Key Figures in Trump’s Trial Include Former Tabloid CEO and Porn Star

(Bloomberg) -- Former President Donald Trump’s first criminal trial will bring to a Manhattan courtroom a colorful cast of characters, from a porn star to a doorman and a former tabloid-publishing chief executive officer.

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Trump, a brash former reality TV star who used fame to propel himself to the presidency, will be the star of the trial. He’s accused of scheming to bolster his 2016 election prospects by paying “hush money” to women who claimed to have had affairs with him, and then falsifying business records to cover his tracks. It’s one of four criminal trials the former president faces.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who brought the case a year ago, is expected to call to the witness stand almost everyone involved in the alleged hush-money deals. Opening arguments are set to begin as soon as Monday, and is expected to last as long as two weeks.

Here is who you can expect to hear from during the trial:

The Defendant

Donald J. TrumpFormer President

Plea: Not Guilty

Charges: 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first degree

Background: Trump is accused of orchestrating a plan with the publisher of the National Enquirer tabloid, David Pecker, to pay off anyone who was offering to sell salacious stories about the candidate as he was campaigning for the White House. The plan led to payments to porn star Stormy Daniels and a former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who both claimed they had sex with the billionaire while he was married. A doorman at Trump’s building also got cash to keep quiet. Bragg says the goal was to improve Trump’s election prospects by keeping Americans in the dark about his conduct with women, which was already an issue for the candidate.

Allegations: The “hush money” itself wasn’t illegal. Instead, at the heart of the indictment is how Trump accounted for the payment to Daniels in his company’s records. He allegedly repaid $130,000 to his lawyer, who made the payment to Daniels, by breaking it up into 12 monthly installments that were falsely described as “legal services.” Bragg says the 34 charges are felonies instead of misdemeanors because Trump falsified records to conceal other crimes, specifically election law violations.

The Witnesses

Michael CohenFormer lawyer at the Trump Organization

Trump Ties: His lawyer and fixer during the 2016 campaign

Background: Cohen, 57, is a former Trump Organization vice president who served for years as Trump’s personal attorney and fixer before turning on him and becoming one of his biggest critics. The level of trust they had is evident from the secrecy of Cohen’s work for the billionaire, including during his 2016 campaign. Even though Trump pressured Cohen not to cooperate with a federal investigation, Cohen in 2018 made a deal with the government to plead guilty to crimes including campaign finance violations and bank fraud. He was sentenced to three years in prison.

Possible Testimony: Cohen is Bragg’s star witness. He will likely testify about allegations at the heart of the case, including that Trump directed him to personally make the hush- money payment to Daniels, and promised to pay him back. Cohen may describe how Trump repaid him in monthly installments labeled as “legal services” in company books — the false records at the center of the case. Among the key events he can shed light on is a 2015 Trump Tower meeting where the hush-money scheme was hatched.

Hope HicksFormer White House Communications Director

Trump Ties: 2016 campaign press secretary and White House communications director

Background: Hicks, 35, entered Trump’s orbit in 2012 as a public relations specialist for Ivanka Trump’s fashion line and evolved into one of the former president’s longest-serving advisers. She joined Trump’s 2016 campaign as press secretary when she was just 26. Hicks went on to become Trump’s White House communications director. He treated Hicks as a “surrogate daughter” and referred to her to as “Hopey” and “Hopester,” Vanity Fair reported in 2020.

Possible Testimony: Hicks was present during key campaign discussions about the threat posed by the Daniels story. This won’t be her first time talking about the episode, since she was previously questioned about it as a witness during the House probe into Trump’s first impeachment. Documents in a related federal case against Cohen cite evidence that Hicks and another Trump aide, Kellyanne Conway, worked feverishly to stop the Daniels story from coming out. Hicks testified that she wasn’t aware or directly involved with the payments, but she could shed light on the campaigns’ handling of the salacious stories.

David PeckerFormer CEO, American Media

Trump Ties: The former tabloid publisher supported his 2016 campaign

Background: Pecker, a longtime friend of Trump’s who worked with him for decades, is the former CEO of American Media Inc., publisher of the National Enquirer. He was a supporter of Trump’s presidential ambitions as far back as 2000, when he first floated the idea. Pecker even published Trump Style, a magazine for guests of Trump properties, in the 1990s. In 2015, he offered to be the “eyes and ears” of Trump’s presidential campaign, to root out negative tabloid stories about him. That support culminated with Trump inviting Pecker to dinner at the White House after he won the election.

Possible Testimony: Pecker was a key protagonist in facilitating the hush-money payments, agreeing to alert Trump and Cohen to negative stories, and when necessary buying the rights to those stories and then not publishing them. Along with Cohen, he was in the 2015 Trump Tower meeting when the “catch and kill” plan was hatched. Pecker can also describe AMI’s hush-money payment to a doorman who had a false story about Trump, as well as a former Playboy model who was paid $150,000 to stay quiet about an alleged affair.

Stormy DanielsAdult Film Star

Trump Ties: Claims she had an affair with him a decade before his election

Background: Daniels has been one of the most colorful elements of the case because of her salacious claims about Trump and her below-the-belt criticism of the former president. Weeks before the 2016 election, she signed a $130,000 non-disclosure agreement arranged by Cohen to stay quiet about the alleged affair. She eventually sued Trump to try to get out of it, filing a complaint that spilled the details into public view. Her suit launched a bitter war of words between her and Trump, with regular exchanges of personal insults on TV and in social media.

Possible Testimony: Daniels can shed light on the hush-money payment at the center of the case. Most of those details are widely known, her testimony under oath could lead to new disclosures about how the deal went down. She could also reveal more about her alleged sexual encounters with Trump, providing context about what exactly he was trying to keep out of public view.

Karen McDougalPlayboy Model

Trump Ties: Allegedly had a nine-month affair with Trump

Relationship to Trump: The former Playboy model claims to have had an affair with Trump after meeting the future president in 2006 at a party at the Playboy Mansion, according to The New Yorker. Trump allegedly flew McDougal to events around the country, making her pay for her flights and hotels and then reimbursing her to avoid a paper trail, according to the article. She claims Trump started his affair with Daniels while he was still with her. In a 2018 interview with Anderson Cooper, McDougal apologized to Melania Trump.

Possible Testimony: McDougal can give a first-hand account of her $150,000 payment from Pecker’s AMI, which kept her quiet during Trump’s 2016 campaign. Her insight could provide further evidence linking the deal to Trump’s election prospects. She can also shed light on the details of the deal with AMI, including a promise by AMI to publish articles she’d written and put her on the cover of its magazines.

The Judge

New York State Judge Juan Merchan

Background: Merchan has joined the list of judges regularly attacked by Trump over his rulings as the case headed to trial. Merchan issued a gag order against the former president, restricting him from attacking his family, case witnesses, court staff and jurors. Merchan also presided over the criminal tax-fraud case brought against Trump’s company and former chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg.

Born in Colombia, Merchan emigrated to the US at age six. After getting his law degree from Hofstra University School of Law, Merchan began his legal career in 1994 as a Manhattan prosecutor. Merchan was appointed a Family Court judge in the Bronx in 2006 by former mayor Michael Bloomberg, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, which owns Bloomberg News.

The Lawyers


Alvin BraggManhattan District Attorney

Background: Bragg was the first prosecutor to bring criminal charges against a former president. Since the indictment a year ago, the elected Democrat has been accused of political bias and endured personal attacks from Trump and his allies. Bragg supervised the New York state investigation into Trump’s now-shattered charitable foundation, when he served as chief deputy in the New York attorney general’s office in 2017. “It is a fact that I have sued Trump over 100 times,” he said in interviews during the campaign.

A Harlem native, the Harvard graduate was elected Manhattan’s first Black district attorney in 2021. Bragg is a former assistant US attorney and onetime chief deputy state attorney general who ran on a platform where he vowed not to prosecute low-level crimes like turnstile jumping and gang conspiracy cases against juvenile offenders.

Susan HoffingerExecutive Assistant District Attorney

Background: Hoffinger helped lead the successful prosecution of Weisselberg and two of Trump’s companies. A Columbia Law School graduate, she served in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office from 1992 to 2000, then went into private practice for about 20 years as a founding partner of The Hoffinger Firm with her father.

Matthew ColangeloSenior Counsel

Background: While working for the New York Attorney General’s office he participated in an investigation of the Trump Foundation, which resulted in a settlement that forced the foundation to dissolve and pay a $2 million fine.

A Harvard graduate, Colangelo joined the DA’s office in 2022 after working at the Justice Department, where he had been Acting Associate US Attorney General. He also served in the Obama administration as a Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of the National Economic Council.

Defense Lawyers

Todd BlancheLaw Firm: Blanche Law

Background: Blanche represents Trump in three of the four criminal cases against him. A graduate of American University, he did a four-year stint as a paralegal with federal prosecutors in New York before obtaining his law degree from Brooklyn Law School in 2003. After leaving government, Blanche joined Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft LLP, which he left in 2023 to start his own firm where he represented Trump.

Susan NechelesLaw Firm: NechelesLaw

Background: A Yale Law School graduate, Necheles worked as an Assistant District Attorney in Kings County, New York. She’s now managing partner at her own firm which was opened in January 2021.

Read next: Keeping Up With the Trump Trials

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