Trump 'very upset' by release of Stormy Daniels affair story, White House aide testified

Credit: AP

US Court Reporter Phil Hirschkorn reports for ITV News from inside the Donald Trump's New York trial.

Former President Donald Trump was upset when the story of his involvement with pornographic movie star Stormy Daniels became public in a mainstream newspaper in January 2018, according to a close White House aide who testified in Trump’s hush money trial.

“He was very upset by it,” Madeleine Westerhout told the jury on Friday. “He knew it would be hurtful to his family.”

Westerhout served as the president’s executive assistant for the first two-and-a-half years of his term, seated right outside the Oval Office, and was known as a gatekeeper to Trump.

The article, published by the Wall Street Journal, exposed how then Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen had paid Daniels $130,000 (£104,000) in October 2016 to sign a nondisclosure agreement to keep quiet about the one-night sexual encounter she says she had with Trump a decade earlier after meeting him at a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe, Nevada.

Daniels spent two days testifying about the encounter before the Manhattan jury this week.

Trump denies having sex with Daniels and has pleaded "not guilty" to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records to cover up his reimbursements to Cohen as regular legal expenses with fabricated invoices and vouchers that were a pretext for monthly checks paid to Cohen between February and December 2017.

Westerhout testified Cohen visited Trump at the White House two weeks into his tenure.

Prosecutors showed the jury a Westerhout email confirming Cohen’s appointment at 4.30pm on Wednesday, February 5, 2017, when the reimbursement scheme was sealed, a prosecutor alleged in opening statements.

The first allegedly illicit Cohen repayment, disguised as a $35,000 (£28,000) monthly legal retainer, occurred seven days after his White House meeting with Trump, according to trial evidence.

Evidence authenticated by Westerhout and Trump Organization employees has shown Westerhout coordinated the weekly shipment of Trump’s personal checks FedEx’d from the Trump Organization in New York to the White House in Washington for President Trump to sign.

The checks were prepared by accounts payable supervisor Deb Tarasoff and sent by bookkeeper Rebecca Manochio, according to their testimony, and delivered in 2017 to Trump bodyguard-turned-personal-assistant Keith Schiller and then John McEntee, who replaced Schiller in September 2017.

Cohen is expected to begin his testimony as a prosecution witness on May 13.

Westerhout testified about inheriting a personal contact list for Trump that included media figures like Rupert Murdoch and Sean Hannity; athletes like Jack Nicklaus, Tom Brady, and Serena Williams; real estate and business moguls, lawyers like Cohen, and Trump Organization officials like Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg.

Weiselberg has been portrayed as an architect of the hush money reimbursement scheme, with former Trump Organization controller Jeffrey McConney telling the jury Monday the CFO had instructed him how to structure the Cohen payments.

On cross examination, Trump defence attorney Susan Necheles asked Westerhout if President Trump spoke much to Weisselberg in 2017.

"In fact, you really don’t recall any calls specifically between him and Allen Weisselberg?" Necheles asked.

"No, he spoke to so many people," Westerhout said.

Former White House assistant to then-President Donald Trump, Madeleine Westerhout weeps on the stand. Credit: AP

Later, Necheles inquired about the president’s habits of signing documents with a felt or Sharpie pen.

“Would you see him signing things without reviewing them?” Necheles asked.

“Yes,” Westerhout replied.

“Would you see him signing checks without reviewing them?” Necheles continued.

“Yes,” the witness said.

Before working at the White House, Westerhout worked for the Republican National Committee, where the mid-October 2016 release of the infamous Access Hollywood video, revealing Trump boasting about groping women, triggered consideration about dumping Trump as the party’s presidential nominee.

“There were conversations about how to, if it was needed, how it would be possible to replace him as the candidate if it came to that," Westerhout told the jury on Thursday.

Assistant Manhattan District Attorney Rebecca Mangold had asked Westerhout if she had been aware of Trump’s reaction to the Access Hollywood tape.

“No, first-hand knowledge, no,” Westerhout said.

When Westerhout first described Trump as “very upset” about the Daniels newspaper story, during direct examination by Mangold on Thursday, she spoke favourably about Trump’s interactions with former First Lady Melania Trump.

Westerhout said: “I believe they have a relationship of mutual respect. I just found their relationship really special. I know he cared a lot about her opinion. There was no one else who could put him in his place.”

Westerhout is now chief of staff to a consulting firm, American Global Strategies, led by one-time Trump national security adviser Robert O’Brien.

Donald Trump is currently facing four criminal trials. Credit: AP

Like former Trump communications director Hope Hicks, Westerhout told the jury the former president was a great person to work for, as she wrote in her memoir, Off The Record: My Dream Job at the White House, How I Lost It, and What I Learned.

“I thought it was real important to share with the American people the man that I got to know," Westerhout testified. “I don’t think he is treated fairly, and I wanted to tell that story.”

In the hallway outside the courtroom on Friday, Trump called the trial “an abominable abuse of our justice system”.

“Their objective, of course, was to humiliate and smear Trump with a gossipy tale of sex that had nothing to do with the criminal charges at issue - had nothing to do with it. Everything you've been watching has nothing to do with the case. They know that. It was a sophomoric gamble, and it has backfired spectacularly.”

Trump, this year’s presumptive Republican Party presidential nominee, consistently complains the trial, where his attendance is required, precludes him from campaigning.

Trump said, “The message Democrats are inadvertently sending the voting public is that this guy is so strong that we have to cheat to beat him. Well, they are cheating to beat me. This is cheating. This is election interference.”

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