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Trump due back in court for more tabloid testimony

Former US President Donald Trump attends his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs
Former US President Donald Trump attends his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs — © AFP PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA
Former US President Donald Trump attends his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs — © AFP PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA

Donald Trump is due back in court Thursday to watch his alleged tabloid co-conspirator continue testimony about their bid to kill salacious stories that could have derailed the Republican’s 2016 White House campaign.

Less than seven months before his expected rematch with President Joe Biden, the 77-year-old Trump is the first former US head of state to face criminal charges.

He is accused of falsifying business records to pay off adult film actress Stormy Daniels in exchange for her silence over a 2006 sexual encounter.

Prosecutors say Trump engaged in “election fraud” by having his then-personal lawyer Michael Cohen make a $130,000 payment to Daniels on the eve of the 2016 election, in which he defeated Hillary Clinton.

Their first witness was David Pecker, 72, the former publisher of the National Enquirer tabloid.

The affable Pecker has injected color into the drafty courtroom in Manhattan, nonchalantly detailing his brazen plot with Trump to buy the silence of figures with potentially damaging information, a tactic known as “catch and kill.”

Editors at Pecker’s former tabloid empire would meanwhile churn out tales smearing Trump’s political opponents and flattering stories about him.

“Popular stories about Mr. Trump” as well as “negative stories about his opponents” would “only increase newsstand sales,” Pecker said calmly.

“Publishing these types of stories was also going to benefit his campaign,” he told jurors. “Both parties benefited from it.”

– ‘Agreement among friends’ –

Pecker said formulating the plan — an “agreement among friends” — went down at an August 2015 meeting at Trump Tower with Trump, Cohen and Trump’s personal assistant Hope Hicks.

Pecker said he has known Trump since 1989 and described him as a friend — “I would call him Donald.”

He said National Enquirer readers “loved” Trump, who starred in the hit reality television series “The Apprentice” and its star-studded spinoff before going into politics in 2015.

As a real estate scion making a name for himself in 1980s and 90s Manhattan, Trump relied heavily on tabloids to grease his ascent to celebrity.

The testimony threw into relief how gossip mags could now play a key role in his fate.

Trump has appeared increasingly disgruntled, angry even, as he’s forced to sit silently under the glaring fluorescent lights of the courtroom and listen to both prosecutors and Pecker deliver accounts of his alleged misdeeds.

He has also borne witness to Judge Juan Merchan admonishing the former president’s lead lawyer Todd Blanche, who blustered through his defense of the Republican as prosecutors asked to hold him in contempt of court.

They say Trump has repeatedly violated a partial gag order barring him from publicly attacking witnesses, jurors and court staff. 

“You’re losing all credibility with the court,” Merchan told Blanche as the defense attorney side-stepped the judge’s questions regarding the accusations.

Merchan heard arguments over the accusation Tuesday but did not issue an immediate ruling, which he could drop at any moment.

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, and Cohen are both expected to appear as prosecution witnesses at the trial.

Trump has repeatedly attacked them on Truth Social, calling them, for example, “sleaze bags who have, with their lies and misrepresentations, cost our country dearly.”

Written By

With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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