5 takeaways from Trump’s first full week on trial in New York

The first criminal trial of a former president has reached the end of week one, with plenty of drama along the way.

The jurors who will decide former President Trump’s fate heard from former magazine executive David Pecker, Trump’s longtime assistant Rhona Graff and a previously little-known figure from the banking world, Gary Farro.

Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. Those charges spring from a $130,000 payment made by Trump’s former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen to adult actress Stormy Daniels in the final weeks of the 2016 presidential election campaign.

The money, for which Cohen was later reimbursed to the tune of $420,000, was intended to silence Daniels’s claim that she had a sexual encounter with Trump a decade previously.

Prosecutors claim that the manner of accounting for Cohen’s reimbursement was intended to conceal the true nature of the payments.

Trump denies any illegality and also denies having sex with Daniels. His version of events is that the $420,000, paid in installments to Cohen, was a legitimate legal retainer.

Here are the main takeaways from the first week of full trial proceedings.

A former tabloid king holds court

The week’s proceedings were dominated by David Pecker, previously the publisher of the National Enquirer and CEO of American Media Inc.

Pecker testified on each of the four days the court was in session. Now 72, Pecker appeared tired, according to reporters in the courtroom, when he finally concluded his testimony on Friday.

At the center of Pecker’s testimony was the concept of “catch and kill.” The phrase refers to a practice of paying for stories with the intention of quashing them rather than publishing them.

Pecker detailed how the Enquirer did this with two people other than Daniels.

One was a former doorman at Trump Tower, Dino Sajudin, who claimed to have knowledge that Trump had fathered a child with a woman who was not his wife. Pecker and the Enquirer’s reporters came to believe Sajudin’s story was untrue.

The second was Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model, who claims she had an affair with Trump. The former president denies this.

Pecker testified that the deals were struck because he thought the allegations would be damaging to the presidential hopes of his friend, Trump, if they were made public.

He testified that the tabloid ran negative stories about Trump’s rivals for the 2016 GOP nomination, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Ben Carson, also with the aim of helping Trump.

Trump’s legal team contended that many of these decisions were ones Pecker, or any tabloid publisher, might have made. Trump was good for newsstand sales at the time.

Team Trump also implied that Pecker’s testimony may be tainted because American Media came to a nonprosecution agreement with the Department of Justice in 2018.

The big question: Election interference?

Two issues are interlocked at the center of the case against Trump.

One is whether the records pertaining to payments to Cohen were false.

Even if the jury concludes that they were, this is usually a misdemeanor rather than a felony.

Felony convictions normally depend upon the alleged falsification of business records being part of another crime.

Prosecutors contend the additional — though uncharged — crime here pertains to election interference.

The argument, in summary, is that the payments were concealed as part of Trump’s campaign to win the presidency — not merely to spare him personal embarrassment. Therefore, prosecutors say, the payments to silence Daniels had the effect of concealing information from voters that they would otherwise have known.

Trump’s team pushes back at that entire narrative.

The battle was framed in stark terms at the start of the week.

Trump’s actions were “election fraud, pure and simple,” prosecutor Matthew Colangelo said on Monday.

Trump’s lead attorney, Todd Blanche, countered that “there’s nothing wrong with trying to influence an election — it’s called democracy.”

Trump looks diminished at his own trial

The dynamics of the trial itself have tended to leave the former president looking like a diminished figure.

Unable to respond in the courtroom itself, he has listened silently, sometimes shaking his head, to allegations of crimes and lurid personal conduct.

He has spoken to the media outside the courtroom, but these appearances have been brief, and the former president is removed from any of the pomp and staging that he enjoys at his rallies.

Trump has even complained several times about the courtroom being too cold. He has appeared to close his eyes several times during the proceedings.

It’s not a great look for a candidate who, at 77, is trying to portray himself as a more vigorous alternative to the 81-year-old President Biden.

Trump fares better before the Supreme Court

Thursday brought a legal split screen for Trump.

He had to be in court in New York at the same time as his lawyers in Washington were making arguments before the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court case is to decide Trump’s claim that he is immune from prosecution for actions he took as president. These proceedings derive from the Jan. 6-related charges leveled against Trump by special counsel Jack Smith.

The oral arguments went well for Team Trump. The Court’s conservative justices — six in total, three of them nominated by Trump himself — seemed receptive to the idea that there could be a distinction made between “official” and “private” acts taken by a president. They also seemed open to a potential measure of immunity for official acts.

Any Supreme Court decision that permits a measure of immunity will likely lead to more arguments over how that should be defined in Trump’s Jan. 6 case.

In all likelihood such a decision would kick the case and the two others — oversensitive documents at Mar-a-Lago and the attempt to overturn the 2020 election result in Georgia — past the date of this year’s presidential election.

Fight over the New York gag order is yet to be settled

The New York trial has had a running sideshow — the question of whether Trump has violated the gag order imposed upon him by Judge Juan Merchan.

Prosecutors say he has done so in 10 social media posts, and they want him fined at the rate of $1,000 per post. They contend he has also violated the order an additional four times in interviews or public remarks.

Trump has continued to blast the order itself while his legal team argues his comments are legitimate responses to things adversaries have said about him.

The next hearing on the gag order has been set for next Thursday. It had initially been set for the previous day, when Trump had campaign rallies scheduled in Michigan and Wisconsin.

Merchan consented to moving the date during Friday’s proceedings.

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