Stormy’s Defiant Ex-Lawyer Tries to Defend Slimy Hush-Money Deal

Doug Mills/Reuters
Doug Mills/Reuters

The B-list celebrity lawyer who scored two hush-money deals for a porn star and a former Playboy model came off as an even shadier character on Thursday, as Donald Trump’s team worked hard to show that the prosecution’s witness was actually engaged in a scheme to extort the politician in the weeks before the 2016 election.

The third week of the former president’s criminal trial in New York has focused mostly on the dirty world of scandal coverups, with a Beverly Hills lawyer describing how worried stars, conniving publicists, and unscrupulous entertainment “journalists” manage the underground market for embarrassing information.

Trump Trial Shifts Focus to the Dirty World of Hush Money

But while the trial on Tuesday served as a primer, Thursday showed how even now—nearly eight years after these Trump deals were put into place—a key player still couldn’t come to grips with reality over exactly what he did.

Keith Davidson, the attorney who represented former “playmate” Karen McDougal and porn star Stormy Daniels, put on an incredulous performance on the witness stand as he defended his previous public denials that Trump ever engaged in extramarital affairs with the women.

It started with the clarifications he made while discussing the matter with a prosecutor with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. Joshua Steinglass, an assistant district attorney, asked Davidson whether he would use the phrase “hush-money” to describe the contract that kept the porn star silent about her 2006 one-night stand with Trump in return for $130,000.

“I would never use that word,” Davidson replied, opting instead for the term “consideration.”

Steinglass questioned how Davidson could possibly defend a line in the statement that said “rumors that I received hush-money from Donald Trump are completely false.”

“You called it a payoff. It wasn’t a payoff, and it wasn’t hush-money. It’s a consideration in a settlement agreement,” he said, finding solace with the use of legal jargon.

“A consideration is money or something of value that’s exchanged in a contract. I will pay you $5 to mow my lawn. $5 is consideration,” he continued.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump watches as lawyer Keith Davidson, who represented former Playboy model Karen McDougal, is cross examined by defense attorney Emil Bove during Trump's criminal trial.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump watches as lawyer Keith Davidson, who represented former Playboy model Karen McDougal, is cross examined by defense attorney Emil Bove during Trump's criminal trial.

Jane Rosenberg/Reuters

When jurors were shown a January 2018 public statement made by the porn star flatly denying that she and Trump ever had a romantic entanglement, Steinglass asked him to square that assertion with reality. Davidson explained “this is a tactic that is oftentimes used” by publicists and attorneys dealing with the press.

When Steinglass pressed him to explain his reasoning, Davidson eased himself further into his chair and cracked a smile.

“An extremely strict reading of this denial would technically be true. I think you have to go through it word by word. It would technically be true with an extremely fine reading,” he said, adding that one would have to “hone in on the definition of romantic sexual affair. I don't think anyone had ever alleged that any interaction between she and Mr. Trump had been romantic."

Steinglass countered: How about the term “sexual?”

“That would be sexual and/or romantic,” Davidson responded.

Later on, Steinglass showed jurors a public statement Daniels made while she was at the Marilyn Monroe suite at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, surrounded by makeup artists for an appearance on the late-night talk show “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”

“I am denying this affair because it never happened,” the statement read, before shamelessly plugging her Instagram account.

“How would you characterize the truthfulness of this statement?” Steinglass asked.

“It is technically true,” Davidson replied.

Judge Refuses to Green Light Angry Trump Posts

“How is that technically true?” Steinglass continued.

“I don't think anyone had ever alleged there was a relationship between Stormy Daniels and Donald Trump. A relationship is an ongoing interaction,” he said.

It’s no surprise that Davidson remained guarded on the witness stand, unapologetically stretching the meaning of public statements and repeatedly refusing to detail conversations with his clients behind his office’s closed doors. He still practices law and boasted about having “more than 1,500 clients” over the years.

But to figure out what he was really thinking, you’d have to turn to his private text messages with Dylan Howard, who in 2016 was the National Enquirer editor who set these deals in motion in a covert catch-and-kill operation meant to save Trump from embarrassment and public scrutiny.

When it was clear Trump was winning the 2016 election, they suddenly realized their role in history.

“What have we done," Davidson texted him.

“Oh my God,” Howard texted back.

When Steinglass asked him to explain that exchange, Davidson gave jurors exactly what they needed to hear.

“Our activities may have in some way assisted the presidential campaign of Donald Trump,” Davidson said.

That’s the theme prosecutors will have to repeatedly hit in the coming weeks, as they try to prove that Trump didn’t simply silence these women to avoid an expensive divorce with his wife Melania—who’s stuck around but not by him, avoiding any public appearances and never once showing up at the Manhattan courthouse so far.

But if Davidson’s responses to the prosecutors’ questions were bad, his performance on cross-examination was even worse.

Trump defense lawyer Emil Bove, a former federal prosecutor at the elite Southern District of New York, tore into the hush-money lawyer over his long history of seedy Hollywood deals. His stated aim was to prove that Davidson knew just how to play the game of shaking down Trump for money without crossing a bright red line that would technically make the operation a crime.

“What does the word extortion mean to you?” Bove asked him, point blank.

“It’s the obtaining of property by threat or fear of force,” Davidson responded, appearing to know where this line of questioning was headed.

“And that can be a state or federal crime, right?” Bove continued.

“True,” he said.

Bove then questioned Davidson over his involvement in leaking the actress Lindsay Lohan's stay in rehab to the celebrity tabloid TMZ—a series of stories that was widely criticized as a monstrous invasion of privacy and has since sparked conversations about ethics in journalism.

But Bove’s cross-examination zeroed in on what happened behind the scenes, with Davidson reluctantly answering questions about his role in the affair.

Trump Given Final Warning: Shut Up or Face Jail

Later, Bove asked about Davidson’s role in what he made out to be a $75,000 blackmailing operation against the social media personality Tila Tequila over a sex tape. When Davidson demurred and repeatedly claimed to not remember anything about it, Bove turned up the heat.

“You don't recall that at the time of that transaction you were on a 90-day bar suspension?” the defense lawyer asked.

“I don't recall that,” Davidson replied.

After several minutes of trading barbs with him, Trump's lawyer eventually ripped into him for having “a fuzzy memory.”

As if those two examples weren’t enough, Bove then brought up something that’s become lore in the news world: The decision by now-defunct news website Gawker in 2012 to publish a clip from a video showing American TV wrestler Hulk Hogan having sex with the wife of Florida radio host Todd Alan Clem, better known as “Bubba the Love Sponge.” Bove questioned Davidson about the way he tried to score a deal with Hogan by selling him the tape.

After some prodding—and a ridiculous moment where Davidson claimed he doesn't know what a "sting operation” meant, the Beverly Hills lawyer finally admitted that the FBI had monitored his Hulk Hogan deal and set up the meeting in a hotel. It only got worse when Bove asked whether Tampa police had investigated this deal for extortion.

“I believe so,” he replied.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Get the Daily Beast's biggest scoops and scandals delivered right to your inbox. Sign up now.

Stay informed and gain unlimited access to the Daily Beast's unmatched reporting. Subscribe now.