Longtime Trump loyalist Hope Hicks in tears after potentially damaging testimony in hush money trial

NEW YORK — Donald Trump’s loyal former White House press secretary Hope Hicks testified at his Manhattan trial Friday, breaking down after divulging potentially damaging testimony for the former president regarding the motivations behind his fixer’s hush money payoff to porn star Stormy Daniels.

Trump’s former White House Communications Director and campaign spokeswoman, once considered among his closest confidants, was referencing the only conversation she knew of that Trump had with Cohen about paying off Daniels, which she said Trump told her about after it was first reported in detail in February 2018.

“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,” Hicks testified in Manhattan Supreme Court.

Hicks said the conversation happened after Cohen issued a statement to The New York Times denying Trump had anything to do with a $130,000 payment he issued to Daniels on the eve of the 2016 election to stay silent about an alleged extramarital one-night stand with Trump at a 2006 charity golf tournament.

“President Trump (was) saying he spoke to Michael, and that Michael had paid this woman to protect him from a false allegation and that, you know, Michael felt like it was his job to protect him, and that’s what he was doing. And he did it out of the kindness of his own heart. He never told anybody about it.”

Hicks, who testified under a subpoena, said Trump called it a “generous” thing to do and that he appreciated Cohen’s “loyalty.”

Prosecutor Matthew Colangelo then asked Hicks if that squared with the Cohen she knew.

“I’d say that would be out of character for Michael,” Hicks conceded. “I didn’t know Michael to be an especially charitable person or selfless person, um, (he’s) the kind of person who seeks credit.”

Colangelo then ended his direct examination by asking if Trump ever said anything about timing, prompting Hicks’ answer about him saying it would have been worse had the payoff been reported on before the election.

Moments later, when Trump lawyer Emil Bove had barely begun his cross-examination, she broke down into tears, prompting Judge Juan Merchan to call a recess abruptly.

Lawyers for the presumptive Republican frontrunner in this year’s election have contended that Trump “fought back” against “salacious allegations” to protect his reputation and his family and that there was nothing inherently criminal about his actions. They claim that Cohen went rogue when he paid the adult film actor.

But the testimony by Hicks appeared to bolster the prosecution’s case alleging the payment was intended to influence the results of the election by making sure voters didn’t learn any unflattering details about Trump’s past — and cast serious doubt on the likelihood Cohen didn’t expect to be paid back.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsification of business records, each tied to his alleged reimbursement to Cohen.

Prosecutors say the compensation to Cohen, doled out in checks, counted as felony crimes as it concluded a carefully-planned scheme to defraud the U.S. electorate devised at a meeting between Trump, his fixer, and David Pecker, the former CEO of American Media Inc, or AMI, in August 2015 at Trump Tower, where Trump had announced his candidacy a couple of months before.

Concern for Melania

But during her less than three hours on the stand, Hicks said Trump did care about his wife’s feelings.

Testifying about another story published by the Wall Street Journal just days before the election, which reported that the National Enquirer had paid former Playboy model Karen McDougal $150,000 for the lifetime rights to her story about an alleged 10-month affair with Trump — and then never published it — Hicks said Trump was concerned about how his wife would view it.

“(He) wanted me to make sure that the newspapers weren’t delivered to their residence that morning,” she testified, adding that he didn’t specifically mention worries about the campaign but said “everything” around that time was considered within the campaign context.

“I’m almost certain he would have asked me, ‘How’s it playing?’”

Hicks repeated what she told the House Judiciary Committee in 2019 about being directed to issue a public statement denying McDougal’s claims as “absolutely, unequivocally untrue.”

Later, on cross with Bove, Hicks again said the sex scandals mattered to Trump personally.

“She doesn’t weigh in all the time, but when she does, it’s really meaningful to him, and he really, really respects what she has to say,” Hicks said of Melania Trump, who has not attended the trial. “So I think he was just concerned about what her perception of this would be.”

Trump had his eyes trained on his former acolyte when she took the stand earlier Friday and told the jury she was “very nervous.” Hicks said she got a job working for his real estate company in 2014 after doing public relations work for his daughter, Ivanka Trump.

The following year, Trump brought her on board as he mulled a presidential run and announced his candidacy in June 2015. She worked at the White House until April 2018 and then returned in March 2020, leaving after the Jan. 6 insurrection of the U.S. Capitol. Hicks said she hadn’t spoken to Trump since 2022.

Access Hollywood tape

Hicks described having her work cut out for her upon the bombshell release of the “Access Hollywood” tape in October 2016, which she said she learned about via an email from a Wall Street Journal reporter while in her 14th-floor office at Trump Tower. She said Trump was upstairs in a 25th-floor conference room prepping for a debate against Hilary Clinton, joined by Kellyanne Conway, Jared Kushner, and Chris Christie.

On the now-infamous tape, Trump was heard on a hot mic telling former “Today” host that famous men can “grab” women “by the p---y.”

In previous testimony from Pecker and Keith Davidson, the lawyer who repped Daniels and McDougal in hush money negotiations, jurors have heard that the Daniels payoff was hastily arranged in the waning days of the 2016 race out of fear her allegations would irreparably harm Trump coming so soon after the tape.

Describing her reaction as “a little stunned,” Hicks said she had a sense the story would blow up, calling it “a damaging development” and a “crisis.” Before she or Trump had seen the tape, only a transcript, she said Trump said it “didn’t sound like something he would say,” and that he was upset.

Prosecutors showed the jury a copy of the Trump campaign’s response: “This was locker room banter, a private conversation that took place many years ago. Bill Clinton has said far worse to me on the golf course – not even close. I apologize if anyone was offended.”

Merchan did not allow them to show the tape, but jurors had a transcript of what was said.

Before the jury took their seats Friday, the judge told Trump that he is in no way limited by what he can say if he chooses to take the stand in his own defense, correcting a claim Trump made outside court on Thursday that a gag order prevents him from testifying.

A court official confirmed to the Daily News later Friday that Trump had settled a $9,000 fine Merchan issued Tuesday when he found Trump in criminal contempt for nine Truth Social posts mentioning trial participants in violation of a gag order.

On his way out of court Friday, Trump said the country was “going to hell,” and wished reporters a good weekend.

“I was very interested in what took place today,” he added.