Banker Who Handled Cohen Account Testifies in Trump Trial

Banker Who Handled Cohen Account Testifies in Trump Trial
Former President Donald Trump appears in court during his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York on April 26, 2024. (Dave Sanders/Pool via Getty Images)

David Pecker, former head of American Media Inc. (AMI), returns to the witness stand for cross-examination by the defense as former President Donald Trump’s “hush money” trial continues in New York on Friday.

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Trump Invites Biden to Debate

President Trump invited President Biden to debate him anytime he didn’t need to be in court, which he described as a “Biden indictment.”

“This is eight days that we’ve all been sitting in this courthouse. This is called a Biden indictment,” he said. “It’s in order to try and win an election, a political opponent, and nothing like this has ever happened. Eight days. As you know, the economy’s falling apart now … our country is going to hell, and we sit here day after day after day, which is their plan because they think they might be able to eke out an election but I doubt it because the poll numbers are very good for us.”

“I just want to say that I’ve invited Biden to debate. He can do it anytime he wants, including tonight. I’m ready, here we are. I invited him to the courthouse,” President Trump added. He said it should be televised nationally, and said he could go to President Biden at the White House.

“We’re ready, just tell me where. We’ll do it in the White House. That would be very comfortable actually, but if you tell me where, we’re ready.”

Farro Says He Was Assigned Cohen for Ability to Work With ‘Challenging’ Clients

Mr. Farro said he did not know how long Mr. Cohen had been a client of the bank before he took over.

“I can only tell you what I was told, that I was selected because of my knowledge and my ability to handle individuals that may be a little challenging,” Mr. Farro said. He said he was assigned in 2015 and it ended in 2018 or 2019.

“Michael did a lot of his business by walking across the street,” Mr. Farro said. “He had his own office there, it was in the Trump Tower, I think it’s Fifth Avenue in Midtown.”

He affirmed Mr. Cohen’s personal account information and said Mr. Cohen’s accounts with First Republic were personal lines and accounts. He did not open any accounts for Trump Organization.

A 2016 email from Mr. Cohen asking Mr. Farro to call him back immediately was shown. Mr. Farro said it was not unusual for Mr. Cohen to want something turned around immediately.

Prosecutors showed documents for the creation of an account for Resolution Consultants LLC.

Mr. Farro said that after all the work to establish the account, no deposits were ever made.

Mr. Cohen later wanted to create another account, for Essential Consultants LLC. Mr. Farro reiterated that every communication from Mr. Cohen had a sense of urgency.

Mr. Farro was on a golf course at the time Mr. Cohen requested the account to be established, so DeWitt Hutchins opened Essential Consultants LLC for Mr. Cohen. The date of formation is listed as Oct. 17, 2016.

Justice Merchan called it a week, reminding jurors there was no session on Monday, and testimony would begin again Tuesday morning.

Banker Takes Witness Stand

Gary Farro, private client adviser and executive managing director at Flagstar Bank, was called on by prosecutors as the third witness.

Mr. Farrow previously worked for First Republic Bank, which was purchased by Chase Bank. He moved on to Flagstar.

Graff Says Stormy Daniels Was Mentioned as Potential Contestant

Ms. Graff said President Trump took phone calls behind a wall and she could not hear him on the phone “unless it was very loud.”

“He would vocalize, sometimes, people he was interested in to members of the staff. I don’t recall him specifically discussing with me,” she said.

“I vaguely recall hearing him that Stormy Daniels was one of the people that may be an interesting contestant on the show,” Ms. Graff said. “I can’t recall a specific instance where I heard it, it was part of the office chatter.”

Graff Describes Work for Trump

Ms. Graff described her role and time at Trump Organization under cross examination by defense attorney Susan Necheles.

She said she has worked for President Trump for 34 years, and it’s never the same day twice.

“I think that he was a fair and respectful boss to me, in all that time,” she said. “Responsibilities definitely evolved over the years that I was there.

She said when she started it was primarily real estate, but it evolved into different areas of business as he wrote books, entered television, did licensing deals.

She described “The Apprentice” as a turning point.

“I think it elevated him from being primarily a businessman to rock star status,” she said.

Rhona Graff Testifies

Prosecutors called Rhona Graff, longtime assistant to President Trump, to the witness stand.

Ms. Graff affirmed she was testifying pursuant to a subpoena. She joined Trump Organization in 1987 and handles President Trump’s calendar appointments, contacts, emails.

She affirmed that contact information for Ms. McDougal and Mr. Sajudin had been entered into the system she maintained and oversaw on behalf of President Trump. She said it was a “business duty” to maintain these contacts accurately.

She affirmed she made an entry for “Stormy” in the system as well. Ms. Graff said she had a “vague recollection of seeing her in the reception area on the 26th floor.”

She affirmed that President Trump was working at Trump Tower on Jan. 17, 2017, and Jan. 18, 2017.

Defense Questions Pecker

Mr. Bove questioned Mr. Pecker, correcting the prosecution’s earlier reference to “attack ads” on political opponents to “headlines.”

He then asked Mr. Pecker if Ms. McDougal had brought value to AMI as a celebrity in her own right, and Mr. Pecker said that was not the case.

Prosecutor Questions Pecker About FBI Notes

Mr. Steinglass revisited the FBI notes that Mr. Pecker claimed were inconsistent. The FBI had recorded in a report that Mr. Pecker said Mr. Trump never thanked him, while notes from the interview itself stated that he did.

Mr. Steinglass read, “that he, Trump, wanted to thank Pecker for handling the doorman … stories because they had been very damaging to him.”

“Do you believe that you have ever been inconsistent about this point?” Mr. Steinglass asked.

“No,” Mr. Pecker said.

Prosecutors also read into the record Mr. Pecker’s interview with a federal grand jury where he said that Mr. Trump “said he was very appreciative of at the way I handled the McDougal story. He also thanked me for the doorman story. He said he was very grateful. Both of these stories would have been very, very embarrassing.”

Mr. Pecker affirmed that was the truth then and is still true and he had not been inconsistent on these points.

Mr. Steinglass asked whether federal investigators from any agency ever suggest they wanted him to say anything other than the truth.

“Absolutely not,” Mr. Pecker said.

Pecker Backtracks on Learning Term ‘Catch and Kill’

Prosecutors continued questioning Mr. Pecker after a lunch break.

Mr. Pecker affirmed that he had not heard the term “catch and kill” before a federal prosecutor used it.

Mr. Steinglass then pulled up the Nov. 4, 2016, Wall Street Journal article about Ms. McDougal’s deal, in which the story described “quashing stories that way is known in the tabloid world as ‘catch and kill.'”

Mr. Pecker affirmed his mistake, saying he first read the term in the press.

Trump Offers to Debate Biden at Courthouse

President Trump responded to President Joe Biden’s comment that he would be “happy to debate” him before the November election with an offer to do so “anywhere, anytime, anyplace.”

“Crooked Joe Biden just announced that he’s willing to debate! Everyone knows he doesn’t really mean it, but in case he does, I say, ANYWHERE, ANYTIME, ANYPLACE, an old expression used by Fighters,” President Trump wrote on Truth Social.

He noted he would be in Michigan Wednesday evening for a rally, making a jab at President Biden’s electric vehicle policies, then offered to stay late at the courthouse, where dozens of media outlets are congregated, if President Biden was willing to debate in New York.

“I suggest Monday Evening, Tuesday Evening, or Wednesday Evening at my Rally in Michigan, a State that he is in the process of destroying with his E.V. Mandate. In the alternative, he’s in New York City today, although probably doesn’t know it, and so am I, stuck in one of the many Court cases that he instigated as ELECTION INTERFERENCE AGAINST A POLITICAL OPPONENT – A CONTINUING WITCH HUNT! It’s the only way he thinks he can win. In fact, let’s do the Debate at the Courthouse tonight – on National Television, I’ll wait around!”

Prosecutors Say Pecker Paid More to Help Trump Than Schwarzenegger

Mr. Steinglass asked Mr. Pecker if he recalled Mr. Bove’s line of questioning Thursday and Friday morning regarding other deals to suppress negative stories, then asked Mr. Pecker whether he spent anywhere close to $100,000 to help Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“No,” Mr. Pecker said.

Mr. Steinglass asked whether Mr. Pecker ran attack ads against candidates tied directly to their performance in the polls, and Mr. Pecker said no. He similarly answered no when asked if they did so for political opponents of Mr. Trump’s prior to the August 2015 meeting before his campaign.

Mr. Pecker said that sales went up when Mr. Trump announced his first White House run. He also said that negative stories about Mr. Trump’s opponents sold very well.

Prosecution Asks Pecker About Karen McDougal Deal

Mr. Bove also asked Mr. Pecker whether he sought legal advice related to Karen McDougal, which he affirmed. The defense finished questioning, and prosecutors began their redirect.

Mr. Steinglass asked Mr. Pecker to affirm that he did not personally speak to outside counsel in this instance, and to affirm that the provisions about her articles, covers, and ghostwriting were added “to give AMI some plausible deniability.”

“Yes, that’s correct,” Mr. Pecker said. He affirmed that the “principal purpose” of the agreement was to suppress Ms. McDougal’s affair story.

“Did you ever tell [AMI general counsel] Stracker that the true purpose of the contract that he was asking outside counsel to review was to influence the election?” Mr. Steinglass asked.

“No,” Mr. Pecker said.

Pecker Did Not Admit to Campaign Violation

Mr. Bove had Mr. Pecker clarify that AMI did not admit to any campaign violations.

As a non-prosecution agreement, the document does not state any violations. It included the line, “no admission as to the merit of the commission’s legal conclusions.”

“That’s different from an admission, right?” Mr. Bove asked.

“Yes,” Mr. Pecker said.

“And the position that you and your lawyers took was that the agreement was lawful, right?” Mr. Bove asked.

“Yes,” Mr. Pecker said. He also affirmed the same lawyers representing him were representing AMI.

Attorneys, Judge Sidebar Over Defense Questioning

Mr. Bove sought to address some remarks brought up in Mr. Pecker’s Thursday testimony.

Mr. Pecker had said that Mr. Cohen, who has not yet testified, had told him not to worry about the investigation because Donald Trump at Jeff Sessions, then the attorney general, “in his pocket.”

Mr. Bove asked if Mr. Pecker was concerned because “President Trump did not have Jeff Sessions in his pocket, correct?”

The judge sustained the prosecutors’ objection. Mr. Bove rephrased, asking if it was Mr. Pecker’s view that “Michael Cohen was prone to exaggeration.”

“Yes,” Mr. Pecker said.

“You could not trust everything he said?” Mr. Bove asked.

Prosecutors objected, and the parties had a sidebar over the admissibility of this line of questioning.

Defense Claims AMI Deal Affected By Investigation

Mr. Bove questioned Mr. Pecker about talks for the Hudson News Group to acquire National Enquirer and two other tabloids. The deal would have been worth about $100 million, but only if investigations were resolved before the money was taken out of escrow.

“There was no pressure about finalizing the agreement,” Mr. Pecker said of the investigation. Other than the transaction being subject to a “drop dead date had to be done by a certain time.”

“To Husdon News, the federal investigation was not going to reduce the earnings of the company,” Mr. Pecker added.

Pecker Says FBI Report Inconsistent

Mr. Pecker also affirmed there was inconsistencies between his testimony and an report of an interview with the FBI about this exchange with President Trump.

“This is the FBI’s interview, correct?” he said on the witness stand when asked to read a portion of it. “The FBI notes here, what someone writes now could be wrong. I know what I testified to yesterday, and I know what I remember. Going back to 2018, I didn’t recall, what I was saying here is that there’s the FBI investigation. I know what I said yesterday … what the FBI interview was, made a mistake.”

Mr. Bove asked, “so you can’t reconcile what you said yesterday, is inconsistent with this report. Are you suggesting that the FBI made a mistake here?”

“I know what I said,” Mr. Pecker said.

“Your testimony yesterday is inconsistent with what’s in that report,” Mr. Bove said.

“Yes,” Mr. Pecker said.

The court took a break.

Reporters shouted questions at President Trump as he walked back into the courtroom after the break. He did not answer whether he thanked Mr. Pecker in 2017.

Defense Highlights Discrepancies in Pecker Testimony

Mr. Bove walked Mr. Pecker through his testimony yesterday, highlighting discrepancies of detail.

He had said that President Trump never thanked him for the deal with Mr. Sajudin, but also had said President Trump said “I want to thank you for the doorman situation.”

Pecker Says Cohen Asked Him For Job, Media Coverage

Mr. Pecker testified that Mr. Cohen had made other personal requests for him, such as becoming chairman of a financial company after the former one had been terminated. Mr. Pecker said he had brought it up with Chatham Asset Management, who did not want Mr. Cohen, and it ended there. Mr. Cohen had also requested media coverage of himself to help him boost his standing.

Pecker Never Discussed Sajudin Deal With Trump

Mr. Pecker also affirmed that he never discussed the deal with Dino Sajudin directly with Mr. Trump.

AMI had paid Mr. Sajudin despite verifying that the story that Mr. Trump had fathered an illegitimate child was false.

Mr. Pecker affirmed that it took AMI some time to verify the story, during which Mr. Sajudin began to make threats, and so AMI bought the rights to the story in perpetuity, paying Mr. Sajudin even before publication of the story. He affirms this was standard business procedure for AMI.

‘Catch and Kill’ Not Discussed at Trump Tower Meeting

Mr. Pecker affirmed that during the 2015 Trump Tower meeting that prosecutors allege was the beginning of a conspiracy, the concept of “catch and kill” was not discussed.

The day before, he had told defense attorneys that this was not a term in his lexicon, and the first he heard it was when one of the prosecutors used it.

He affirmed for the defense that over the decades his publications have used hundreds of thousands of such contracts, and it’s standard for these contracts to afford the publication rights to the story for years.

Pecker Returns to Witness Stand

Mr. Pecker took the witness stand again, for questioning by the defense.

He affirmed that it was the National Enquirer’s standard practice to use other media’s reporting for their stories. Covers of negative stories about the Clintons and others running against Trump at the time, like Ben Carson, were submitted into evidence.

Prosecution Requests Jury Instructions

Mr. Steinglass also requested that the judge instruct jurors on redactions seen in the evidence, “so the jury doesn’t draw any improper inferences from those redactions.”

Prosecution Accuses Defense of Inappropriate Questioning

Justice Merchan said the court will break at 12:30 to hear the government’s motion to compel, but prosecutors said that was no longer necessary.

Prosecuting attorney Joshua Steinglass said that Mr. Bove’s questions to witness David Pecker about “prior meetings with the DA’s office and reviewing materials” was inappropriate.

“I think it left a distinct impression that the conduct was improper,” Mr. Steinglass said, asking the judge to give the jury instruction on this point.

Mr. Bove argued it was unnecessary.

Attorneys in Dispute Over Admissible Evidence

Defense attorney Emil Bove renewed objections to admitting some communications and casting Dylan Howard as a “co-conspirator.” The judge disagreed with the defense.

Mr. Bove you expressed your concern. At some point it becomes cumulatively prejudicial. And I agree there could come a point. We’re just going to have to keep going through it. You make your objections,” Justice Merchan said. 

The judge said that “we’re in agreement as to who is a co-conspirator, in this case Dylan Howard,” referring to his addressing this point in court yesterday. Mr. Bove tried to interject for the record that the defense disagreed.

Trump Says Supreme Court Hearing Was ‘Brilliant’

President Trump said he listened to the Supreme Court hearing on presidential immunity last night.

“I heard the argument was brilliant, I listened to it last night, I thought it was great, I thought the judges’ questions were really great,” he said. “All presidents have to have immunity,  it has nothing to do with me, absolutely nothing, all presidents have to have immunity or you don’t have a president.”

Trump Says Testimony Shows Case Should Be ‘Over’

“Yesterday went very well in this courthouse,” President Trump said. “It should be over, the case is over, if you heard what we said.”

“But you have to make that determination. We have a judge that will never let this case be over,” he added.

Trump References House Report Accusing Manhattan DA of Politically Motivated Prosecution

“This is a rigged trial, terrible, everybody knows it,” President Trump told reporters.

He had in hand a large stack of papers, which today includes a report from Congress.

The House Judiciary Committee has released a report alleging Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s case was driven by a political vendetta.

Trump Wishes Melania Happy Birthday Before Heading Into Courtroom

President Trump made a media appearance before heading into the courtroom, starting his remarks by wishing his wife Melania Trump “a very happy birthday.”

“She’s in Florida, I’ll be going there this evening after this case finishes up,” he said. “This horrible, unconstitutional case.”

What to Know

David Pecker, former head of American Media Inc. (AMI), will return to the witness stand for cross-examination by the defense.

Mr. Pecker detailed three deals involving former President Donald Trump over his three days of testimony this week.

President Trump has been charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records, which prosecutors say was done in order to cover up a scheme to influence the 2016 elections. The defense argues President Trump has not committed any crimes.

From The Epoch Times

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