Jurors in hush money trial listen to recording of Trump discussing scheme with Michael Cohen to pay woman

Republican presidential candidate former U.S. President Donald Trump attends his criminal trial at the New York State Supreme Court in New York, New York, Friday, May 3, 2024. Doug Mills/Pool via REUTERS

NEW YORK (AP) — The prosecution’s star witness has yet to take the stand in Donald Trump’s hush money trial. But jurors are already hearing Michael Cohen’s words as prosecutors work to directly link Trump to payments to silence women with damaging claims about him before the 2016 election.

The second week of testimony in the case will conclude Friday after jurors hear potentially crucial evidence: a recording of Trump and Cohen, then his lawyer, discussing a plan to pay off a former Playboy model who claimed to be having an affair. with Trump. The former president denies the matter.

Live updates: Trump’s hush money trial nears end of second week

A former close Trump adviser, Hope Hicks, could testify as soon as Friday, two people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press. Hicks served as press secretary for Trump’s 2016 campaign and spoke with him by phone during a frantic effort to keep her alleged affairs out of the press in the final weeks before the election. The two people who described Hicks’ upcoming appearance insisted on anonymity to discuss internal preparations for the trial.

Prosecutors have spent the week using detailed testimony about meetings, email exchanges, business transactions and bank accounts to build on their case accusing the presumptive Republican presidential candidate of a scheme to illegally influence the 2016 election. They are preparing the setting for the pivotal testimony of Cohen, who paid porn actor Stormy Daniels $130,000 for her silence before going to prison for the hush money scheme.

Trump’s defense has worked to find holes in the credibility of prosecutors’ witnesses and show that Trump was trying to protect his reputation and his family – not his campaign – by keeping the women quiet. The defense also suggested, in questioning a lawyer who represented two women in silence negotiations, that Trump was, in fact, a victim of extortion.

The recording played Thursday was secretly made by Cohen shortly before the 2016 election. Cohen is heard telling Trump about a plan to buy the rights to former Playboy model Karen McDougal’s story from the National Enquirer so that he would never come to light. The tabloid had previously bought McDougal’s story to bury it on Trump’s behalf.

At one point in the recording, Cohen revealed that he had spoken with the Trump Organization’s then-chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, about “how to organize everything with financing.”

Trump can be heard responding: “How much do we have to pay for this? One fifty?”

Trump suggested the payment be made in cash, prompting Cohen to object by repeatedly saying “no.” Trump then says “check” before the recording cuts out.

Prosecutors played the recording after calling to the stand Douglas Daus, a forensic analyst with the Manhattan district attorney’s office who performed analyzes on the iPhones Cohen turned over to authorities during the investigation. Daus will return to the stand Friday morning and it is unclear who will follow him.

Jurors this week also heard more than six hours of crucial testimony from Keith Davidson, a lawyer who represented McDougal and Daniels in their negotiations with Cohen and the National Enquirer, the tabloid that bought and buried negative stories in a well-known industry practice. as “capture-and-kill.” Davidson on Thursday described his surprise that his under-the-table efforts could have helped Trump win the 2016 election.

“What have we done?” Davidson texted the then-editor of the National Enquirer on election night when it became clear that Trump was going to win. “My God,” the tabloid editor responded.

“There was an understanding that our efforts may have helped Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in some way,” Davidson told jurors.

Trump’s lawyers tried earlier in the day to mitigate the potential harm of Davidson’s testimony by having him acknowledge that he never had any interaction with Trump, only with Cohen. In fact, Davidson said, she had never been in the same room as Trump until his testimony.

“I had no personal interactions with Donald Trump. It came from my clients, Mr. Cohen or some other source, but certainly not from him,” Davidson said.

Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying internal business records of the Trump Organization. The charges arise from things like invoices and checks that were considered legal expenses in the Trump Organization’s records when prosecutors say they were actually reimbursements to Cohen for paying $130,000 to Daniels to maintain his silence.
Associated Press writer Eric Tucker in Washington contributed.

Republican presidential candidate former U.S. President Donald Trump attends his criminal trial at the New York State Supreme Court in New York, New York, Friday, May 3, 2024. Doug Mills/Pool via REUTERS