Trump’s hush money trial mixes bawdy and boring

NEW YORK – Former President Trump’s first criminal trial began with a whirlwind week of salacious testimony from media mogul-turned-state’s witness David Pecker, the ex-National Enquirer publisher who allegedly worked as the “eyes and ears” for Trump’s successful 2016 campaign.

But in its second week of testimony starting Tuesday, the hush money trial’s storyline will shift to a deep dive into the paperwork that underlies Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s (D) prosecution of the former president on 34 criminal charges of falsifying business records.

The stark contrast shows how prosecutors have mixed the bawdy and boring to present jurors the state’s theory of the case: that Trump corruptly influenced the 2016 presidential election by lying in New York business records to cover up alleged affairs. Trump has pleaded not guilty and denied any infidelity.

Across four days of testimony, Pecker put the former president’s alleged sex scandals front and center, describing in extensive detail the lewd allegations being made by three individuals – a porn star, former Trump Tower doorman and former Playboy model – who were ultimately paid hush money as part of a “catch and kill” agreement between Pecker’s tabloid and Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Expectations ran high that prosecutors’ second witness – Trump’s longtime assistant, Rhona Graff – would spill out more headline-grabbing details, given how she spent decades in the former president’s orbit and worked for years just outside his Trump Tower office.

But Graff’s testimony was diametric, lasting less than an hour and concerning only a few topics.

Prosecutors asked her to verify Trump’s calendar for a handful days just before he took office and to detail email interactions with another Trump assistant who worked out of the White House, Madeleine Westerhout. One exchange between the two assistants concerned a short list of “people (Trump) frequently spoke to,” spanning high-profile news anchors, politicians and lawyers to sport stars and coaches.

Graff also confirmed she saved contact information for Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels, the two women paid hush money after alleging affairs with Trump, which he denies. In his contact list, Daniels was described only as “Stormy” while McDougal’s full name – and an old address – were saved, in addition to typical contact information.

Risqué testimony will return when McDougal and Daniels potentially take the stand. But for the moment, Graff and the banker who testified after her have shifted the storyline to the plethora of documents and written records involved.

On cross-examination, meanwhile, Trump’s lawyers used Graff’s appearance as an opportunity to cast Trump positively in front of jurors. Graff heaped praise on her former boss, calling Trump a fair and respectful boss and saying he respected her intelligence.

“You don’t want to be here, do you?” Trump attorney Susan Necheles asked Graff.

“Correct,” Graff said.

The former president, sitting about 15 feet away, smiled toward Graff throughout and, at one point, appeared to chuckle. When her testimony concluded, Trump stood to greet her and appeared to attempt to shake her hand.

The focus on records continued when prosecutors next called to testify Gary Farro, the banker of ex-Trump fixer Michael Cohen, who paid off Daniels.

Farro explained at length how wealthy individuals utilize the private banking system, diving into how Cohen set up various accounts with the bank for his shell companies created as part of the hush money arrangements.

Altogether, prosecutors have shown jurors a few dozen exhibits in the first week to support the witnesses’ testimony.

Jurors saw the certificate that formed one of Cohen’s companies in Delaware. They’ve seen contracts and invoices. Prosecutors have shown plenty of text messages and emails, too.

But that’s no surprise to the 12 jurors and six alternates, who were pressed by prosecutors during jury selection as to whether they were comfortable sifting through many documents as they mulled whether to convict Trump.

“There are going to be quite a few documents in this case,” prosecutor Susan Hoffinger said to one batch of prospective jurors.

“The documents are important,” she continued. “There’s an old saying: The documents don’t lie. They tell it like it is. Anybody have an issue with the fact that we’re going to ask you, if you’re going to serve as a juror, to spend a lot of time on the documents — spreadsheets, emails, texts?”

Jurors have yet to see the 11 invoices, 12 general ledger entries and 11 checks that make up Trump’s 34 charges of falsifying business records.

The trial will resume Tuesday morning, when Farro, the banker, is expected to retake the stand.

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