Stormy Daniels’ Attorney Tells Jurors Of Hush Money Payment And His Suspicion That Trump Was The One Who Funded It

UPDATE: The lawyer for Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels further outlined the hush money deals made to his clients, including his suspicion that Donald Trump was “the one” who ultimately funded the Daniels payoff.

Lawyer Keith Davidson said on Tuesday that he did not enjoy having to deal with Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen.

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The tension went back to a hostile phone call in 2011 after a gossip site called TheDirty blogged about rumors of a sexual liaison between adult film star Daniels and Trump. “Before I could barely get my name out, I was met with a hostile barrage of insults and allegations,” Davidson testified in Trump’s hush-money trial in Manhattan.

Cohen was “just screaming,” Davidson said, and he accused Davidson’s clients, Daniels and her manager, Gina Rodriguez, of leaking the claim to TheDirty. “Finally, after he finished,” Davidson recalled, he assured Cohen that Daniels didn’t want the story publicized. Davidson wound up agreeing to call TheDirty with a cease and desist order, and the publication pulled the post, he testified.

Before that call, Rodriguez warned Davidson that “some jerk,” meaning Cohen, had called her threatening to sue over the gossip item, Davidson testified.

Prosecutors have identified Cohen as Trump’s intermediary in a “catch and kill” scheme to keep politically-damaging stories about Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal from becoming breaking news in the middle of Trump’s march toward the presidency in 2016. A $130,000 payout to Daniels is at the heart of the Manhattan District Attorney’s case that Trump, with Cohen as his point man, engaged in a criminal electoral conspiracy.

Five years after the dust-up over TheDirty, Davidson was negotiating the rights for McDougal’s story of a long-running affair with Trump with the tabloid publisher American Media, and a lawyer for the company urged him to call Cohen. Davidson balked, saying that his last encounter with Cohen “was not pleasant or instructive and I didn’t particularly like dealing with him and that’s why I was trying like hell to avoid talking to him.”

They did talk after McDougal and American Media reached a $150,000 deal to buy exclusive rights to the story that all parties understood would never see the light of day. Davidson said he called Cohen “as a professional courtesy” to let him know about the deal. “He was pleased,” Davidson said. Questioned by Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass, Davidson said that although Donald Trump wasn’t a party to the agreement, he recognized that it could benefit Cohen’s client, Trump.

He said that part of the deal for McDougal was guided by “an unspoken understanding that there was a close affiliation between [American Media CEO] David Pecker and Donald Trump,” and that Trump’s friend Pecker wouldn’t be publishing the story “as it would tend to hurt Donald Trump.”

Rodriguez, meanwhile, was shopping the Daniels story but found no takers until the infamous Access Hollywood tape surfaced of Trump boasting to host Billy Bush of his conduct towards women, Davidson testified. The Daniels story was back in play, but American Media wanted no part of it, and the National Enquirer’s editor in chief, Dylan Howard, told Davidson to deal directly with Cohen, Davidson said on the stand.

“After AMI washed their hands of the deal … Michael Cohen stepped into AMI’s shoes,” he testified.

Davidson said he found Cohen “conciliatory” in working out the deal with Daniels. He said their signed $130,000 agreement used fake names for Daniels and Trump: “Peggy Peterson” and “David Denison,” with the alliteration meant to signify the plaintiff and the defendant. He said he borrowed the second name from a high school hockey teammate.

The hard part, Davidson said, was getting Cohen to pay the money. As the days rolled by in October, and Cohen gave different excuses for not paying, “I thought he was trying to kick the can down the road until after the election,” Davidson testified. He also said he thought Cohen lacked the authority to issue the payment without his boss’s approval.

“It was my understanding that Mr. Trump was the beneficiary of this contract and in the overwhelming majority of the cases the beneficiary is the one who funds it,” Davidson said.

Davidson quit the deal and dropped Daniels as a client, until the Enquirer’s Howard stepped in to get the parties talking again. Cohen would wind up paying for the deal himself using money from a home equity line of credit, in what amounted to an undeclared campaign contribution, with Trump later reimbursing him, prosecutors say.

At one point, Davidson laughed on the stand as he remembered Rodriguez, the talent manager, telling him, “It’s gonna be the easiest deal you’ve ever done in your entire life.”

PREVIOUSLY: Jurors in the Trump hush money trial got a glimpse at how National Enquirer won the rights to former Playboy model Karen McDougal’s story of an alleged affair with The Apprentice host — all for the purpose of making sure that the claim never saw the light of day.

Texts seen by jurors today between Keith Davidson, a lawyer for former Playboy model Karen McDougal, and Dylan Howard, editor in chief of the National Enquirer, showed the negotiations over rights to McDougal’s “blockbuster” story of the affair.

“I have a blockbuster Trump story,” Davidson texted Howard on June 7, 2016. On the witness stand in Trump’s hush-money trial, Davidson said he was referring to McDougal’s claim of a romantic and sexual relationship with the soon-to-be GOP presidential nominee. When he offered more details later on, Howard texted, “I would get you more than ANYONE for it. You know why.”

Asked by Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass what Howard meant by that, Davidson said, “I knew that Dylan’s boss, David Pecker, and Mr. Trump were longtime friends.”

Howard, Davidson and McDougal met in Davidson’s Los Angeles office on June 20 in what the lawyer described as “sort of a proffer session” to spell out McDougal’s story and gauge interest from the Enquirer and its parent company American Media, which Pecker ran. Over the next month, Davidson said he was also talking to an ABC News journalist, Brian Ross, about McDougal’s story. On July 21 he texted, “Better be quick,” to Howard.

“I was trying to play two entities off of each other … to create a sense of urgency, if you will,” Davidson testified.

Two days later, Howard texted, “Get me a price on McDougal,” describing his company as “all in” on a deal that would include a consulting gig for McDougal with American Media publications and “perhaps” work as “a fitness expert thrown into the mix.”

Davidson said such a deal would give McDougal everything she wanted: money, a career restart, and a way to avoid telling her Trump affair story in order to avoid being branded with a “scarlet letter” as “the other woman,” in a saga involving a married man running for president. An arrangement with ABC would have required McDougal to talk about her and Trump, Davidson said.

In one text to Howard, he wrote, “Time is of the essence. The girl is being cornered by the estrogen mafia.”

Davidson, on the stand, said he was referring to several women who were pressuring McDougal to go public. “It was a very unfortunate, regrettable text I sent,” he testified, attributing the phrase to a male friend of McDougal’s.

Davidson’s first offer to Howard for McDougal’s story, as seen in the text, was $1 million up front and $75,000 a year afterward for McDougal’s editorial work in AMI publications. American Media eventually paid McDougal $150,000 and made her a fitness expert with ghostwritten columns.

Davidson testified that he had no specific knowledge of a plan for American Media to buy and kill his client’s story as a favor from Pecker to Trump. But he acknowledged a text he sent to Howard reading, “Throw in an ambassadorship for me. I’m thinking the Isle of Mann [sic].” He said the text “was a reference to Mr. Trump’s candidacy.”

“It was sort of in jest,” Davidson told Steinglass, adding, “I don’t think the Isle of Man is a country.”

The prosecutors in Donald Trump’s hush-money trial dipped into C-SPAN archives on Tuesday, showing jurors C-SPAN clips of the 2016 GOP presidential candidate denying claims of sexual indiscretions that were surfacing weeks before the election. Jurors saw a batch of clips from C-SPAN covered campaign events in 2016 of Trump denying claims of sexual indiscretions. “I have no idea who these women are,” Trump said at a rally in Greensboro, N.C.

The prosecution briefly called a C-SPAN archivist from Indiana to the stand to verify the clips. They followed up with the Texas-based executive of a court reporting services company who verified video and transcripts from a 2022 deposition of Trump in the civil case brought by E. Jean Carroll. Jurors saw a brief snippet of Roberta Kaplan, Carroll’s lawyer, asking Trump about Truth Social.

Gary Farro, a banker at First Republic Bank in 2016, testified on Tuesday that he helped Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, open an account which Cohen said was for a real estate consulting business. Prosecutors say the account was in fact for wiring $130,000 to Stormy Daniels for her silence about a claim of a sexual encounter with Trump.

Cohen did not inform the bank that the account would have a political purpose or involve a transaction with an adult film star — two uses that would have prompted more scrutiny of the account and might have even led the bank to refuse to open it, Farro told Assistant District Attorney Rebecca Mangold.

Cohen did want the account opened quickly — and it was, within hours of him asking for it. “Everything is urgent to Michael Cohen,” Farro testified.

The next day, Cohen put money from his own home equity line of credit into the account and then wired $130,000 to an account controlled by Keith Davidson, Daniels’ lawyer. Farro said the account and the transactions all passed muster with First Republic, but the bank shut down the account when news broke that Daniels had accepted $130,000 for her silence.

PREVIOUSLY: After leading jurors through the seamy inner workings of the Donald Trump-allied National Enquirer tabloid, prosecutors in the New York hush-money case against the former president are retracing the money trail that runs through their indictment of Trump for criminal election conspiracy.

The scene outside the Manhattan courthouse on Tuesday.
The scene outside the Manhattan courthouse on Tuesday.

A banker is due to resume testifying today about a shell company that Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney at the time, set up to funnel $130,000 to adult film performer Stormy Daniels. Cohen, using the “catch and kill” playbook perfected by last week’s key witness, former tabloid publisher David Pecker, shielded his boss from a potential October surprise in 2016 by purchasing the exclusive story rights to Daniels’ claim of an extramarital sexual encounter with Trump. Cohen pleaded guilty in a federal case connected to the scheme and is expected to testify in the Manhattan case.

By reimbursing Cohen through a series of payments billed as legal expenses, Trump violated New York business and federal campaign laws in an illegally coordinated secret effort to keep Daniels out of the news, the Manhattan District Attorney charges. Trump has denied having sex with Daniels and said he was paying Cohen for routine legal work.

Jurors on Friday also heard from Rhona Graff, a former executive assistant to Trump who sometimes appeared on his hit reality show, The Apprentice. Graff testified that she saw Daniels at Trump Tower offices in New York on more than one occasion, and had a “vague recollection” of seeing her there a few days before President-elect Trump’s inauguration in January of 2017. She attributed Daniels’ visits to Trump’s interest in her as a possible Apprentice contestant.

Outside the courthouse this morning, about two dozen people gathered in the park across the street — some to show support for Trump in his rematch against President Joe Biden. One group hoisted a banner with the message, “Finish The Wall” and “Trump 24.” Others leaned against metal barricades hoping for a glimpse of the defendant — although their view was likely to be blocked by an NYPD dump truck strategically parked in front of the narrow side street where Trump enters the courthouse.

The trial was dark on Monday, but there was still news. Cohen’s legal team announced a settlement with One America News Network, a right-wing media ally of Trump. OAN retracted a story that reported on a claim that Cohen had an affair with Daniels.

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