Ex-Trump Assistant Tells of Stormy Daniels Visit to Trump Tower

(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump’s longtime personal assistant, who worked for his real estate empire for decades, told a jury that she has a “vague recollection” of seeing Stormy Daniels at Trump Tower sometime before 2015.

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Rhona Graff, who served as Trump’s gatekeeper at the Trump Organization until 2021, testified on Friday under a subpoena that required her to take the witness stand. Her questioning was brief, but it tied her ex-boss to the woman at the center of the trial the trial over alleged hush-money payments before the 2016 election.

“At the time when you saw her, did you know she was an adult film actress?” prosecutor Susan Hoffinger asked Graff. “Yes, I did,” said Graff, the second witness at the first criminal trial of a former president.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who brought the case last year, alleges Trump falsified dozens of business records to conceal a $130,000 “hush-money” payment to Daniels to keep her quiet before the 2016 presidential election about an alleged affair. The payment was allegedly part of a broader criminal conspiracy to keep voters in the dark about Trump’s conduct with women before they cast their ballots.

After Graff took the stand, prosecutors entered into evidence a thumbdrive of data from Graff’s computer at the Trump Organization to further connect Daniels to Trump. The information indicated Graff had entered contact details for Daniels as well as former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who received a similar payment before the 2016 election.

During Graff’s cross-examination by Trump attorney Susan Necheles, Graff filled in some details about Daniels’s visit. Graff said that she believed Daniels was in the office to discuss a potential appearance as a “controversial” candidate for Trump’s “The Celebrity Apprentice.”

Graff, whose legal bills were being paid by the Trump Organization, praised her former boss and provided other testimony indicating her appreciation for the career his company afforded her. When Graff left the witness stand, Trump stood up in an apparent effort to shake her hand, but she smiled and didn’t stop. Another Trump lawyer, Todd Blanche, was smiling broadly.

Earlier in the day, Trump’s lawyers sought to cast doubt on claims that the $150,000 hush payment to McDougal was an attempt to influence the 2016 election. Former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker’s cross-examination, which started Thursday, continued with questions suggesting the August 2016 contract with McDougal was an innocent effort to “recharge” her career rather than buy her silence to help Trump win the White House.

Pecker agreed that the publisher, then known as American Media Inc., prepared a presentation for McDougal in June 2016 highlighting all the ways its magazines could promote work under her name. AMI agreed to run 96 columns written by a ghostwriter for her over two years, and ended up publishing 65, Pecker said.

“She was looking to restart her career?” Trump’s lawyer, Emil Bove, asked.

“Oh, yes,” said Pecker, AMI’s former chief executive officer.

Bove sought to raise doubts about Pecker’s credibility, but failed to undermine prosecutors’ key allegation that Pecker, Trump and former Trump attorney Michael Cohen struck a deal in 2015 in which Pecker would assist Trump’s campaign by identifying negative stories about the candidate and keeping them from being published.

Pecker, the first witness in a trial expected to last up to eight weeks, also testified that McDougal didn’t want to run a story about the alleged affair with Trump, even though the agreement gave AMI the rights to any stories about the former model’s liaisons with “then-married men.”

“You understood that Ms. McDougal did not want to publish it?” Bove asked Pecker.

“She did not want to,” Pecker said.

Not Standard Procedure

After the cross examination was complete, a prosecutor asked Pecker fresh questions designed to refocus the jury’s attention on the McDougal payment, suggesting it was intended to influence the election — not help her career.

“In this case, did you suppress stories to help a presidential candidate?” prosecutor Joshua Steinglass asked Pecker.

“Yes,” Pecker said.

Steinglass also sought to undermine Bove’s suggestion that the agreement was a standard operating procedure for the tabloid, by connecting it directly to Trump’s campaign. The prosecutor pointed to AMI’s contact with Trump about an amendment to the McDougal agreement.

“Is it standard operating procedure for AMI to be consulting with a presidential candidate’s fixer about amendments to a source agreement?” Steinglass asked.

“No,” Pecker said.

During his cross-examination on Thursday, Pecker testified that Trump was “good for business” at the tabloid newspaper and that the publisher gave similar favorable treatment to a range of other prominent figures in and out of politics.

Pecker also said Thursday that when he first learned about McDougal’s account of the affair, he believed it was true and that it would be embarrassing to Trump and the campaign if published.

On Friday, Steinglass brought up the non-prosecution agreement that AMI signed with the federal government in 2018. He referred to a provision that said AMI’s “principal purpose” in signing the deal with McDougal was to “suppress” her story and “prevent it from influencing the election.”

“At no time during the negotiation or acquisition of the model’s story did AMI intend to publish the story or disseminate information about it publicly,” it said.

--With assistance from David Voreacos.

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