Michael Cohen’s calls and more potential fines: Trump trial key takeaways, day 10 (2024)

Keith Davidson, a lawyer who negotiated payments on behalf of Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels, testified for most of Thursday in Trump’s criminal trial in Manhattan, shedding more light on how the deal came together and efforts to keep Daniels quiet as media began to report on the deal in 2018.

Here are a few key takeaways:

  1. 1. Davidson complicated the story prosecutors wanted to tell

    Davidson told prosecutors he did not consider the agreement Daniels entered into “hush money”. Instead, he considered it “consideration for a civil settlement”. That’s a key distinction that is likely to boost the defense, because the district attorney argues that Trump falsified business records by falsely stating that his reimbursem*nts to Cohen for the deal were “legal expenses”.

    At other points during his testimony, Davidson failed to link the deal to Trump. As prosecutors walked him through the non-disclosure agreement Daniels signed, jurors saw that the agreement was signed by Cohen and Daniels, but the signature line for Trump (he used a pseudonym) was blank in the version displayed in court.

    Prosecutors also walked Davidson through a series of exchanges in which he told CNN in 2018 that he believed Cohen paid the money himself. Davidson had previously said he believed Trump would ultimately be responsible for the payments. But as the deal was delayed in the final days of the campaign, Cohen told Davidson: “f*ck it, I’ll do it myself.” After the election, Cohen also complained that he had yet to be reimbursed for the payments.

  2. 2. Defense attorneys attacked Davidson’s credibility

    Emil Bove, one of Trump’s attorneys, went after Davidson’s credibility during cross-examination. Bove focused on unflattering legal deals Davidson had been linked to in which Davidson’s clients sought payouts based on information they had about celebrities, including Lindsay Lohan, Hulk Hogan, Charlie Sheen, and Tila Tequila. It was part of an effort to paint Davidson as someone who extorted celebrities.

    Bove also highlighted that Davidson was aware of what constituted extortion, because he had come under federal investigation for it before. Bove suggested Davidson did not directly link payment for the Daniels story to the election out of concern it would be extortion. He also suggested that Davidson pushed Daniels to enter the deal before the election because that was when leverage would be highest. He played a recording in which Davidson told Cohen on the phone: “This is hypothetically speaking … sometimes people get settler’s remorse. And sometimes people think I have to get resolved … before this date certain because after that day you have no more leverage. The things go a different way.”

  3. 3. Jurors heard recorded calls from Michael Cohen

    Michael Cohen’s voice entered the courtroom for the first time on Thursday as prosecutors played multiple recordings Cohen had made of phone calls with Davidson in 2018. Cohen secretly made these recordings.

    Cohen lamented his relationship with Trump in the calls. In a key exchange, he said: “I can’t even tell you how many times he said to me, you know, I hate the fact that we did it,” which Davidson says he understood as a reference to paying Daniels.

    Prosecutors also played a recording Cohen made of Trump in 2016 in which they discussed the payment to McDougal in 2016. Trump asked how much they would have to pay “our friend David”, a reference to the American Media CEO David Pecker, who had purchased the rights to the story. CNN previously published the tape in 2018, but this is the first time it was played for jurors.

  4. 4. Michael Cohen was despondent after the 2016 election

    Davidson said he and Cohen spoke frequently after the 2016 election, and it was clear Cohen was “depressed and despondent”.

    Cohen was upset that Trump was not taking him to the White House, and had believed he could be the US attorney general or White House chief of staff. “I thought he was gonna kill himself,” Davidson said.

    During one call when Davidson was out Christmas shopping at a big-box store that was decorated like Alice in Wonderland, Cohen fumed about Trump.

    “He said something to the effect of ‘Jesus Christ, can you f*cking believe I’m not going to Washington? After everything I’ve done for that f*cking guy. I can’t believe I’m not going to Washington.’ I’ve saved that guy’s ass so many times you don’t even know.

    “He said, ‘I never even got paid. That f*cking guy is not even paying me the $130,000 back,’” Davidson added.

  5. 5. Prosecutors asked the judge to fine Trump an additional $4,000

    Prosecutors began the day by asking Judge Juan Merchan to again rule that Trump was in contempt over four additional violations of the judge’s gag order. The four alleged violations involve recent statements Trump made suggesting the jury would be unfair, that Pecker was “nice”, and two statements critical of Michael Cohen. Trump is prohibited from talking about jurors or witnesses in the case.

    “They are deliberate shots across the bow to everyone who may come to this courtroom to talk about the defendant and what he did,” said Christopher Conroy, a prosecutor with the Manhattan district attorney’s office. Trump’s comments, he said, had created an “air of menace”.

    Conroy asked Merchan to impose a $1,000 fine for each of the violations, the maximum allowed. He said the district attorney was not currently seeking for Trump to be jailed. “To minimize disruptions to this proceeding, we are not yet seeking jail,” he said.

    Todd Blanche, Trump’s lead attorney, defended Trump by arguing that the gag order had put Trump at an unfair advantage on the campaign trail. He noted that Cohen, as well as Daniels, had attacked him.

    “They’re not people who need to be protected, and, to the contrary, he needs to be able to respond to that,” he said.

Michael Cohen’s calls and more potential fines: Trump trial key takeaways, day 10 (2024)
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