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Adult film star Stormy Daniels testifies against Trump in New York trial

Judge Juan Merchan presides over proceedings on Tuesday as Stormy Daniels, far right, answers questions on direct examination by assistant district attorney Susan Hoffinger in Manhattan criminal court as former President Donald Trump and defense attorney Todd Blanche look on.
Elizabeth Williams
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AP
Judge Juan Merchan presides over proceedings on Tuesday as Stormy Daniels, far right, answers questions on direct examination by assistant district attorney Susan Hoffinger in Manhattan criminal court as former President Donald Trump and defense attorney Todd Blanche look on.

Updated May 07, 2024 at 16:54 PM ET

NEW YORK — Adult film actor Stormy Daniels took the stand in the criminal trial against Donald Trump on Tuesday, offering details about an alleged sexual encounter that prompted the former president's lawyers to ask for a mistrial. New York Judge Juan Merchan rejected that effort.

The details focused on an alleged 2006 sexual encounter with Trump in a hotel suite as well as their contact between 2006 and 2008. Trump has denied the affair.

Adult film actress Stormy Daniels speaks outside federal court in New York in April 2018. She is testifying this week in the criminal trial of former President Donald Trump.
Mary Altaffer / AP
/
AP
Adult film actress Stormy Daniels speaks outside federal court in New York in April 2018. She is testifying this week in the criminal trial of former President Donald Trump.

Stormy Daniels, also known as Stephanie Clifford, is one of two women the prosecution is alleging Trump paid off to protect his electoral prospects the first time he ran for the White House. Her testimony will continue on Thursday.

While Merchan denied the defense's motion for mistrial, he did agree "there were things that were better left unsaid" during Daniels' testimony. On Tuesday morning, Merchan sustained various objections raised by the defense for including unnecessary details, and before the afternoon testimony began, he instructed prosecutors to take some time to instruct her to be more succinct in her answers.

Prosecutors argued the details Daniels gave are aimed at establishing her credibility and also help explain what exactly Trump wanted to silence with a nondisclosure agreement and $130,000 settlement from his then-lawyer Michael Cohen.

The former president sat in the courtroom for her testimony, as he is required to by New York criminal law, and has been accompanied by one of his sons, Eric Trump.

The former president faces 34 felony counts alleging that he falsified New York business records to conceal damaging information to influence the 2016 presidential election. Trump, who pleaded not guilty, claims the trial itself is "election interference" because of how it is disrupting his 2024 bid for president because he must be present in court every day and can't campaign when he is.

Who is Stormy Daniels?

Daniels is an adult film actor who received a $130,000 payment from Trump's Cohen in 2016 as Trump was first running for president. Daniels has said that she had an affair with Trump after he married Melania and just after the birth of his youngest son, Barron.

Although Trump has denied the affair, in 2018 Cohen admitted to the payments, and Trump acknowledged that Cohen represented him in the deal after at first denying it. In 2018 Cohen pleaded guilty to federal charges of violating campaign finance law, "at the direction of a candidate for federal office," among other charges, and was sentenced to three years in federal prison.

Testifying on Tuesday, she detailed how she first met Trump at a celebrity golf tournament in 2006. During that event, which was sponsored by the adult film company she was working for, Daniels said she was invited to have a private dinner with Trump. During the dinner, Trump encouraged her to join his show, The Apprentice — a role she was eventually turned down for — and she detailed the alleged sexual encounter.

She said she didn't feel threatened by him, but that she felt "there was a power imbalance." And that afterwards, she said she felt ashamed to stayed in touch with Trump because he dangled the possibility of a role on his show.

She also testified about receiving periodic calls from Trump from different New York numbers after that and also instances of being seen in public with him. From 2008 to 2011 she said she had no contact with Trump; she recounted getting married, having her daughter and starring in mainstream movies and music videos.

She testified that in October 2016, InTouch magazine called her to tell her that someone had sold her story and that another magazine was looking to publish it. She decided to do an interview with InTouch to try and get ahead of the story. Ultimately neither story ran but ran in an online tabloid magazine.

Daniels testified that her agent was looking to sell her story in 2016, after Trump had announced his candidacy.

"My motivation wasn't money, it was to get the story out. I didn't care about the money," Daniels said. "I was the best I'd ever been. ... Things were very good."

Daniels testified that in October 2016, she was presented with a nondisclosure agreement between herself and Trump. The jury was shown an email from Cohen to Daniels' lawyer for a $130,000 settlement agreement and a side letter agreement identifying the pseudonym for Daniels and Trump in the settlement.

Daniels also tried to sue Trump in 2018 for defamation, but the lawsuit was dismissed. In 2023 she later tried to appeal the decision but lost that appeal, leaving her topay Trump's legal fees of $120,000. That same month, Trump was indicted by a Manhattan grand jury.

Earlier this year, a new documentary titled Stormy was released on Peacock, detailing her life between 2018 and 2023 and the various legal and personal challenges she's faced since coming forward.

How does she fit in the prosecution's case?

The payment to Daniels by Cohen received scrutiny in 2018 for potentially violating campaign finance law. Trump has long argued that the payment had nothing to do with the election and that instead he was trying to protect his marriage and family and that Cohen acted alone. But prosecutors argue that the payments violated a New York law barring illegal conspiracies to "promote" a candidate, and that a $420,000 reimbursement to Cohen was falsely described in Trump business records as a "legal retainer" to cover up the illegal payment.

In opening statements for the trial, prosecutor Matthew Colangelo said they would work to show the jury how payments were calculated and disguised for tax purposes as well as evidence that "Trump is a frugal businessman ... but when it came to pay Cohen back, he didn't negotiate the price down. He doubled it, so he could disguise it as income," Colangelo said.

A story of infidelity with a porn star would have been damaging to the campaign, Colangelo said, and Trump wanted to "prevent American voters from learning about that information before Election Day."

"There was no retainer agreement, it was instead what they thought was a clever way to pay Cohen back without being obvious about it," Colangelo said, detailing that Cohen submitted 11 "phony invoices" paid for by checks with "false entries" signed by Trump himself.

In his opening, defense attorney Todd Blanche spent time trying to discredit some of the prosecution's witnesses, primarilyCohen, who has a history of perjury, and Daniels, noting how she has received publicity, pointing to her recent documentary and how Trump has won a defamation lawsuit against her.

What did Trump's lawyers ask her about?

Trump defense lawyer Susan Necheles cross examined Daniels about her past social media history, her debt of legal fees to the former president and the interviews she has given regarding the alleged sexual encounter and settlement. The line of questioning was aimed to discredit Daniels' honesty, recounting moments when recollections of events may have been told differently.

Necheles questioned Daniels' different recollections of her experiences with Trump. For example, one of Daniels' books recalls their 2006 meeting but does not reference the alleged sexual encounter. Those allegations came later. Daniels answered that the discrepancy comes from her book editor wanting her to falsely imply that the sex was not consensual, which she didn't want to do in the book.

Necheles also questioned whether Daniels has made money off of the story. "It has also cost me a lot of money," Daniels said back.

Necheles also hammered Daniels over an allegation that in 2011 she was threatened in a parking lot while on her way to a fitness class with her then-infant daughter. Necheles pushed Daniels to admit the story was made up. Daniels said it wasn't.

Following a line of questioning from last week when defense lawyers questioned Daniels' former lawyer Keith Davidson, Necheles pushed her on if she wanted to extort Trump.

"False!" Daniels yelled.

Who else has the jury heard from so far?

Jurors have heard from 12 witnesses so far, called by the prosecution:

David Pecker, former CEO of American Media Inc. He testified about making a deal with Trump and Cohen in 2015 to help Trump's campaign by finding potentially damaging stories and helping to kill them.

Keith Davidson, the former lawyer for McDougal and Daniels who negotiated their payments in exchange for the rights to their stories. He testified and verified various text messages, phone calls and conversations surrounding the deals.

Hope Hicks, former Trump campaign and White House official. She testified about the campaign and Trump's response to press reports about the payments and alleged affairs.

Jeffrey McConney, the former controller for the Trump Organization. He verified financial documents from the Trump Organization and emails facilitating the payments from Trump to Cohen.

Rhona Graff, a longtime executive assistant at the Trump Organization. She testified against her former boss about how she entered McDougal's and Daniels' contact information into the Trump Organization's directory. Her testimony verified Trump's contact lists.

Gary Farro, a former banker at First Republic Bank. He testified about opening accounts for Cohen that would eventually be used to pay Daniels. He said if he had known what the accounts would be used for, he may not have ever opened them.

Robert Browning, executive director for archives for C-SPAN. He verified two 2016 Trump campaign clips and one 2017 press conference clip where Trump called Cohen a talented lawyer and where Trump called allegations from women lies.

Phillip Thompson of Esquire Deposition Solutions. He verified video and transcript of a 2022 deposition Trump gave for his civil defamation lawsuit against writer E. Jean Carroll. In a video clip played from the deposition, Trump confirms his wife is Melania Trump and his Truth Social handle, among other things.

Doug Daus, a supervising forensics analyst in the Manhattan District Attorney's office. He testified to authenticating phone data; prosecutors played a recording of Cohen and Trump in which Cohen can be heard telling Trump, "I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend, David."

Georgia Longstreet, a paralegal in the Manhattan DA's office. She testified to analyzing Trump's social media posts.

Deborah Tarasoff, the accounts payable supervisor at the Trump Organization. She testified to the check and reimbursement process at the Trump Organization. She confirmed each of the invoices, vouchers and checks paid from Trump's personal account to Cohen.

Sally Franklin, vice president of Penguin Random House, a publishing company. She verified books published about and by Trump.

Copyright 2024 NPR

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Ximena Bustillo
Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.