Testimonies Continue in Trump Trial With Ex-publisher David Pecker on the Stand

Testimonies Continue in Trump Trial With Ex-publisher David Pecker on the Stand
Former President Donald Trump at his trial for his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City on April 23, 2024. (Timothy A. Clary-Pool/Getty Images)

Trump Blasts Gag Order as ‘Unconstitutional’

President Trump showed a stack of papers to the press in the hallways outside the courtroom.

“Well, I think the gag order is totally unconstitutional. Can’t even allow articles to be put in,” he said. “These are articles over the last day and a half.”

“I’m not allowed to talk, but people are allowed to talk about me,” President Trump said.

He also said that President Joe Biden could be out campaigning while he was stuck in a courtroom with a “very conflicted judge.”

Pecker Testifies About McDougal Agreement

Mr. Pecker said that Mr. Howard had come to him with the Karen McDougal story.

“He received a call from one of his major sources in California that she [McDougal] is trying to sell a story about a relationship with Donald Trump,” Mr. Pecker said.

Mr. Pecker said he thought they should vet it first. They did not discuss payment at this stage.

Pecker Paid for Story Before Publishing

The contract also stated that Mr. Sajudin would be paid within five days of signing the agreement.

“Is it unusual to pay a source before the story was run?” attorneys asked.

“Yes it is. Dylan [Howard] finished the vetting of the story and we hired a private investigator, sent out to where the supposed illegitimate child was, and we discovered that it was absolutely untrue,” Mr. Pecker said.

Prosecutors asked why they paid $30,000 for a story that was not true, and Mr. Pecker said if the story got out through another outlet “it would have been very embarrassing to the campaign.”

“So this was a way to lock it up?” prosecutors asked.

“Yes,” Mr. Pecker said.

Pecker Held Doorman Story Until Election

Mr. Pecker said Mr. Cohen thanked him on behalf of “the boss,” referring to Mr. Trump, after he called to say he would purchase the story.

Later, Mr. Cohen called Mr. Pecker “and said the story is absolutely not true. He said Mr. Trump would take a DNA test.”

“I told Michael Cohen that won’t be necessary, we’ll vet the story,” Mr. Pecker said. He added that he thought the doorman was shopping the story around and it would “get out very quickly.”

“I thought that if the story was true, and I published it, that would be the biggest story for the National Enquirer since the death of Elvis Presly,” Mr. Pecker said. He said if after they vetted the story it was true, they would publish it right after the election. He said that he and Mr. Cohen came to this agreement.

Attorneys entered into evidence the agreement signed with Mr. Sajudin, which had an exclusivity period until three months after the story was published.

Pecker Testifies About Doorman Story

Mr. Pecker recounted the story they purchased from former Trump building doorman Dino Sajudin.

He said that Mr. Howard had come to him about a tip he received that this doorman was shipping around a story that Mr. Trump fathered an illegitimate girl with a maid that worked at his penthouse.

Mr. Pecker said he immediately called Mr. Cohen about it, and gave him the name of the doorman and housekeeper.

“And I asked him to verify that, first with the Trump Organization payroll to see if they were actually there during this period of time,” Mr. Pecker said.

Mr. Cohen said the story was absolutely not true and he would check it out.

Mr. Pecker said this was in October 2015, a few months after that August meeting.

A day later, Mr. Cohen called back saying he verified those two names on the payroll. “And he asked me to check out the story,” Mr. Pecker said.

Mr. Pecker said he asked Mr. Howard to check out the story and prepare a source agreement.

“A source document is an agreement with a potential source, or tipster, that they had a story and the agreement is between the magazine and the tipster or source, that says, for a period of time, 90 days or 100 days, the magazine has exclusive rights to the story. Then there’s compensation in the agreement,” Mr. Pecker said.

Mr. Pecker added that their normal procedure was to have the source also take a polygraph test, for which the magazine pays about $500.

Prosecutors interrupted Mr. Pecker, telling him to please not disclose the results of the polygraph.

“I pursued the story,” Mr. Pecker said. Mr. Howard negotiated a price of $30,000 for the exclusive, and Mr. Pecker shared this news with Mr. Cohen.

Mr. Cohen asked who would pay for it, and Mr. Pecker said he was paying for it.

Attorneys Argue Over Admissibility of Pecker Emails

After a break, Mr. Pecker returned to the witness stand. He affirmed devices that stored his emails, and that texts on a thumb drive presented were collected in response to a search warrant for this case.

Prosecutors sought to enter several messages into evidence, and the defense objected, leading into another sidebar with the judge.

Judge Sidebars With Attorneys After Objection

Mr. Pecker said he met Steve Bannon, political consultant to Donald Trump, in October 2016. They discussed some stories Mr. Pecker had published and Mr. Bannon requested some copies of the National Enquirer. Mr. Pecker then”boxed up stories about Hillary and others and I sent them to his apartment on the Upper West Side.”

Mr. Pecker was going to get into a conversation he had with Mr. Bannon when the defense objected, and the judge sustained the objection. Mr. Pecker then said something about involving the Hannity Show leading to another objection.

The defense requested a sidebar with the judge, and the judge called for a short break.

Attorneys argued over whether the government gave proper notice of intent to elicit hearsay evidence concerning Mr. Bannon’s role.

Pecker Says Cohen Requested Negative Articles on Certain Opponents

Mr. Pecker said he only worked with Mr. Cohen on stories.

Mr. Cohen would request negative articles about political rivals, and Mr. Pecker described that workflow.

“Let’s say it’s on Ted Cruz, and then he, Michael Cohen, would send me information about Ted Cruz or Ben Carson or Mark Rubio, and then that was the basis for our story, and we would embellish it from there, the National Enquirer,” Mr. Pecker said. He added that he would talk to Mr. Howard to put together the story and photos.

Prosecutors asked if Mr. Cohen said “we.”

“I only assumed he was talking to Mr. Trump. Since Michael Cohen wasn’t part of the campaign, when he said ‘we’ I thought he was talking about himself and Mr. Trump,” Mr. Pecker said. “He always told me he was not part of the campaign.”

Pecker Says Agreement Was ‘Confidential’

Mr. Pecker said this was “just an agreement among friends,” not something put in writing.

He said when he went back to his office, he met with Dylan Howard, chief content officer at his company, and described the meeting and concept and told him the agreement “has to be highly, highly confidential.”

He asked Mr. Howard to notify the other bureaus chiefs to flag stories about Donald Trump or his family.

“Why was it important to you that the arrangement be kept secret?” prosecutors asked.

“We have several hundred people that work in the company, and being a tabloid company leaks are probably more prevalent inside the organization that outside,” he said. “I do not want anyone else to know this agreement I had, what I wanted to do. That’s why I wanted it very confidential.”

Prosecutors submitted several National Enquirer covers into evidence.

Pecker Says Clinton Campaign Cover ‘One of the Biggest Sales’

Mr. Pecker was asked about a cover he ran with Bill and Hillary Clinton.

“As I mentioned earlier, my having the National Enquirer, which is a weekly magazine, and you focus on the cover of the magazine and who and what is the story that is the topic of the week. Hillary running for president and Bill Clinton as a womanizer was one of the biggest sales I had,” he said.

He said the story was about former President Bill Clinton as a womanizer, and Mrs. Clinton as an “enabler of Bill with respect for me to womanizing.”

The sales made it “easy for me to say I was going to continue to run those stories for the National Enquirer,” Mr. Pecker said.

“How, if at all, did Mr. Trump react to you suggestion you could continue to do that?” prosecutors asked.

“He was pleased,” Mr. Pecker said. “Michael Cohen was pleased on the way I was going to handle these issues, and that was the basis of the conversation.”

Mr. Pecker described the relationship as “mutually beneficial.”

He said positive stories about Mr. Trump and negative stories about his opponents was “only going to increase newsstand sales of the National Enquirer and the other tabloids.”

He added that when he alerted Mr. Cohen of a negative Trump story in the marketplace, Mr. Cohen would vet it himself.

Pecker Predicted Women Would Sell Trump Stories to Tabloids After Campaign Announcement

Mr. Pecker said he was the one who brought up the idea of women selling stories, because that was what he thought would happen during a presidential campaign.

“Because Mr. Trump was well known as the most eligible bachelor and dated the most beautiful women, and it was clear based on my past experience that when someone is running for public office like this, it is very common for these women to call up a magazine like the National Enquirer to try to sell their stories,” Mr. Pecker said. “Or I would hear it in the marketplace, through other sources, that stories were being marketed.”

Pecker Describes 2015 Trump Tower Meeting

Mr. Pecker affirmed he was present at a Trump Tower meeting in August 2015.

“Most of the time when I received a call from Michael Cohen he wanted something, so I assumed I was going to asked for something, I didn’t know what it was before I got there,” Mr. Pecker said.

“At that meeting, Donald Trump and Michael, they asked me, what can I do and what my magazines could do to help the campaign,” Mr. Pecker said.

He said he thought about it, and told them he could publish positive stories about Mr. Trump and negative stories about his opponents.

“And I said that I would also be the eyes and ears of, I would be your eyes and ears, because I knew that the Trump Organization had a very small staff,” Mr. Pecker said. “Id I hear anything in the marketplace, anything negative about yourself, or if I hear about women selling stories, I would notify Michael Cohen as I did over the last several years, and he would be able to have them killed in another magazine or have them not be published, or someone else would have to publish them.”

Pecker Encouraged Trump to Run for President

“It was clear that Mr. Trump was viewed as the boss. Seat him in the boardrooms, on each of his the shows every week,” Mr. Pecker said. “So I discussed with him and we did a poll in the National Enquirer about Mr. Trump running for President.”

He said 80 percent of the magazine’s readership wanted Mr. Trump to run for president.

“I passed that information on to Donald Trump shortly after he was being interviewed on the Today Show.” he said. He recalled Mr. Trump commented that part of his decision was that poll.

Mr. Pecker was present at the 2015 campaign announcement.

“I received an invitation from Michael Cohen,” he said. Attorneys asked Mr. Pecker to read the email invitation into evidence.

“Let me know so I can reserve a seat for you on the atrium floor. No one deserves to be there more than you,” the email read.

Pecker Says Trump Covers Sold Magazines

Mr. Pecker said as a publisher his company did a lot of research on what made for a good cover story, and “every time we did this, Mr. Trump would be the top story.”

This accounted for a lot of his interest in Mr. Trump during his time at “The Celebrity Apprentice.”

Pecker Contact Cohen Weekly During Campaign

Communications increased when the presidential run was announced, Mr. Pecker added.

“I would say a minimum of every week, and if there was an issue, it could be daily,” Mr. Pecker said.

He said Hope Hicks became the communications director for Mr. Trump. He knew her previously when she worked for Ivanka Trump’s fashion brand and when she worked in communications for a company under American Media.

Pecker Describes Cohen

Mr. Pecker said he met Michael Cohen at a bar mitzvah in early 2000. A vendor had invited Mr. Pecker to his son’s bar mitzvah and there introduced Mr. Pecker to Mr. Cohen.

Later, in 2007, Mr. Pecker was in Mr. Trump’s office when he was introduced again to Mr. Cohen as his personal lawyer.

He said he was told “that he’s done a lot of great things for him, and all contacts that I had with Mr. Trump … now go through Michael Cohen.”

Pecker Says He Observed Trump Signing Checks

Prosecutors asked Mr. Pecker whether he had observed Mr. Trump’s business practices over the years.

“Yes. I would meet with Mr. Trump in his office and when I was there, his assistant Rhona [Graff] would bring in a batch of checks to sign,” Mr. Pecker said. “I noticed he reviewed the invoice, looked at the check, and then he would sign it.”

He said he visited Mr. Trump at Trump Tower over the years.

“I would describe Mr. Trump as very knowledgeable, very detail oriented. I would describe him almost as a micromanager, looked at all the assets whatever the issue was.”

He said he thought Mr. Trump’s approach to money was “very cautious and very frugal.”

David Pecker Testifies About Relationship With Trump

Jurors were brought in and David Pecker, former head of American Media Inc., took the witness stand to continue his testimony.

“Are you personally familiar with Donald J. Trump?” prosecutors asked.

“Yes, since the late ’80s,” Mr. Pecker said. He said they met at Mar-a-Lago through a client of Mr. Pecker’s.

“I’ve had a great relationship with Mr. Trump over the years, starting in ’89,” Mr. Pecker said, adding that he even pitched a magazine called “Trump Style” to him.

Mr. Pecker said before he acquired National Enquirer, he was president for a French publishing company and dealt often with Mr. Trump “as a celebrity he was very helpful in introducing me to others in New York, and he would also advise me of parties that I would go to.”

He said Mr. Trump was one of the first to call and congratulate him when he bought National Enquirer.

Mr. Pecker was asked about “The Apprentice.” He said it was an “instant success,” and his relationship with Mr. Trump only grew because of how much press “The Apprentice” and subsequently “The Celebrity Apprentice” generated whenever someone was fired or some controversy arose. He said Mr. Trump, whom he called Donald, would give him scoops on these. They spoke monthly or quarterly, Mr. Pecker said, and more frequently when he announced his run for president.

Judge Withholds Decision

The judge said Mr. Blanche didn’t give him anything to support the argument that reposts are allowed by the order.

He called for a break before the jurors arrived, saying he would reserve his decision on the fines.

Judge Says Trump Attorney ‘Losing All Credibility’

Justice Merchan pressed Mr. Blanche to provide the posts President Trump was responding to with each gag order violation.

“You’re losing all credibility with the court! I have to tell you right now,” Justice Merchan said.

Mr. Blanche reiterated the defense’s position that these posts were not violations.

“We don’t read the gag order that way. And if that the way it’s enforced, we will take down the posts,” Mr. Blanche said.

“It’s important to look at the first three posts have nothing to do with those witnesses’ testimony in this courtroom. If that’s a violation of the gag order we will rad it that way,” Mr. Blanche said. “For all the reasons we’ve talked about, the defendant should not be held in contempt.”

Judge Says Defense Has Presented ‘Nothing’

“It’s your client’s position that when he was reposting these things, he was not violating the gag order?” Justice Merchan asked.

“Correct,” Mr. Blanche said.

“Are you testifying under oath that that’s his position? That at the time he reposts anything to one of his accounts, he did not believe that he was violating the gag order? I’d like to hear that. Or do you expect me to accept it just because you’re saying it?” Justice Merchan asked.

He went on to say he wanted the defense to be aware the the prosecutors have presented detailed evidence while the defense has presented “nothing,” emphasizing the word.

“You have no obligation, of course, but you’ve presented nothing. You’ve presented nothing. I’ve asked you eight or nine times, show me the exact post he was responding to, you’re not able to do that even once,” Justice Merchan said.

Judge Takes Issue With ‘Two Systems of Justice’ Comment

Mr. Blanche added that the post didn’t attack Mr. Pomerantz’s credibility, and then said President Trump was expressing frustration “with the two systems of justice that are happening in this courtroom.”

“There’s two systems of justice in this courtroom?” Justice Merchan asked.

Mr. Blanche said that was what his client was in saying, referring to the fact that former Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg was sent back to prison.

He also argued that some of the posts have been used by the Trump Campaign, and prosecutors are not citing each repost. Justice Merchan said that what the prosecutors choose to enforce “does not affect the validity of the gag order.”

Defense: Pomerantz Not a Witness

The next post related to whether Mark Pomerantz, who wrote a book about the investigation in this case, had violated secrecy rules.

“Mr. Pomerantz is not a witness,” Mr. Blanche argued.

“He’s not in the witness list?” the judge asked.

“No,” Mr. Blanche said.

Judge Asks About Stormy Daniels Statement

Another alleged violation was President Trump posting a statement by Ms. Clifford denying an affair, which she had later retracted.

Mr. Blanche said he didn’t dispute this document may come up at trial, but argued it is a document that has been public “for years and years.”

President Trump’s post is not about her being a witness at trial but about her credibility, Mr. Blanche argued.

The judge expressed frustration with Mr. Blanche for not providing a post President Trump was responding to, saying it was nearly 10:30 and jurors would be here by 11 a.m.

“The People get to speak as long as they want to,” Mr. Blanche protested.

The judge moved on to the next most.

Defense Says Gag Order Has Limits Set by Federal Appeals Court

Mr. Blanche said their argument was that, one, President Trump is allowed to respond to attacks, and, two, when he speaks about witnesses it cannot have anything to do with the coutr proceedings.

These were limits put in place by a federal appeals court, which the New York court has modeled in its order, Mr. Blanche argued.

“He’s responding to the fact that Mr. Cohen has repeatedly talked about his qualities and candidacy for the office he’s seeking,” Mr. Blanche said.

The judge asked him to move on to the next post.

Judge Seems Skeptical Attacks Were ‘Political’

Justice Merchan asked if the defense had talked to Mr. Avenatti.

“No, of course not,” Mr. Blanche said.

“How can you interpret what he means? You believe everything Mr. Avenatti said does not relate to the trial, but the use of the word ‘pardon’ by Mr. Avenatti makes it political. When a client is violating a gag order, I expect more than one word,” Justice Merchan said.

Defense Says Posts Were Direct Responses to Attacks

Defense attorney Todd Blanche argued that President Trump is aware of the gag order and what it prohibits, and did not violate it in any of the 10 posts.

“There is no dispute that President Trump is facing a barrage of political attacks from all sides,” Mr. Blanche said. “Three posts were in direct response to comments made by these witnesses. President Trump’s comments back to them were not about testimony at the witness stand.”

Mr. Cohen had made a post about Mr. Avenatti throwing President Trump a “hail Mary,” referring to President Trump as the “orange menace” and referring to his possible reelection. Later, President Trump reposted a comment by Mr. Avenatti.

“To be clear, Mr. Avenatti has been saying things about this publicly. There’s no dispute that Mr. Cohen has repeatedly talked about how President Trump acted,” Mr. Blanche argued.

Mr. Blanche argued these comments were political.

Prosecutors Ask for $10,000 fine

Prosecutors maintained the order gave President Trump “substantial freedom” but that he went “beyond those criticism” and instead was “launching attacks on two witnesses.”

Prosecutors argued that New York defamation law states that those republishing defamation are as subject to prosecution as the one who originally published it.

They added they were not seeking jail time, but wanted a $1,000 fine per post.

“The defendant is having his day in court. Unfortunately he’s still doing everything he can to undermine this process,” they argued.

Prosecutors Say Trump Trying to ‘Muddy the Waters’

Prosecutors argued that President Trump’s complaints about the gag orders was evidence toward his violating the order. They cited complaints against the gag order on April 2, 6, 10, 11, and 15, and the appeal against the gag order.

“They want to come out and try to muddy the waters and say, well judge, we can respond to attacks, there is no provision in this order for responding to attacks,” prosecutors argued.

“By his logic, if someone covered by the order is mean, or not nice, he can respond,” prosecutors said, arguing that logic was “tortured at best.”

Prosecutors Say They Lost Juror Because of Trump

Prosecutors said President Trump reposted Fox host Jesse Waters, who said “They are catching undercover liberal activists lying to the judge in order to get on the jury.”

They argued that Mr. Waters had gone on his segment “giving lots of details about various jurors” and the next day the original Juror 2 changed her mind and said she couldn’t serve.

“What happened here was precisely what this order was designed to prevent!” the prosecution argued.

“The burden here is on us to show violation of the order, and the violation that was made was willful beyond a reasonable doubt,” they argued

Prosecutors Say Trump ‘Conditioning’ His Followers

Prosecutors said another violation was President Trump reposting a post by Michael Avenatti, former attorney to witness Stephanie Clifford, or Stormy Daniels.

The original post read “We can’t be hypocrites when it comes to the first First Amendment.”

President Trump added a “thank you” in his own post.

“Can you make a connection between that post and the conditions of the gag order?” Justice Merchan asked.

Prosecutors said it was an attack on witnesses’ credibility.

It’s the defendant conditioning his followers relative to the proceeding,” they argued.

Prosecutors Say Trump Hallway Speech Another Violation

Prosecutors argued that President Trump’s reference of key witness Michael Cohen in remarks to the media on April 22 constituted yet another violation.

“He said, ‘As you know, Cohen is a lawyer and he represented a lot of people over the years. When he puts in an invoice, a bill, and called it a legal expense, and I got indicted for that,’” they argued.

10 Posts

Justice Merchan said the prosecutors alleged gag order violations on April 15 and then again on April 18.

“The purpose of this hearing is to find whether Mr Trump should be held liable for one or all of these violations,” Justice Merchan said.

Prosecutors submitted 10 documents of the alleged violations. The judge said eight of the posts were on Truth Social and two on donaldjtrump.com.

Trump Criticizes Biden Before Hearing, Doesn’t Take Questions

President Trump made a campaign plug for Pennsylvania has he arrived to the courtroom, before criticizing his political opponent as the “worst president in the history of our country.”

He said he saw protestors outside the courthouse on his way in, and “police presence like you’ve never seen.” He appeared to contrast this with the pro-Palestine protestors who have had a “radical” presence on many college campuses, and then said President Joe Biden had a part in the unrest in the Middle East.

What to Know

New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan is holding a hearing on alleged gag order violations. Prosecutors say that former President Donald Trump’s recent social media posts referencing witnesses amount to at least seven gag order violations. Defense attorneys say the post did not violate the “ambiguous” gag order, and argued the order expressly allows President Trump to defend himself against political attacks.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office has charged President Trump with 34 counts of falsifying business records, alleging it was to cover up a conspiracy to influence the 2016 presidential election. Defense attorney say no crimes were committed and President Trump has pleaded not guilty to all 34 counts.

The gag order prohibits President Trump only from making statements, or directing others to make statements, about jurors, witnesses, court staff and counsel and their families, if it is done to materially interfere with the case proceedings.

Defense attorneys have separately challenged the gag order as overbroad in a lawsuit against the judge.

From The Epoch Times

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