Trump Lawyers Hammer Pecker During Cross-Examination

Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images
Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

As the first week of testimony in Donald Trump’s criminal trial wrapped up Friday, former tabloid king David Pecker was on the defensive.

Trump defense attorney Emil Bove already faced a tongue-lashing on Thursday from the judge—New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan—over the way Bove was “misleading” the jury as he cross-examined Pecker about the hush-money payments that went to Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 election.

But Bove picked up right where he left off on Friday, asking Pecker detailed questions about specific aspects of Pecker’s previous testimony, looking for any inconsistencies in the publishing magnate’s recollections to plant a seed of reasonable doubt in jurors’ minds.

Trump Trial Today: Defense Team Takes Another Crack at David Pecker

Pecker at one point pushed back when Bove cited a set of FBI meeting notes that quoted Pecker as saying Trump never showed any “gratitude” for his efforts to kill bad stories about him, which runs contrary to Pecker’s testimony on Thursday that Trump had in fact been been extremely appreciative. Perhaps the FBI employee taking notes during the meeting mistranscribed his words, Pecker suggested.

In one notable moment, Bove also elicited a tale from Pecker about Michael Cohen asking him to send paparazzi to a 2017 breakfast meeting the ex-president’s onetime personal lawyer and “fixer” was having with billionaire Mark Cuban, which Cohen apparently thought might elevate him in Trump’s eyes. (The pictures were subsequently published by Radar, one of Pecker’s titles.)

Friday’s proceedings began at 9:30 a.m., shortly after the former president lumbered into the courtroom sporting his usual blue suit, accompanied as usual by a sizable retinue of lawyers and Secret Service agents. The former president took his seat at the defense table, glowering into the lenses of the pool photographers who entered briefly for their daily shots.

Merchan began by instructing the jury that, contrary to Bove’s implications that something untoward had occurred between Pecker and the prosecution, it is standard practice for witnesses to meet with government lawyers prior to their appearances in court so they can go over their testimony. Pecker—the ex-president, CEO, and chairman of American Media Inc. (AMI), the parent company of the National Enquirer—was granted immunity by District Attorney Alvin Bragg Jr. in exchange for his cooperation in the case.

During his previous session in the witness box, Pecker described buying the rights to damaging stories about Trump—who he described on the stand as “my mentor”—in order to prevent them from ever seeing the light of day. Pecker said he bought the story at the behest of Trump, via Cohen, who warned Pecker that “the boss” would be “very angry” if he didn’t shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars to suppress allegations of extramarital relationships with at least three different women.

Pecker explained to the jury that he used this so-called catch-and-kill scheme to protect Trump personally, as well as his chances of winning the 2016 presidential election.

According to Pecker, Trump wasn’t concerned about his family or his wife Melania finding out about his affairs. Rather, he was concerned about how the news would impact his campaign.

Trump is being tried on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records for hiding the payoffs as run-of-the-mill legal expenses. Prosecutors say the payoffs amounted to nothing short of election interference.

Trump Trial Reveals Other Stars Who Paid to Have Unsavory Stories Killed

On Friday, Bove continued trying to poke holes in Pecker’s story, suggesting that Pecker’s payments for information were not necessarily made solely to protect Trump, but that Pecker didn’t want to risk losing potential bombshell stories to another publication. This, Bove argued, just made “business sense” for AMI, and it was, in fact, “standard operating procedure.”

Bove also asked Pecker about paying $150,000 for the life rights of former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal, who claimed to have had a yearlong sexual relationship with Trump beginning in 2006, the year after he married Melania.

Pecker said on the stand Tuesday that McDougal “didn’t want to be the next Monica Lewinsky,” and didn’t want to see her story published. Bove brought this up again during cross-examination, seemingly attempting to call into question the idea that McDougal’s story was killed only to protect Trump.

AMI’s contract with McDougal also reflected, for example, her wish to pen monthly articles for several of the company’s health-and-fitness titles, and to appear on magazine covers, Bove said. He asked, did Pecker view the contract as a legitimate business arrangement when he signed it in 2016?

Yes, Pecker said, without including some important context he brought up in his previous testimony—that McDougal was not much of an asset to Pecker, who said he had to hire ghostwriters to cobble together her columns for her.

Pecker testified that he valued her overall services at $25,000, not the $150,000 he paid her, but he said he wanted to “keep her happy”—and silent about her alleged affair with Trump.

Any business language in the contract, Pecker said, was only there to make the paperwork look less suspicious.

How Trump Screwed Up His Lawyers’ Ability to Do Their Jobs

The feds started probing Pecker in 2018 over the catch-and-kill payments, and Bove prompted him to recall three FBI agents showing up at his home early in the morning of Apr. 9, 2018 and seizing his phone. Pecker then entered into a non-prosecution agreement on Sept. 20, 2018 with the feds, which Bove walked him through step-by-step.

Bove asked Pecker about $100 million that was in escrow at the time, pursuant to a deal in the works to sell the Enquirer to the Hudson News Group.

Bove asked if the immunity deal had to be finalized before the sale could be completed and the funds released?

“Correct,” Pecker replied.

“AMI’s assets are worth less to the Hudson News Group if AMI is the subject of a federal investigation, correct?” Bove went on.

“To Hudson News, a federal investigation is not going to reduce the earnings of those magazines.” Pecker said.

However, Bove asked, if AMI were to be indicted, would that reduce its value to Hudson News?

“Uh, yes,” Pecker replied.

Before he finished his cross-examination, Bove got Pecker to restate a bit of previous testimony in which he said an election law attorney he hired to review the McDougal contract determined it did not constitute a campaign finance violation.

However, on his redirect, prosecutor Joshua Steinglass argued that Pecker never told the lawyer about the secret, unspoken agreements to help the Trump campaign that were attached to the deal. The contract did not include any language about Trump, Cohen, or even the word “campaign,” Steinglass said. And the only other people besides Pecker who knew about the true arrangement were Cohen and Trump.

To this, Pecker echoed previous testimony in which he admitted the parts about McDougal writing for, and appearing in magazines, were in actuality “included… as a disguise.”

Still, Pecker said the tabloid audience “loved reading positive stories about Donald Trump. And when he announced his presidency, going from The Apprentice to running for president of the United States, sales increased, newsstand sales increased. Any negative comments about his opponents, when we published them, sales also increased.”

“But wouldn’t a story about a Playboy model having a year-long sexual relationship with a presidential candidate, wouldn’t that also sell magazines?” Steinglass asked. “That would be like National Enquirer gold, right?”

“Yes,” he said.

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