Ex-Publisher David Pecker Takes Stand as First Witness in Trump Trial

Testimony from former National Enquirer boss David Pecker resumed Tuesday in the Trump hush money trial. Just before Mr. Pecker took the stand, both sides argued the prosecution’s request for gag order sanctions. As he left the courtroom, former President Donald Trump said the gag order is “unconstitutional.”

Trump: Trial Going ‘Very Well’

A reporter asked President Trump how the case was going as he left the courtroom.

“Very well,” President Trump said. “You’ve heard that yourself. This is a case no one wanted to bring … it goes back many, many years.”

“It’s a case as to bookkeeping, which is a very minor thing,” he said, contrasting it to the “violent crime” he claimed prosecutors were not pursuing. “This is a case where you pay a lawyer … and they call it a legal expense. That’s the exact term they use legal expense in the book.”

“I got indicted for that. What else would you call it? Actually, nobody’s been able to say what you’re supposed to call it when the lawyer puts in a bill or an invoice and you pay the bill,” he said.

President Trump said this was really a federal case if they were making it about the 2016 elections, not a state matter, but federal prosecutors had declined to pursue the case.

“Nothing was was done wrong or they would have done something about it,” he said.

First Witness Takes the Stand

David Pecker, 72, was the first witness called to testify by prosecutors.

From 1999 to 2020, he was the chairman, president, and CEO of American Media Inc., which published mainly celebrity magazines including National Enquirer, the Globe, Life and Style, US Weekly.

Mr. Pecker said there were different departments, but he had final say.

“On the celebrity side, we used checkbook journalism and we paid for stories,” Mr. Pecker said.

He testified that he gave his editors a figure, $10,000, and they could not spend more to publish a story without running it by him. Editors would also run the cost and concept of covers by him.

“Dylan Howard was a celebrity reporter for American Media,” Mr. Pecker testified. He said Mr. Howard was managing director and chief content officer of Radar, a digital publication, and all editors there reported directly to him, running the “juicy stories” by him.

“It’s my understanding he’s living in Australia,” Mr. Pecker said, stating he didn’t work for them anymore.

He said celebrity reporters develop sources over the years that might include people working for hotels, lawyers, or celebrities in other capacities.

Mr. Pecker said Bonnie Fuller was a star editor that was hired by Jan Wenner, and turned his magazine around. He said his own companies were “competing” with Ms. Fuller.

“She was basically killing it, so I decided to see if I could hire Bonnie Fuller,” he said. “She became editor-in-chief of the Star.”

Justice Merchan then dismissed jurors and adjourned court for the day.

He will hear arguments over a gag order violation allegation in the morning and asked jurors to be present by 11 a.m.

Tuesday will also be a short day, as court will adjourn by 2 p.m.

Habba: Cases Against Trump a ‘Disgrace’

Ms. Habba told reporters she had come over from the civil division to see her client.

“The fact that we have two courts not one, criminal and civil, being used against one man because they cannot beat him in the polls is a disgrace to the American judicial system. You should not have two teams of lawyers here today. You should not even be here today, because you didn’t know is the epitome of a witch hunt,” she said.

She described the hearing she had just left “the epitome of a witch hunt.”

“I just left where a judge asked us whether our cash, cash bond … somehow wasn’t green enough,” Ms. Habba said. “We wasted time.”

She criticized New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron for asking whether the markets account would go down, saying he didn’t even understand the principles of financing as this was a cash account.

“But this was the man that decided we owed money and my client committed fraud,” she said.

“The attorney general and that judge realized quickly that they had no idea what they were talking about,” Ms. Habba said. “We came to an agreement that everything would stay the same.”

Trump Civil Case Attorneys Make an Appearance

President Trump stepped out of the courtroom but did not speak to reporters.

Trump attorneys Alina Habba and Chris Kise were seen in the hallway right before noon.

They had argued that morning about the sufficiency of the $175 million bond President Trump posted in his civil fraud case.

A judge ruled it could stand after the attorney general challenged it seeking a $454 million bond in order to stay judgment.

Blanche: Trump Not Charged for Conspiracy

Mr. Blanche said that of the 34 charges, conspiracy was not one of them. He argued the “catch and kill” the jury has heard about from prosecutors is not in the charges because it was not illegal and happens regularly.

“The reality is that there is nothing illegal about what happened,” Mr. Blanche argued. He added that testimony would be about things from 2015 to 2017 and asked the jury to “think about whether it rings true and whether what they’re saying is accurate.”

“Use your common sense. We’re New Yorkers, that’s why we’re here. You told the court you would put aside whatever view you have about President Trump, the fact that he’s running,” he said. “If you do that, there will be a very swift non-guilty verdict.”

Justice Merchan asked the parties to approach after Mr. Blanche finished his statement.

Defense Says Witnesses Profiting From Trump Stories

Mr. Blanche argued the jury could not make a serious decision about President Trump based on Mr. Cohen’s testimony.

He also argued that Ms. Clifford, the other key witness, “has made a life out of these communications” she had with Donald Trump when they met while he was running “The Apprentice” in 2006.

“Since the story came out in 2018m she’s made hundreds and thousands of dollars because of it,” Mr. Blanche said. “She wrote a book, she was paid for a documentary … she owes him somewhere around $600,000.”

Defense Calls Cohen a Criminal

Mr. Blanche confirmed Mr. Cohen would play a central role in the case.

He argued that after the election, Mr. Cohen wanted a job in the administration and didn’t get one.

“You’ll hear that he was loyal, he was very loyal to President Trump and the companies for years. But Mr. Cohen was also a criminal. Apart from his work for the Trump companies, he cheated on his taxes, he lied to banks,” Mr. Blanche said. “In 2018, he got caught.”

After he was “caught,” he sought to blame President Trump, Mr. Blanche argued.

“The decision he made was to blame President Trump for virtually all his problems. He had been eventually disbarred, he is a convicted felon, and he’s a convicted perjurer,” Mr. Blanche argued.

“He’s obsessed with President Trump even to this day. Today, Michael Cohen has podcasts, he goes on TV, X, TikTok, other social media platforms, and he rants and raves about President Trump, he has talked extensively about his desire to see President Trump go to prison,” Mr. Blanche said.

Mr. Blanche told the jury that Mr. Cohen’s testimony could not be trusted, as he has allegedly misrepresented key conversations where he was the sole witness, has lied under oath on multiple occasions, and has an “obsession” with President Trump. Just last night, he added, Mr. Cohen said on a public forum that he wanted to see the former president in an orange jumpsuit.

Blanche: Nothing Wrong With Trying to Influence an Election

Mr. Blanche said it was also not a crime to influence an election.

“You also heard a lot of communication about the 2016 election,” Mr. Blanche said.

“Spoiler alert: there’s nothing wrong with trying to influence an election. It’s called democracy,” he said.

Mr. Blanche added that non-disclosure agreements also were not illegal and companies do it all the time.

“I expect that you will learn that when Ms. Daniels threatened to go public with her false claim … very close to the election,” Mr. Blanche said. “It was an attempt by Ms. Daniels to extort President Trump. It was sinister, and it was an attempt to embarrass President Trump, embarrass his family.”

“You heard, and you will hear during this trial, that President Trump fought back, like he always does, to protect his family, his reputation, and his brand, and that is not a crime,” Mr. Blanche said.

Justice Merchan interrupted, asking counsel to approach the bench.

Trump Had Nothing to Do With Cohen Checks, Defense Says

He said one of the witnesses they will call is the woman who kept the ledgers prosecutors have mentioned. She will testify that she worked with another boss, but not President Trump, Mr. Blanche said.

“President Trump had nothing to do, nothing to do with the invoice, with the check being generated, or with the entry on the ledger,” Mr. Blanche argued.

He argued the government would not try to counter what he said, instead arguing that President Trump was an alleged accomplice and therefore liable.

“The reality is President Trump is not on the hook, is not responsible for something that Mr. Cohen may have done years after the fact.”

Defense Says Cohen Payments Not a Crime

Mr. Blanche said the charges were for 34 pieces of paper, related to payments to Mr. Cohen.

“The 34 counts are the invoices Mr. Cohen sent to the people at Trump Tower, the checks, and the ledger notation for legal services. None of this was a crime,” he said.

He asked the jury whether a “frugal” businessman would repay $130,000 “to the tune of $420,000,” and added that Mr. Cohen was not being repaid, but paid for his job as a personal attorney.

“You will hear that he did legal work for President Trump and the First Lady as his personal attorney,” Mr. Blanche said.

Defense: President Trump Is Innocent

Attorney Todd Blanche gave the opening statement for the defense.

“President Trump is innocent. President Trump did not commit any crime. The Manhattan DA’s office should never have brought this case,” he said.

He said that the prosecutors had the burden of proof, and needed to prove President Trump guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

“What the People just did for about 45 minutes is present to you what appears to be a very clean, nice story. It is not,” Mr. Blanche said.

He said the evidence presented will be from 2015, 2016, and 2017. He argued that when President Trump took office, he “put up a wall between himself and his company.” In 2017, President Trump opened a trust to hold his companies.

“Some of his employees continued to record private expenses,” Mr. Blanche argued. “When he took the office in January 2017, Michael Cohen assumed the role of President Trump’s personal attorney and you will learn that each month in 207, Michael Cohen sent an invoice to some of the employees at Trump Tower for $35,000.”

“For nine of the checks, the check made its way down to the White House and Trump signed it,” Mr. Blanche said.

Prosecutors Defend Cohen

Mr. Colangelo warned the jury that defense attorneys would go after Mr. Cohen to try to discredit him.

“Now, during this trial you will hear a lot about Michael Cohen. I expect the defense will go to great lengths to get you to reject this testimony precisely because it is so damning,” Mr. Colangelo said.

“As we discussed in jury selection, you will need to keep an open mind and carefully consider all the evidence,” he added.

He urged the jury to focus on the hard evidence.

“Read the documents, emails, text messages, bank statements, handwritten notes, all of that,” he said.

Colangelo: Trump a ‘Frugal’ Businessman

“You will see evidence at trial that Donald Trump was a very frugal businessman who believed in pinching pennies, watching every dollar, negotiating every bill—it’s all over the books that he’s written,” Mr. Colangelo said. “But when it came time to pay Michael Cohen back for the catch and kill deal, you’ll see that he didn’t negotiate the price down, he doubled it.”

Mr. Colangelo argued that President Trump’s willingness to pay showed “just how determined he was to hide … the overall election conspiracy.”

“There was no retainer agreement, Cohen was not getting paid for legal services rendered in 2017. It was instead what they thought was a clever way to pay Cohen back without being too obvious about it,” Mr. Colangelo said.

Mr. Cohen then submitted 11 invoices to Trump Organization, which “repeated the lie that Cohen was requesting reimbursement for legal services,” Mr. Colangelo argued. These checks were paid in 2017.

Prosecutors Describe Payment to Cohen

Mr. Colangelo said in January 2017 the topic of repaying Mr. Cohen for $130,000 came up.

“Neither Trump, nor the Trump Organization could write a check to Cohen for $130,000, with a memo line that said ‘reimbursement for porn star,'” Mr. Colangelo said.

He argued that Mr. Weisselberg asked Mr. Cohen to bring his bank statement, and then agreed to add $50,000 to the repayment, then agreed to double it to $360,000 to account for taxes.

“They doubled it because their plan was to call it income instead of reimbursement,” Mr. Colangelo argued, and then $60,000 was added as a year-end bonus, totaling $420,000.

“You will see in this trial Allen Weisselberg’s handwriting down the side of that bank statement, laying out every one of the steps I just described,” Mr. Colangelo said.

Colangelo: ‘It Was Election Fraud’

“This was not spin, this was a planned, coordinated, conspiracy to influence the 2020 election to silence people who had something bad to say about his behavior, using doctored records,” Mr. Colangelo said. “It was election fraud.”

About a month after the election, Mr. Pecker told Ms. McDougall and Mr. Sajudin they were no longer bound by their non-disclosure agreements, Mr. Colangelo said. Then the following summer, Mr. Pecker was invited to the White House.

“The defendant hosted a thank you dinner to thank Pecker and AMI for their contributions to his campaign,” Mr. Colangelo said.

Prosecutors Says ‘Access Hollywood’ Tape ‘Turned the Election Entirely Upside Down’

Prosecutors made their case for including the “Access Hollywood” tape in evidence.

When the Washington Post published a story about Donald trump being recorded on a hot mic, just one month before election day, “the impact of that tape was immediate and explosive,” Mr. Colangelo said. “Prominent allies withdrew their support” and instead condemned him, he argued.

After the tape was released, Ms. Clifford told Mr. Pecker about her story. They signed a $130,000 deal with a non-disclosure agreement, Mr. Colangelo said. He argued this was done with the intent to delay until after election day, and then not pay Ms. Clifford.

He argued that Mr. Cohen had been able to delay with a number of excuses, but “as threats were mounting and election day fast approaching, Trump agreed to the payoff and directed Cohen to proceed.”

Now Mr. Pecker was unhappy because he had not been repaid for buying Ms. McDougall’s story, Mr. Colangelo said. “So Cohen discussed other payment options with Allen Weisselberg, CFO of Trump Organization.”

“They agreed that Cohen would make the payment through a shell company to make it harder to track,” Mr. Colangelo argued. “At Trump’s request, Cohen agreed to lay out his own money to keep Stormy Daniels quiet before the election.”

Prosecutors said they had records of two phone calls Mr. Cohen made in 2016 when he opened a bank account for a Essential Consultants LLC. He transferred $130,000 from the line of equity on his home to the shell account and then wired money to Ms. Clifford the next day, Mr. Colangelo said.

“Cohen gave that payment at Donald Trump’s direction and for his benefit, with the specific goal of influencing the outcome of election,” Mr. Colangelo said.

Prosecutors Preview Affair Evidence

A second deal made with former Playboy model Karen McDougall, Mr. Colangelo argued, after National Enquirer editor-in-chief Dylan Howard heard she was shopping around for a story about an alleged affair with Donald Trump.

Ms. McDougall alleged the affair was both romantic and sexual and lasted over a year, and the jury will see a “flurry of text messages, the barrage of phone calls.”

Prosecutors Make Case for Conspiracy

One involved a former Trump Tower doorman alleging that Donald Trump had a child out of wedlock. Mr. Pecker directed an editor to purchase the rights to the sstory.

“The evidence will show that Pecker was not acting as a publisher, he was acting as a coconspirator,” Mr. Colangelo argued.

The publication paid the doorman $30,000, and it was the first time Mr. Pecker paid anyone for information about Donald Trump, Mr. Colangelo argued. “Even for tabloid journalism, it was a lot of money for a source.”

He argued that even when the story was determined untrue, Mr. Pecker did not release the Dino Sajudin, the former doorman, from his non-disclosure agreement until after the election.

Prosecutors Explain ‘Catch and Kill’

Mr. Colangelo told the jury that tabloids have a practice called “catch and kill” in which they buy information about someone, have the source sign a non-disclosure agreement, and then decline to publish the story.

“So it’s a way of buying damaging information, not to publish the information but to hide it,” Mr. Colangelo said.

He argued that Mr. Pecker and then-candidate Trump carried out three such deals.

Colangelo: Cohen Was Trump’s ‘Fixer’

Mr. Colangelo described the roles of Mr. Pecker and Mr. Cohen.

He argued that Mr. Cohen’s job “really, was to take care of problems for the defendant.”

“He was Trump’s fixer,” Mr. Colangelo said.

Mr. Pecker, meanwhile, had veto power over what stories went into his publications, Mr. Colangelo argued, ad together they allegedly agreed to act “as eyes and ears of the campaign.”

“Those coconspirators then followed through on every aspect of this scheme,” he argued. He said the National Enquirer “ran headline after headline that extolled the defendant’s virtues” and they had been shown to Mr. Cohen in advance so that then-candidate Trump could review them and even suggest changes.

The tabloid also ran negative stories about political rivals, and Trump had thanked them for their stories, Mr. Colangelo said.

Prosecutors Tie Charges to Election

Mr. Colangelo told the jury that the 34 counts of falsifying business records are for the monthly payments to Mr. Cohen that involved allegedly falsifying an invoice, falsely describing a request of legal services rendered and paid, and falsifying entries in the Trump Organization ledger.

He argued the scheme was “disguised” through 34 business records.

Prosecutors Outline Case

Prosecutors, giving their opening statements, alleged that then-candidate Trump orchestrated a criminal scheme to influence an election.

This began at a 2015 meeting in Trump Tower between President Trump, his friend David Pecker, and his friend Michael Cohen, prosecutors alleged. Mr. Pecker was the CEO of American Media Inc., which published celebrity and lifestyle magazines and the National Enquirer.

“Those three men came up with a scheme to influence the election by concealing information about Trump to help him get elected,” assistant district attorney Matthew Colangelo said.

Mr. Colangelo argued Mr. Cohen paid $130,000 to adult film actress Stephanie Clifford [Stormy Daniels] “just a few weeks before the election to silence her and make sure the public did not learn of a sexual encounter with the defendant.”

Because of this, a series of monthly checks processed through the Trump Organization were falsified, the district attorney’s office has claimed.

“The defendant said he was paying a legal retainer, but those were lies,” Mr. Colangelo argued.

He argued that Mr. Cohen was not being paid as a lawyer but being reimbursed for an illegal scheme “on the eve of the election.”

Jurors Brought In

The jury was brought in after the judge issued his decisions.

He will instruct the jury on applicable law, which will take about 30 minutes, before attorneys give their opening statements.

Judge Allows Manhattan DA to Question Trump About Past Cases

The judge also ruled that President Trump could be asked about past cases. The parties had argued on this during a Friday afternoon hearing.

Prosecutors will seek to impeach President Trump as a witness by pointing to his past record.

The judge ruled that case law establishes that a defendant can be questioned about any prior criminal or vicious acts that may be relevant.

Judge May Allow Transcript of ‘Access Hollywood’ Tape

Justice Merchan previously said the infamous “Hollywood Access” recording of President Trump on a hot mic could not be played for jurors. He said in court Monday that perhaps a transcript could be admitted into evidence instead, and will hear arguments from both sides.

“At this point I don’t see any reason why a transcript which accurately summarizes what was said in the tape should not be admitted into evidence,” he said.

Trump Defends $175 Million Bond

President Trump noted that his legal team is arguing against New York Attorney General Letitia James about the sufficiency of his $175 million bond.

“She doesn’t want me to participate with financial companies in New York so we have a company, I guess, based in California,” he said. “I put up $175 million in cash but she says the bonding company is not good.”

An appeals court had ruled that President Trump could stay judgment during appeal with a bond of $175 million after his attorneys explained why a $454 million bond had been “impossible” to secure.

President Trump said people are leaving New York because of rising crime, and claimed that officials like Ms. James were keeping businesses out.

“That means jobs and a lot of revenue,” he said. “Somebody’s got to step in, the governor, somebody’s got to step in, because businesses are fleeing.”

President Trump added that the bond hearing was taking place in front of an “extremely crazed” judge, yet did not refer to the trial judge that issued the $454 million judgment by name saying that he wanted “to be very nice.”

Trump Blasts Case as ‘Biden Trial’

“These are all Biden trials,” the former president said before heading into the courtroom. “This is election interference, everybody knows it.”

He reminded the crowd that the trial was preventing him from campaigning in other states.

“I just want people to understand that: this is done for purposes of hurting of the opponent of the worst president of the history of our country,” he said.

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