Stormy Daniels’ lawyer has the receipts

<span>Keith Davidson, who represented former Playboy model Karen McDougal, shows correspondence with former National Enquirer editor in Manhattan court, on 30 April 2024.</span><span>Photograph: Jane Rosenberg/Reuters</span>
Keith Davidson, who represented former Playboy model Karen McDougal, shows correspondence with former National Enquirer editor in Manhattan court, on 30 April 2024.Photograph: Jane Rosenberg/Reuters

On the docket: Stormy Daniels’ lawyer details his negotiations with Trump’s fixer

Donald Trump’s trial got moving again on Tuesday with testimony from the attorney who represented Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal in their hush-money negotiations.

Keith Davidson testified (and backed up by contemporaneous text messages and emails) about how the former president’s team negotiated with him to keep quiet the women’s claims that they’d had affairs with Trump.

Davidson said he helped McDougal reach an agreement with American Media Inc (AMI), the parent company of the National Enquirer, to buy the rights to McDougal’s story in order to keep her quiet.

He also said that he first encountered Daniels in 2011, when her agent asked him to talk to Trump fixer and attorney Michael Cohen about a blog post alleging the affair. An irate Cohen accused Daniels of leaking the story; Davidson suggested Cohen demand the blog take down the post, which it did.

Five years later, as Trump’s infamous “grab them by the pussy” remarks on an Access Hollywood tape threatened to derail his presidential aspirations in the final weeks of the 2016 campaign, Daniels’ story suddenly was worth a lot more. Her agent brought Davidson back in to negotiate a deal to buy it. AMI wanted no part in it, so he began dealing directly with Cohen.

Davidson said it was clear from the start that Cohen was negotiating on Trump’s behalf.

“Every single time I talked to Michael Cohen, he leaned on his close affiliation with Donald Trump,” Davidson said. “I don’t know if it was ever explicitly stated: ‘I am negotiating this matter on behalf of Donald Trump,’ but it was part of his identity – and he’d let you know at every possible opportunity that he was working for Donald Trump.”

Davidson testified that he never thought that the money for Daniels was going to come from Cohen himself, saying that he expected the money would come “from Donald Trump or some corporate affiliation thereof”.

Davidson said that he and Cohen went to great lengths to make sure Trump’s name didn’t come up in the hush-money agreement to pay Daniels $130,000. They agreed that Trump and Daniels would be referred to pseudonymously in the settlement document by the names “Peggy Peterson” and “David Dennison”. The rationale, he said, was that Daniels was the plaintiff, hence the P’s, and Trump was the defendant, hence the D’s.

The two sides reached a deal in mid-October 2016 for Daniels to be paid $130,000.

But the money wasn’t paid. Davidson testified that it seemed like Trump was “trying to kick the can down the road” until after the election, when the story wouldn’t impact his presidential prospects. Davidson emailed Cohen on 17 October warning him that the deal was off if the money wasn’t wired by the close of business that day, but Cohen kept coming up with excuses about why they couldn’t pay up. Finally, Davidson told Cohen that he was done negotiating, and would no longer act as Daniels’ interlocutor.

At that point, then National Enquirer editor Dylan Howard, who’d stayed in touch with Davidson, texted that the payments hadn’t gone through “all because Trump is tight” – which Davidson clarified meant “frugal”.

Before Davidson took the stand, the day began with more testimony from Cohen’s old banker, who testified that Cohen had opened up a separate account to transfer the $130,000 shortly before the election. The next witness was a C-Span executive, as exciting as you’d imagine, who was there to introduce videos of Trump on the campaign trail in mid-October 2016, weeks before the election (and at the same time as Cohen was negotiating to buy Daniels’ silence) denying claims from multiple women that he’d sexually assaulted them. Those women had come forward in the wake of the Access Hollywood tape.

A full recap of the day can be read here. The trial will resume on Thursday.

Judge holds Trump in contempt (and warns him of jail time)

Before the trial resumed Tuesday morning, Judge Juan Merchan fined Trump $9,000 for violating a ban on publicly attacking others involved in his trial and warned him that if he kept it up, he might wind up behind bars.

Merchan ruled that Trump violated the gag order barring him from going after witnesses or jurors in his trial on nine separate occasions (out of the ten times that prosecutors had highlighted), ordered him to delete the nine posts from his Truth Social media account, and fined him the maximum allowed under the law for each instance.

As the Guardian’s Hugo Lowell notes, Trump may find himself subject to further penalties as soon as Thursday, when Merchan is scheduled to hear arguments that Trump violated the gag order several more times since prosecutors submitted their initial list of ten violations.

Merchan wrote in the order that New York law didn’t allow him to “craft an appropriate punishment” because the $1,000 statutory cap “will not achieve the desired result” for wealthier people who violate the fine.

“Defendant is hereby warned that the Court will not tolerate continued willful violations of its lawful orders and that if necessary and appropriate under the circumstances, it will impose an incarceratory punishment,” Merchan wrote, warning of jail time.

Trump’s campaign moved fast to capitalize. Even before they deleted the Truth Social posts the judge ordered them to take down, the campaign sent a fundraising email. “THEY WANT TO SILENCE ME! They think they can BLEED ME DRY and SHUT ME UP, but I’ll NEVER stop fighting for YOU,” the email reads, before including a link to donate.

It wasn’t all bad news for Trump, however. He had previously asked for a one-day trial pause on Friday, 17 May, so he could attend his son Barron’s high school graduation. Merchan granted that request Tuesday morning.