Trump's 'Access Hollywood' tape prompted RNC to discuss replacing him as a candidate, his former assistant testifies

  • Former White House assistant Madeleine Westerhout testified Thursday in Trump's hush-money trial.

  • The "Access Hollywood" tape sent the RNC reeling, she testified of working there at the time.

  • Westerhout said RNC officials were so concerned, they began planning how to replace Trump.

The "Access Hollywood" tape was so damaging to Donald Trump's 2016 campaign that the Republican National Committee began planning how to replace him as the GOP's presidential candidate, his ex-executive assistant testified on Thursday.

Madeleine Westerhout, who worked as an assistant to a top RNC official before she served as Trump's assistant in the White House, described the post-tape tumult to the jury in Trump's New York criminal hush-money trial.

"There were conversations about — if it would be — how it would be possible to replace him as a candidate if it came to that," she testified.

The notorious 2005 tape, which circulated ahead of the 2016 presidential election, was highly damaging to the Trump campaign, prosecutors have told jurors. In it, Trump brags about grabbing women. "When you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything…grab 'em by the p---y," he said on the tape.

Trump's team has tried, in its opening statement and in their cross-examination of DA witnesses, to brush off the $130,000 hush-money payment made to porn star Stormy Daniels as something he did to protect his family from learning of his alleged affair.

But Westerhout's testimony bolsters the DA theory that paying off Daniels was an illegal campaign expense and that records were falsified as part of a conspiracy to influence the election.

The former president's trial is in its third week of testimony. He's been charged with falsifying 34 business records to cover up the payment made to Daniels in the days before the 2016 election.

Prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney's Office have alleged Trump orchestrated an illegal election-influencing scheme to purchase Daniels' silence over a one-time 2006 sexual encounter she says she had with Trump in his Lake Tahoe hotel suite.

Trump has vehemently denied having sex with Daniels.

During cross-examination Thursday afternoon, Trump's lawyer Susan Necheles downplayed the notion that the "Access Hollywood" tape was a major factor for Trump.

In her questions, Necheles said, "There were a couple of days of consternation," which was something "that happened all the time during the campaign."

"There's always some event that causes total consternation for a couple of days; right?" Necheles asked.

"Yes," Westerhout responded.

While "everybody around would be freaking out," Trump "just kept his mind straight-forward and kept running for the election," Necheles said.

In a court filing before the historic trial began, prosecutors wrote that the release of the "Access Hollywood" tape "caused a panic within the campaign about defendant's electoral prospects and ultimately served as the catalyst for consummating the Stormy Daniels payoff."

The former president's lead attorney, Todd Blanche, argued in his opening statement that there was nothing wrong with Trump's then-"fixer," Michael Cohen, paying Daniels off to protect Trump's brand and keep Daniels from embarrassing Trump's family.

"I have a spoiler alert for you. It's called democracy," Blanche said at the time.

Prosecutors say Trump falsified business documents throughout 2017, including in his first week in office, when they say he reimbursed Cohen for paying Daniels the hush money.

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