Stormy Daniels spars with Trump defense attorney in tense exchange over cash-for-silence transaction

Stormy Daniels testifies on the witness stand as a promotional image for one of her shows featuring an image of Trump is displayed on monitors in Manhattan criminal court on Thursday in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

NEW YORK — Donald Trump’s defense attorneys grilled Stormy Daniels Thursday on the transaction at the center of the former president’s hush money trial, pressing her on why she accepted a $130,000 payment to keep quiet about her alleged sexual encounter with Trump instead of going public.

“Why didn’t you do that?” attorney Susan Necheles asked, wondering why Daniels didn’t hold a news conference as she had planned to tell reporters about the 2006 encounter, which Trump denies ever happened.

“Because we were running out of time,” Daniels said.

Did she mean, Necheles asked, that she was running out of time to use the claim to make money?

“To get the story out,” Daniels countered. The negotiations happened in the final weeks of the 2016 presidential campaign, a critical point in the case against Trump because prosecutors are arguing that he and his allies snatched up these potentially damaging stories and buried them in an illegal effort to influence the November results. Trump denies any wrongdoing.

Daniels returned for more testimony Thursday, avoiding eye contact with the former president as she walked into the Manhattan courtroom and made her way to the witness stand.

Trump’s lawyers have sought to paint the porn actor as a liar and extortionist who’s trying to take down Trump after drawing money and fame from her story about him.

Turning pointedly to Daniels’ career as an adult film actor, writer and director, Necheles asked: “You have a lot of experience in making phony stories about sex appear real?”

“The sex in those films is real, just like the sex in that room,” Daniels replied. “The character themes might be different, but the sex is very real. That’s why it’s pornography, not a B movie.”

Daniels was first called as a witness on Tuesday, describing what she said happened during their 2006 encounter in graphic detail.

Trump scowled and shook his head through much of Daniels’ description of their alleged sexual encounter after the two met at a celebrity golf outing at Lake Tahoe where sponsors included the adult film studio where she worked. At one point, the judge told defense lawyers during a sidebar conversation — out of earshot of the jury and the public — that he could hear Trump “cursing audibly.”

Daniels testified earlier this week that while she wasn’t physically menaced, she felt a “power imbalance” as Trump, in his hotel bedroom, stood between her and the door and propositioned her.

As for whether she felt compelled to have sex with him, she reiterated Thursday that he didn’t drug her or physically threaten her. But, she said, “My own insecurities, in that moment, kept me from saying no.”

As Necheles continued comparing Daniels’ testimony with past interviews, the witness insisted, “My story hasn’t changed.”

“You’re trying to make me say that it changed, but it hasn’t changed at all,” she said.

Her testimony has been an extraordinary moment in what could be the only criminal case against the presumptive Republican presidential nominee to go to trial before voters decide in November whether to send him back to the White House. Trump has pleaded not guilty and casts himself as the victim of a politically tainted justice system working to deny him another term.

As she negotiated a nondisclosure agreement with Trump’s then-attorney Michael Cohen, Daniels was also talking with other journalists as a “backup” plan, she testified Thursday. Necheles accused her of refusing to share the story with reporters because she wouldn’t be paid for it.

“The better alternative was for you to get money, right?” Necheles said.

Daniels said she was most interested in getting her story out and ensuring her family’s safety.

“The better alternative was to get my story protected with a paper trail so that my family didn’t get hurt,” replied Daniels, whose testimony ended by midday.

Meanwhile, as the threat of jail looms over Trump following his repeated gag order violations, his attorneys are fighting the judge’s order and seeking a fast decision in an appeals court. If the court refuses to lift the gag order, Trump’s lawyers want permission to take their appeal to the state’s high court.

“Here we sit after two and a half weeks, and I think you’ll see some very revealing things today,” Trump said outside court.

Inside the courtroom, Necheles ran through the finer points of the nondisclosure agreement, asking Daniels to confirm that she agreed to highlighted portions. Daniels responded in terse one-word answers, “Yes,” adding: “I signed this only based on what my attorneys suggested.”

Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying internal Trump Organization business records. The charges stem from things like invoices and checks that were deemed legal expenses in Trump Organization records. Prosecutors say the payments largely were reimbursements to Cohen for the $130,000 hush money payment to Daniels.

Testimony so far has made clear that at the time of the payment to Daniels, Trump and his campaign were reeling from the October 2016 publication of the never-before-seen 2005 “Access Hollywood” footage in which he boasted about grabbing women’s genitals without their permission.

Prosecutors have argued that the political firestorm over the “Access Hollywood” tape hastened Cohen’s payment to keep Daniels from going public with her claims that could further hurt Trump in the eyes of female voters.

Trump’s lawyers have sought to show that Trump was trying to protect his reputation and family — not his campaign — by shielding them from embarrassing stories about his personal life.


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