Trump trial: Publisher says he suppressed negative news

The underbelly of New York City's tabloid media industry was laid bare in a Manhattan courtroom on Tuesday.

A famous publisher outlined a secret plan he had with Donald Trump and his personal lawyer Michael Cohen, calling it an "agreement among friends".

Prosecutors questioned former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker for nearly three hours.

He testified that the three worked to suppress negative stories about the candidate during his 2016 campaign.

"'This could be a very big story, so I believe that it should be removed from the market'," Mr Pecker said he would advise the former president about killing certain articles.

Mr Pecker's testimony could prove critical for prosecutors as they seek to prove that Mr Trump tried to influence the election by quelling a story of an alleged affair.

Mr Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records.

Prosecutors allege he tried to cover up a $130,000 (£104,500) payment to porn star Stormy Daniels before he won the race for the White House back in 2016.

Continuing his testimony from Monday as the trial's first witness, Mr Pecker said he met Mr Trump in the late 1980s and eventually became good friends with the former president.

The two had a mutually "beneficial" relationship, in which Mr Trump would share exclusive information with him, such as news about the contestants on his reality TV show, The Apprentice. This helped boost viewership for the show and the National Enquirer, Mr Pecker said.

Shortly after Mr Trump launched his first presidential bid, Mr Pecker said he met with Cohen and Mr Trump in August 2015. There, Mr Pecker said he agreed to suppress negative articles about the former president and promote positive stories about him, a plan Mr Pecker argued should be kept "as quiet as possible".

The tabloid publisher said he also agreed to notify Mr Trump about stories concerning his romantic affairs, as he was "an eligible bachelor" who "dated the most beautiful women", according to Mr Pecker.

Mr Pecker detailed two stories that the three men worked to kill.

One was from Dino Sajudin, a former Trump Tower doorman, who Mr Pecker said tried to sell an article in 2015 about an unsubstantiated rumour that Mr Trump once fathered a child out of wedlock.

After investigating, Mr Pecker said, he found the claim to be "1,000% untrue".

But he agreed with Cohen to pay Mr Sajudin $30,000 for perpetual rights to the story, because it would have been "very embarrassing for the campaign" if it got out, Mr Pecker said.

Just before the end of the day in court, prosecutors also delved into a hush-money agreement made to Playboy model Karen McDougal. She claims she and Mr Trump had a long-term affair, though Mr Trump denies this.

Mr Pecker said he advised the former president to buy Ms McDougal's story, but Mr Trump was unsure.

"'Anytime you do anything like this, it always gets out'," Mr Pecker claimed Mr Trump told him.

His company eventually purchased the story for $150,000.

Though prosecutors did not bring charges over either of these payments, the testimony from Tuesday could help paint a picture of the context leading up to Ms Daniels' payment.

Putting the tabloid publisher up on the stand first in the trial was a smart move, according to former Brooklyn prosecutor Julie Rendelman.

"He provides the backdrop for how the whole 'catch and kill' scheme came to be, the players involved, and the timing as it related to Trump's campaign," she said.

Mr Pecker's testimony came after the second day of the hush-money trial got off to a rocky start for the former president's legal team.

More on Trump trial

'Losing credibility with the court'

The day began with a hearing on whether comments Mr Trump made about those involved in the case violated a gag order.

Sparks quickly flew between his lead lawyer, Todd Blanche, and Justice Juan Merchan.

After prosecutors alleged 10 of his social media posts violated the order, Mr Blanche argued his client had a right to address "political attacks".

Judge Merchan was not buying it.

"You're losing all credibility with the court," he told Mr Blanche, after trying to get him to hurry up his arguments.

Trump is accused by the prosecution of routinely breaking a restriction imposed by the judge that prevents him from publicly attacking witnesses, prosecutors and relatives of court staff.

"He knows about the order, he knows what he's not allowed to do, but he does it anyway," prosecutor Christopher Conroy told the court.

At stake for Mr Trump is a $10,000 fine and a warning that future violations of the order could lead to his imprisonment.

The judge said he would reserve making a ruling about the violations for now.

But former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani said the judge's reproach was a worrying sign for Mr Trump's team.

"They can't control their client, but when the judge tells a lawyer they are losing all their credibility, that's bad," Mr Rahmani said.

In the break that followed the hearing, Mr Trump took to his social media site Truth Social to criticise Judge Merchan and claim that he was being unfairly blocked from defending himself against attacks.