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Testimony ends for the day in Trump hush money trial

What we covered here today

  • Testimony wraps for the day: David Pecker, the ex-publisher of the National Enquirer, was questioned by both the prosecution and an attorney for Donald Trump in the former president's criminal hush money trial Thursday. Court will resume tomorrow morning.
  • What Pecker said: He testified about the deal he helped broker with adult film star Stormy Daniels, which is at the center of the case, and the tabloid's efforts to suppress negative stories about Trump so they wouldn't influence the 2016 election. Prosecutors accuse Trump of taking part in an illegal conspiracy to undermine the integrity of that election, which included the payment to Daniels.
  • Gag order decision looms: The judge said he will consider four additional Trump gag order violations alleged by the prosecution. He is yet to rule on the others.
  • High-stakes SCOTUS arguments: Meanwhile, the Supreme Court heard arguments today over whether Trump may claim immunity in his separate federal election subversion case. The justices seemed skeptical that Trump has absolute immunity, but may not green-light a quick trial in that case.
Our live coverage has concluded. Scroll through the posts below to read more about Trump's trial in New York.
9:03 p.m. ET, April 25, 2024

Gag order hearing moved to May 2

Judge Juan Merchan's gag order hearing will now take place at 9:30 a.m. ET on Thursday, May 2.

It’s unclear why the date and time changed.

Before leaving the bench today, the judge said the hearing would take place on Wednesday at 2:15 p.m. ET.

It came after the prosecution filed a motion and argued in court that former President Donald Trump violated the gag order four more times over the past few days.

7:54 p.m. ET, April 25, 2024

These are takeaways from today's hush money trial

Former American Media Inc. chairman David Pecker took jurors in Donald Trump’s hush money case inside how he paid for Karen McDougal’s story to keep her quiet about her alleged affair with Trump – and how his decision not to pay for Stormy Daniels’ story led to Michael Cohen ultimately paying for it.

Prosecutors on Thursday wrapped up their direct testimony with Pecker, who was on the stand for three days describing in detail how he worked with Trump and Cohen to buy up damaging stories about Trump throughout the 2016 campaign.

His testimony laid the foundation for the rest of the Manhattan district attorney’s case against Trump that focuses on the payment to Daniels.

Here are the takeaways from Thursday in the hush money trial:
  • Pecker details payment conversations: Pecker’s testimony included the nuts and bolts of how AMI paid McDougal on Trump’s behalf, Pecker’s private conversations with Trump about the catch-and-kill deal and the fallout when her story became public.
  • No gag order decision yet: Merchan had spent Tuesday morning hearing arguments on Trump’s alleged violation of the gag order – which limits the former president from publicly discussing witnesses, the jury, the district attorney’s staff or Merchan’s family – but he did not issue a ruling on Thursday when court came back into session. Instead, prosecutors submitted another motion to hold Trump in contempt for additional violations of the gag order over the past three days – including comments he made Thursday morning.
  • Trump wanted to be elsewhere: Trump’s attorneys had asked for his appearance Thursday to be waived so he could attend the Supreme Court arguments on presidential immunity. The judge denied that request.
  • Pecker agrees in cross-examination that suppressing stories was "standard operating procedure": Trump’s attorney Emil Bove cross-examined Pecker for about an hour. Quizzing Pecker with rapid-fire leading questions, Bove got the witness to confirm to the jury that Trump’s symbiotic relationship with Pecker and his tabloids was not unusual and long pre-dated Trump’s run for office. Pecker confirmed source agreements like the ones used to suppress stories from McDougal and former Trump Tower doorman Dino Sajudin are “standard operating procedure” for AMI to give the company control of how the information might be released, if at all.
  • Trump’s attorney asks Pecker about tactics National Enquirer used for other celebrities: Bove’s cross-examination of Pecker elicited testimony about other celebrities whom Pecker had purchased stories about so they wouldn’t be published, offering a fascinating glimpse into the celebrity tabloid world while he was chairman of the publisher of the National Enquirer. Trump’s attorney sought to establish with Pecker that AMI used “checkbook journalism” to control narratives in the press and fostered mutually beneficial relationships with several celebrities – not just Trump.
7:41 p.m. ET, April 25, 2024

Trial exhibit shows Trump at the White House with former tabloid boss

This image of ex-National Enquirer publisher David Pecker at the White House with then-President Donald Trump was admitted as trial evidence in Trump's hush money criminal case. Manhattan District Attorney's Office

Exhibits that the Manhattan District Attorney's office admitted as evidence were shown during former President Donald Trump's hush money trial Thursday. 

One of them is a photo of David Pecker, the former publisher of the National Enquirer, and Trump at the White House.

Another exhibit is the licensing agreement between American Media Inc. and Playboy playmate Karen McDougal. Pecker testified in court that he negotiated a deal that would give McDougal $150,000 for the rights to her story that she and Trump had an affair. 

The agreement, dated August 5, 2016, also included that McDougal was going to get a monthly column on aging and fitness in Star and OK Magazines.

The invoice for the payment to McDougal’s lawyer, Keith Davidson, is also included in the exhibits, among other documents and text messages.

6:53 p.m. ET, April 25, 2024

The ex-National Enquirer publisher answered questions from the prosecution and defense. Here's what happened

David Pecker, the former publisher of the National Enquirer, testified Thursday about a deal made with Playboy playmate Karen McDougal and outlined the involvement of Donald Trump and his former personal attorney Michael Cohen.

After paying for two other “catch-and-kill” stories, Pecker said he refused to pay money to Stormy Daniels, testifying that he didn’t want the Enquirer “to be associated with a porn star.”
After the prosecution finished its direct questioning, the defense had a chance to start its cross-examination, which will continue on Friday.

Here’s what happened in court:
Karen McDougal: 
  • The prosecution's questioning picked up with Pecker testifying about how he vetted allegations of an affair between Trump and McDougal. He said he negotiated to buy the story for $150,000 five months before the election after conversations with Cohen and Trump. Pecker said he believed he would be reimbursed by the Trump Organization or Trump himself.
  • He testified that he had concerns about the legality of paying to kill a story concerning a political candidate. He also said that he knew at the time the deal with McDougal was illegal, and he wouldn’t have entered into it if it wasn’t for Trump’s benefit.
  • Pecker said he intended to kill McDougal’s story so it did not hurt Trump’s campaign. He also said he was aware that corporations making campaign expenditures in coordination with a campaign without disclosing them was unlawful. The transaction was not reported under campaign finance obligations, Pecker said. He later testified he and Cohen received letters from the Federal Election Commission in 2018.
  • To be reimbursed for the money to McDougal, Pecker said he used an outside service to facilitate the digital payment. He said he did this because he did not want the finance department at the Enquirer's parent company to receive money from the Trump Organization or Cohen, adding it would “raise a lot of questions and issues.” But, Pecker said American Media Inc. was never reimbursed for the McDougal agreement.
  • Pecker testified that Trump inquired about McDougal twice in settings where she wasn’t immediately relevant. “How's Karen doing, how's Karen doing?” Pecker said Trump asked during a dinner at the White House in 2017. Pecker said he told him she’s doing well and “she’s quiet.”
  • Pecker said he assumed Trump was worried stories would impact his campaign because in conversations with Cohen and the former president, Trump’s family was never mentioned.

Stormy Daniels:

  • Trump attorney Emil Bove pressed Pecker about this history with Trump — long before the election. Pecker confirmed that he had been giving Trump a heads-up on negative stories for about 17 years before Trump decided to run for president. He also said he had “mutually beneficial” relationships with celebrities other than Trump and said it was standard for politicians to work with the media.
  • Bove walked Pecker through several other deals. One he made with Arnold Schwarzenegger where he paid to kill negative stories from dozens of women. He also confirmed that the company purchased photos of Tiger Woods to use them as leverage to get him in the magazine.
  • The defense also tried to poke holes at Pecker’s memory, challenging him about the timing of a meeting at Trump Tower in August 2015. Bove said these things happened a long time ago.
Gag order: Judge Juan Merchan said he would consider four new violations of a gag order on Trump and set a hearing for next Wednesday. Prosecutor Chris Conroy said these violations include comments Trump made to cameras outside the courtroom, in an interview and at an event. Merchan did not issue a ruling or hold Trump in contempt.
6:09 p.m. ET, April 25, 2024

Few people think Trump is being treated the same as other criminal defendants, poll finds

As the first criminal prosecution of a former American president began just 13% nationwide feel Donald Trump is being treated the same as other criminal defendants, according to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS

Most of the country was divided over whether he is being treated more harshly (34%) or more leniently (34%) than other defendants.

The poll, which began fielding a few days after the trial’s jury selection phase kicked off April 15, finds only 44% of Americans express confidence that the jury chosen for the case will be able to reach a fair verdict, while 56% more skeptical that a fair outcome is in the cards. More see Trump’s behavior during the trial thus far as inappropriate (42%) than appropriate (25%), with about a third saying they haven’t heard enough to say.

Those assessments of how things are playing out in the courtroom come as a rising share of Americans say the charges in the ongoing trial – related to allegedly falsifying business records to conceal hush money payments to an adult film actress Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 election – are irrelevant to his fitness for the presidency even if true (45% say so now compared with 39% last summer, before he became the presumptive Republican nominee for president)

About three-quarters of voters currently backing Trump against President Joe Biden in the 2024 election say they will stick with him even if he is convicted of a crime, while 24% of Trump’s backers say a conviction might cause them to reconsider their support. 
Read more about the poll here

5:27 p.m. ET, April 25, 2024

See courtroom sketches from Trump's trial today

No cameras are allowed inside the Manhattan courtroom where Donald Trump's hush money trial is underway, but CNN sketch artist Christine Cornell captured the scenes from today's proceedings:

In this court sketch, former President Donald Trump, bottom left, watches as “tabloid king” David Pecker returns to the stand in Manhattan Criminal Court in New York on Thursday. Christine Cornell for CNN

Trump and one of his attorneys, Emil Bove, and Judge Juan Merchan, top center, listen to Pecker, not pictured, as the "tabloid king" testifies. Jane Rosenberg

Pecker continues to testify on Thursday. Jane Rosenburg

Trump sits in the courtroom. Christine Cornell for CNN

Judge Juan Merchan. Jane Rosenburg.

5:08 p.m. ET, April 25, 2024

The defense began cross-examination of Pecker. Here's a recap of some of the top lines

The defense started its cross-examination of David Pecker, the former publisher of the National Enquirer.

Trump attorney Emil Bove tried to argue that Pecker’s work helping Donald Trump during the 2016 election was nothing new or out of the ordinary.

Bove’s cross-examination lasted just over an hour before court ended for the day. The defense will continue its questioning with Pecker on Friday.

Here are some of the key points:
  • Bove started his cross-examination by asking Pecker to confirm he was with American Media Inc., the National Enquirer's parent company, from 1999 to 2020. When asked, Pecker acknowledged he still has equity in AMI.
  • Trump's attorney asked Pecker if he managed AMI to make money. 
"That's correct," Pecker said. 
"AMI wasn't a charity?" Bove asked. "No, it was not," Pecker said.
"Part of AMI's business model was to purchase stories, correct?" Bove asked.
"Yes, it was," Pecker responded.
  • Bove confirmed with Pecker that the business model included buying stories, reiterating Pecker's own words that AMI uses "checkbook journalism."
  • Bove also confirmed source agreements were "standard operating procedure" for AMI, to give the company control of how, if at all, the information might be released.
5:10 p.m. ET, April 25, 2024

Merchan says there will be a hearing Wednesday about prosecution's request to hold Trump in contempt

Before leaving the bench, Judge Merchan reiterated that he signed the order to show cause regarding the prosecution's latest request to hold Trump in contempt for the four new violations of the gag order. It came after the prosecution filed a motion and argued in court that Trump violated the gag order four more times over the past few days.

There will be a hearing next Wednesday at 2:15 p.m. ET about that, he said.

Assistant District Attorney Chris Conroy addressed the additional violations in court Thursday morning, providing the judge with another proposed order to show cause, which Merchan signed.

At a hearing Tuesday morning, prosecutors had already asked Merchan to hold Trump in contempt for violating the gag order, citing 10 social media posts from before and during the trial. They also want the posts taken down. Merchan has yet to rule on these alleged violations.

Trump has two campaign events next Wednesday. He is required to be in court for the gag-order hearing unless the judge signs a waiver to excuse him.

4:48 p.m. ET, April 25, 2024

Trump: What happened in the courtroom on Thursday was "breathtaking"

What happened in the courtroom on Thursday was "breathtaking," former President Donald Trump said after court wrapped for the day.

He also described former tabloid boss David Pecker's testimony as "amazing."

"Open your eyes, we can't let this continue to happen to our country," he added, reiterating his complaint that this trial should have "never happened."

Trump also commented on the "monumental" US Supreme Court hearing on the matter of his immunity in the federal election subversion case brought by special counsel Jack Smith.

"I hope it was made clear that a president has to have immunity or you don't have a president. Or at most you can say it would be a ceremonial president. That's not what the founders had in mind," he said, adding he heard that the hearing was "quite amazing" and that the justices "were on their game."