Former Trump communications director Hope Hicks testifies in hush money trial

Former President Donald Trump appears at Manhattan criminal court before his trial in New York on Friday. Credit: AP

The jury in Donald Trump’s hush money trial heard testimony Friday that Trump was aware of the payment to silence Stormy Daniels from telling her story about a one-night stand with the married Trump at a Nevada golf resort a decade before he ran for president in 2016.

Hope Hicks, the former Trump White House and 2016 campaign communications director, testified Trump told her about the $130,000 Daniels payment once, in February 2018, shortly after the Wall Street Journal had published its scoop – that Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen had made the payment with his funds in exchange for Daniels signing a nondisclosure agreement.

Trump's Former Communications Director, Hope Hicks testified in President Trump's New York Criminal Trial. Credit: AP

Hicks said, "He thought it was a generous thing to do, and he was appreciative of the loyalty."

When Assistant Manhattan District Attorney Matthew Colangelo asked Hicks what Trump had to say about the timing of the payment, two weeks before Election Day, Hicks said, "I think Mr. Trump's opinion was it was better to be dealing with it now, and that it would have been bad to have that story come out before the election."

Moments later, Hicks lost her composure, started crying, and the court took a short break.

Trump is on trial for 34 felonies for falsifying business records to cover up the hush money – with fake Trump Organization ledger entries and invoices and with monthly reimbursement checks to Cohen in 2017 disguised as regular salary for serving as Trump’s attorney while he was president.

When Cohen first told the New York Times he had made the payment, he falsely added at the time, he had done so without Trump’s knowledge.

"I’d say that would be out of character for Michael" to make the Daniels payment himself, Hicks told the jury. "I didn't know Michael to be an especially charitable person or selfless person."

The Daniels deal came about immediately following the low moment of Trump’s 2016 campaign – the release of the infamous Access Hollywood tape.

Jury heard Trump was aware of the Hush Money payment to Stormy Daniels from telling her story about an affair with the Former President. Credit: AP

Obtained and posted by the Washington Post, one month before Election Day, on October 7, 2016, the tape showed Trump boasting about aggressive sexual advances on women.

Personally, Hicks told the jury, she was "a little stunned," and for the campaign, "this was a crisis."

"I had a good sense this was going to be a massive story," Hicks said.

While New York State Supreme Court Judge Juan Merchan did not allow prosecutors to play the tape in court, the jury saw part of the transcript on screen.

In Hicks’ first written press statement, after the tape went public, Trump diminished his comments as "locker room banter."

She was present when he recorded an on-camera statement apologizing for the tape and saying, the "words don’t reflect who I am."

Before Hicks’ appearance, the jury saw a series of Trump posts on Twitter and his social media platform, Truth Social.

His March 15, 2023, post was the most relevant, which denied ever seeing Daniels since 2006.

"I haven’t seen or spoken to her since I took a picture with her on a golf course, in full golf gear, including a hat, close to 18 years ago," Trump wrote. "Never had an affair with her."

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However, the jury heard testimony that contradicted this statement one week ago, when former longtime Trump executive assistant Rhona Graff, told the jury Daniels visited Trump at his Trump Tower office at least once.

Graff said she believed the meeting may have been about becoming a contestant on one of the two reality TV shows once hosted by Trump, "Celebrity Apprentice."

The Daniels story was the Journal’s second hush money scoop.

It first occurred in November 2016, just four days before Election Day, when the newspaper broke the Karen McDougal story.

Trial testimony and evidence have shown McDougal, a former Playboy model, was paid $150,000 in August 2016 to keep quiet about what she says was a 10-month affair with Trump from the summer of 2006 until the spring of 2007.

Her hush money came from American Media, Inc., publisher of the National Enquirer supermarket tabloid and magazines, to "catch and kill" the story as a favor to Trump by AMI CEO David Pecker, a longtime friend.

Hicks testified Cohen told her to say the McDougal accusations were "completely untrue."

Pecker told her McDougal had been paid for "very legitimate" magazine covers and fitness columns. "That’s what the contract was for," she was told.

David Pecker, Former CEO of American Media had testified in court during Trump's Manhattan trial. Credit: AP

When the McDougal story appeared in the Journal, Hicks said, she diverted newspapers from the Trump Tower penthouse the day.

"He was concerned with how it would be viewed by his wife, and he wanted me to make sure the newspapers weren’t delivered to their residence that morning," Hicks said.

"I don’t think he wanted anyone in his family to be hurt or embarrassed by anything that was happening with the campaign. He wanted them to be proud of him."

Hicks, now a private communications consultant based in Washington, D.C., said she was "really nervous" as she took her seat on the witness stand and adjusted the microphone.

Early in her career, having done some work for Trump’s elder daughter, Ivanka, Hicks said. she "jumped at the opportunity" to work full-time for the Trump Organization in October 2014.

In less than a year, she was thrust into the epicenter of the presidential campaign. Hicks didn’t recall attending specific meetings with Trump and Pecker but said she might have.

Prosecutors and Pecker have told the jury Hicks was present for a fateful August 2015 Trump Tower meeting with Trump where they hatched a plan to collude on positive Enquirer stories about Trump and negative ones about his opponents, while Pecker would keep his “eyes and ears” open for damaging stories about Trump womanizing.

Hicks testified she overheard a Trump speakerphone call with Pecker about the Enquirer’s article about Dr. Ben Carson’s medical malpractice lawsuits, published as Carson was rising in the polls as a Republican presidential candidate.

"This is Pulitzer-worthy," Trump told Pecker, Hicks recalled.

She overheard them speaking again after the Enquirer’s article about Texas Senator Ted Cruz, as he emerged as Trump’s last Republican presidential rival, which alleged, with a photograph, that Cruz’s father had a connection to JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.

"Great reporting," Trump told Pecker, Hicks recalled.

The Hicks testimony was bookended Friday with the cross examination of Doug Daus, who examined Cohen’s smartphone in 2023 and extracted an audio recording of Cohen and Trump discussing the McDougal hush money in September 2016.

"What financing?" Trump said, in the 46-second excerpt played for the jury

"We’ll have to pay," Cohen said.

"Pay with cash," Trump said.

"No, no, no, no, no, I got it," Cohen said.

Daus testified he did not see any evidence of tampering or manipulation on any of the data he pulled.