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Hush Money Trial: Porn Star Testifies against Donald Trump

The porn star at the center of the ex-president’s criminal trial, who will testify again on Thursday, spoke under oath about their encounter at a golf tournament in 2006, a meeting that could shape American history.

When Donald J. Trump met Stormy Daniels, their flirtation seemed fleeting: He was a 60-year-old married mogul at the peak of reality television fame, and she was 27, a Louisiana native raised in poverty and headed to porn film stardom.

But that chance encounter in Lake Tahoe, Nev., some two decades ago is now at the center of the first criminal trial of an American president, an unprecedented case that could shape the 2024 presidential race.

This week, Ms. Daniels has been on the witness stand telling her side of the story, often in explicit detail. She has already faced five hours of questioning, and after the trial’s midweek hiatus, she is expected to return on Thursday to undergo additional cross-examination from Mr. Trump’s legal team.

The charges against Mr. Trump stem from her story of sex with him during that 2006 celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe, a story she was shopping a decade later, in the closing days of the presidential campaign. Mr. Trump’s longtime lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen, paid Ms. Daniels $130,000 in hush money before Election Day, and the former president is accused of falsifying business records to cover up reimbursements for Mr. Cohen.

On Tuesday, Ms. Daniels’s fast-paced testimony lasted nearly five hours, during which she described an encounter with Mr. Trump, now 77, that he has long denied. Tension gripped the courtroom, her voluble testimony filling a heavy silence. She made jokes; they did not land.

After about a half-hour on the stand, she began to unspool intimate details about Mr. Trump, so much so that the judge balked at some of the testimony. He implied it was gratuitously vulgar, and the defense sought a mistrial.

Ms. Daniels said the future president had invited her to dinner inside his palatial Lake Tahoe hotel suite. He answered the door wearing silk pajamas. When he was rude, she playfully spanked him with a rolled-up magazine. And when she asked about his wife, he told her not to worry, saying that they didn’t even sleep in the same room — prompting Mr. Trump to shake his head in disgust and mutter “bullshit” to his lawyers, loud enough that it drew a private rebuke from the judge, who called it “contemptuous.”

Ms. Daniels then recounted the sex itself in graphic detail. It happened, she said, after she returned from the bathroom and found Mr. Trump in his boxer shorts and T-shirt. She tried to leave and he blocked her path, though not, she said, in a threatening manner. The sex was brief, she said, and although she never said no, there was a “power imbalance.”

“I was staring up at the ceiling, wondering how I got there,” she told the jury, adding that Mr. Trump did not wear a condom.

The testimony was an astonishing moment in American political history and a crowning spectacle in a trial full of them: a porn star, across from a former and potentially future president, telling the world what she was once paid to keep quiet about.

Ms. Daniels, 45, has told her story widely — to prosecutors, reporters, her friends, in a book — but never to jurors, and not with Mr. Trump in the room. Her appearance on the stand appeared to unnerve Mr. Trump as she aired his dirty laundry, under oath, in mortifying detail.

But Ms. Daniels’s story is not just a sordid kiss-and-tell tale; it spotlights what prosecutors say was Mr. Trump’s criminality. He is accused of engineering the false business records scheme to cover up all traces of their tryst: the hush money, the repayment to Mr. Cohen, and, yes, the sex.

While the defense cast the testimony as a smear, Ms. Daniels provided prosecutors with some useful details. She established the fundamental story of her encounter with Mr. Trump. And she testified that she would have told the same uncomfortable tale in 2016, had she not taken the hush money from Mr. Trump’s fixer.

3 key things to watch in Trump's first criminal trial | PBS NewsHour

But her testimony, at times, seemed problematic for the prosecutors who had called her. Ms. Daniels testified that money was not her motivation and that she wanted to get her story out. That could draw skepticism from jurors, who have heard that she accepted the $130,000 and, in exchange, did not tell her story for more than a year.

“My motivation wasn’t money,” she said. “It was motivated out of fear, not money.”

The jury also saw the judge, Juan M. Merchan, scold Ms. Daniels at least twice, instructing her to stick to the questions asked of her. At one point, he even issued his own objection, interrupting her testimony as she began to describe the sexual position she and Mr. Trump assumed.

Justice Merchan, generally a stoic presence with a tight grip over his courtroom, showed rare exasperation as the testimony veered in a scurrilous direction and the trial took on a circuslike atmosphere.

He also asked Ms. Daniels to slow down. She was a rapid-fire talker, prone to laughter and lengthy asides.

Outside the jury’s presence, the judge said that “there were some things better left unsaid” in her testimony and suggested that Ms. Daniels might have “credibility issues.”

Yet he rejected the defense’s bid for a mistrial, instead inviting Mr. Trump’s lawyers to mount an aggressive questioning of Ms. Daniels.

“The more times this story has changed, the more fodder for cross-examination,” he said.

Susan Necheles, the Trump lawyer who led the cross-examination, heeded the judge’s advice.

She painted Ms. Daniels as a lying opportunist. She unearthed excerpts from Ms. Daniels’s book to suggest that her story had changed over time. And in a potentially troublesome moment for Ms. Daniels, Ms. Necheles implied that she had fabricated an account of a Trump supporter threatening her and her daughter in a Las Vegas parking lot, a story she did not share with her baby’s father.

“Your daughter’s life was in jeopardy, and you did not tell her father, right?” Ms. Necheles asked, the implication being that the story was phony.

Ms. Daniels was indignant. And during some cross-examination, she parried effectively, performing even better than she did with her answers to prosecutors.

Her testimony brought full circle one of the earliest scandals that loomed over Mr. Trump’s presidency. Ever since The Wall Street Journal broke the news six years ago that Mr. Cohen had paid her to keep quiet, her story has changed the course of American politics and laid the groundwork for the case.

Over the years, Ms. Daniels has leaned into her Trump-adjacent fame. She has sold merchandise, filmed a documentary, sat for high-profile interviews, and written a book that was so tell-all it included detailed descriptions of the former president’s genitalia. Mr. Trump has also dished out insults that ridiculed her appearance, calling her “horseface.”

 

 

 

THE NEW YORK TIMES

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