Trump trial: Second week of hush money criminal case in New York comes to a close

Former President Donald Trump as he arrives at Manhattan criminal court in New York, Friday, April 26, 2024. Credit: AP

Donald Trump kept contacts in his office for both women who claim they had affairs with him and were paid to keep quiet - Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal - according to his longtime executive assistant.

Rhona Graff, who worked 34 years for the Trump Organisation, became the second prosecution witness on Friday in Mr Trump’s criminal hush money trial in Lower Manhattan.

Ms Daniels was listed in the Outlook rolodex as “Stormy” with her cell phone number and once visited his 26th floor office at Trump Tower, according to Ms Graff, who testified for only half an hour.

Ms Graff told the jury she “assumed” Ms Daniels was there for a meeting about being cast on the Trump-hosted TV show, The Celebrity Apprentice.

"I vaguely recall hearing him say that she was one of the people that may be an interesting contestant on the show," Ms Graff testified.

Donald Trump speaks to members of the media as he arrives at Manhattan criminal court in New York, on Friday. Credit: AP

Ms Graff who worked for Mr Trump, stationed right outside his office door, until April 2021, leaving as a senior vice president.

She called Mr Trump a “fair” and “respectful” boss and the company a “stimulating, exciting, fascinating place to be."

Earlier on Friday, the defense completed its cross-examination of the first prosecution witness, David Pecker, 72.

He is the retired CEO & Chairman of American Media, Inc. (AMI), which owned the National Enquirer supermarket tabloid and was instrumental in suppressing the McDougal and Daniels stories.

Trump attorney Emil Bove pressed Mr Pecker to minimise what was special about his unwritten August 2015 agreement with Mr Trump and his attorney-fixer, Michael Cohen, to aid and protect the Trump presidential campaign by being its “eyes and ears.”

Under questioning by Mr Bove, Mr Pecker conceded the tabloid already frequently published negative stories about Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Emil Bove, attorney for former President Donald Trump. Credit: AP

He also admitted much of the negative content the Enquirer published in 2016 about Mr Trump’s Republican rivals for the party’s presidential nomination was lifted from other publications.

For example, a 2016 Enquirer story about an allegedly botched surgery by Republican presidential candidate Dr Ben Carson was first exposed by The Guardian in a story about seven malpractice claims against him.

Another Dr Carson story in the Enquirer, challenging his exaggerated claim that he was offered a full scholarship to attend the US Army military academy at West Point, copied its information from an earlier Politico article.

Similarly, a negative article about Florida Senator Marco Rubio, also a Republican presidential candidate in 2016, was based on a book about him.

Mr Bove asked: “The National Enquirer was recycling information from other publications, because it was cost efficient and made business sense?”

“Yes,” Mr Pecker replied.

Mr Pecker also agreed with Mr Bove that the “catch and kill” strategy of buying the rights to embarrassing stories about Mr Trump only to censor them was not explicitly discussed at the Trump Tower meeting.

However, Mr Pecker reminded the court, as he stated previously during his four days on the witness stand, he had promised Mr Trump, Mr Cohen, and communications aide Hope Hicks to be on the lookout for women trying to sell salacious stories about the future president.

As a result, in August 2016, AMI negotiated the exclusive rights to former Playboy model Ms McDougal’s story alleging a 10-month affair with Mr Trump in 2006, only to bury it.

Mr Pecker recalled discussing the $150,000 price with Mr Trump, who told him: “I don’t buy stories, because it always gets out.”

So, Mr Pecker’s company paid Ms McDougal, who, he said, did not really want to see the story published but did want to reboot her career with magazine cover and column opportunities promised in her deal. AMI ended up publishing 65 ghostwritten articles under her name.

Pecker agreed with Bove that the McDougal deal had a “legitimate business purpose” for his company.

But following that exchange, on redirect examination by prosecutor Joshua Steinglass, Mr Pecker told the court the business side of the Ms McDougal deal was “to disguise the actual purpose of it”.

Mr Steinglass asked: “Was that your purpose in locking up the Karen McDougal story - to influence the election?”

“Yes,” Mr Pecker said.

Mr Pecker said Mr Trump’s 2016 race marked the only time he had coordinated action, previewed positive stories, or suppressed stories for a political campaign.

In the courthouse hallway Friday, Mr Trump, 77, wished his wife, Melania, 54, a happy birthday, in Florida, where he said he would travel Friday evening.

He said: “It'd be nice to be with her, but I'm at a courthouse for a rigged trial.”

Trial testimony resumes on Tuesday, April 29.

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