collected gift bags and swag, Trump remembered her as “the smart one” and asked her to dinner, Daniels said.

She said her then-publicist suggested in a phone call that Trump’s invitation was a good excuse to skip a work dinner and would “make a great story” and perhaps help her career.

“What could possibly go wrong?” she recalled the publicist saying.

She said the two saw each other periodically in the ensuing years, when she said she spurned Trump’s advances. She testified that she learned from her agent in 2011, several years after she and Trump were last in touch, that the story had made its way to a magazine.

She said she agreed to an interview for $15,000 because “I’d rather make the money than somebody make money off of me, and at least I could control the narrative.” The story never ran, but later that year, she was alarmed when an item turned up on a website.

Perhaps seeking to preempt defense claims that she was in urgent need of a massive payout, Daniels testified that she was in the best financial shape of her life, directing 10 films a year, when she authorized her manager to shop her story during the 2016 presidential election cycle.

She said she had no intent of approaching Cohen or Trump to have them pay her for her story.

“My motivation wasn’t money,” she said. “It was to get the story out,” she testified.

But Necheles zeroed in on that point, pressing Daniels on the fact that she owes Trump hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees stemming from an unsuccessful defamation lawsuit and that she tweeted in 2022 that she “will go to jail before I pay a penny.”

“That was me saying, ‘I will not pay for telling the truth,’” Daniels testified Tuesday.

Testimony so far has made clear that at the time of the payment to Daniels, Trump and his campaign were reeling from the October 2016 publication of the never-before-seen 2005 “Access Hollywood” footage in which he boasted about grabbing women’s genitals without their permission.

The candidate spoke with Cohen and Hope Hicks, his campaign’s press secretary, by phone the next day as they sought to limit damage from the tape and keep his alleged affairs out of the press, according to testimony.

Before that video was made public, “there was very little if any interest” in her claims, according to testimony earlier in the trial from her then-lawyer, Keith Davidson. A deal was reached with the National Enquirer for Daniels’ story, but the tabloid backed out. Davidson began negotiating with Cohen directly, hiked up the price to $130,000, and reached a deal.

After the deadline for the $130,000 payment from Cohen came and went, she authorized Davidson to cancel the deal. He did, by email, according to documents shown in court. But about two weeks later, the deal was revived.

Daniels testified that she ended up with about $96,000 of the $130,000 payment, after her lawyer and agent got their cuts.

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She also said she was steadfast in abiding by her nondisclosure agreement with Cohen, declining to comment to The Wall Street Journal for a November 2016 story that reported she had been in discussions to tell her story on “Good Morning America” but that nothing had come of it. She also declined when the newspaper asked her for comment before it broke the news of her hush money arrangement in 2018.

After that story was published, her life turned into “chaos,” she testified.

“I was front and foremost everywhere,” she recalled.

Prosecutors are building toward their star witness, Cohen, who pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the hush money payments.

Trump is charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in connection with the hush money payments. The trial is the first of his four criminal cases to reach a jury.

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