Trump trial: Judge rules on alleged gag order violations, witnesses discuss Michael Cohen’s payment to Stormy Daniels

On Thursday, the prosecution’s third witness, finance executive Gary Farro, returned to provide his testimony in the New York criminal case brought against Donald Trump.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D) charged Trump with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in an alleged attempt to cover up so-called “hush money” payments made to Stormy Daniels, a porn actress, to keep quiet about an alleged extramarital affair.

Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney, claimed that he made a $130,000 payment to Daniels at Trump’s request. Farro, Cohen’s former banker, returned for his second day on the stand Tuesday to detail how Cohen set up a new LLC to allegedly complete the transaction.

Last week, Farro explained that Cohen urgently requested in 2016 that First Republic Bank open a new LLC, Resolution Consultants, for “capital real estate.” According to Farro, Cohen never made a deposit after the account was set up. Instead, two weeks later, Cohen backtracked on the plan, stating he no longer wanted to open that account, Farro said. Cohen requested to open a different LLC, Essential Consultants, for the same purpose, Farro testified.

Cohen obtained a home equity line of credit transfer the same day he opened the account, Farro told the court. On October 27, Cohen completed a $130,000 wire transfer from Essential Consultants to attorney Keith Davidson’s trust account, Farro continued. At the time, Daniels was one of Davidson’s clients.

“It’s an account that’s held by attorneys on behalf of one of their clients,” Farro explained. He claimed that Cohen told him the payment was a “retainer” for a real estate transaction.

Todd Blanche, Trump’s attorney, clarified with Farro that Cohen did not indicate on the account’s paperwork that he was “acting as an agent” for anyone else.

“We would have to know who he was acting as an agent for,” Farro stated. “We would have to ensure that he was not working with a person of interest.”

“If [the] client told me it was a shell corporation, it would not have been opened. It would give me pause, very frankly,” Farro added.

The prosecution called attorney Keith Davidson to the stand. Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal were previously clients of Davidson.

Davidson claimed that he negotiated with National Enquirer and ABC News on behalf of McDougal to sell her story for top dollar.

“At the time, as is often the case with negotiations, I was trying to play two entities off of each other,” he testified.

Davidson claimed McDougal “did not want to tell her story.” Instead, she wanted to “rejuvenate her career, to make money and to avoid telling the story and being termed the scarlet letter,” he testified.

Dylan Howard, former National Enquirer editor, texted Davidson on July 23, 2016, “Get me a price on McDougall (sic). All in. Consulting gig perhaps as a fitness expert thrown into the mix,” according to evidence submitted to the court.

Davidson testified that Trump was not named in the deal with the National Enquirer but claimed that the purchase of McDougal’s story would benefit Trump. Davidson received 45% of the $150,000 deal.

He told the court that there were two possible reasons the tabloid purchased the story without plans to run it.

“I think one explanation that was given was that they were trying to build Karen into a brand and didn’t want to diminish her reputation. And second was more of an unspoken understanding that there was a close affiliation between David Pecker and Donald Trump and that AMI would not run this story or any story related to Karen and Donald Trump because it would tend to hurt Donald Trump,” Davidson testified.

He noted that, prior to the “Access Hollywood” tape, there was little interest in Daniels’ story.

“So far as I’m aware, it had tremendous influence,” Davidson told jurors. He further claimed that “no one wanted to talk to Cohen” to close a deal on the story. Davidson described Cohen as “not pleasant or constructive.”

He explained that the tabloid’s parent company, American Media Inc., decided it did not want to purchase Daniels’ story, so Cohen “stepped into AMI’s shoes.”

Davidson testified that the deal was written up using fake names to conceal those involved. “Peggy Peterson” was used for Daniels, and “David Dennison” was used for Trump, he claimed.

According to the agreement, Cohen was to send $130,000 to Davidson by October 14, 2016. However, Davidson did not receive the funds in time, he stated. Cohen allegedly gave many reasons for the delay.

“Goddamnit what do you expect me to do, my guy is in five different states today,” Cohen reportedly wrote to Davidson.

Davidson testified that Cohen ultimately decided to send the funds himself. He noted that he had assumptions about how the deal would be funded but did not know.

Gag order ruling

DA Bragg filed a contempt motion against the former president, claiming that his comments about individuals involved in the New York criminal case violated Merchan’s gag order.

Trump was accused of violating the judge’s order approximately a dozen times, including 10 social media posts published on Truth Social. In one of the posts, Trump mentions “two sleazebags,” which the prosecution argued was referring to Cohen and Daniels, who are both expected to testify against Trump.

Bragg urged Merchan to remind Trump that he could face jail time for repeated order violations.

Before continuing with the witness testimony on Tuesday morning, Merchan ruled on the alleged violations, finding Trump in contempt of his order. According to Merchan, Trump violated the gag order nine times. As part of the judge’s ruling, Trump must pay $1,000 per violation. He was also ordered to remove “offending posts” from social media and two “offending posts” from his campaign website. The posts must be removed, and the fine must be paid by the close of business Friday.

The judge’s order read, “THEREFORE, 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.”

Trump’s attorneys argued that the former president’s comments referring to Cohen and Daniels were in response to repeated public attacks made by the two witnesses. His team noted that neither Cohen nor Daniels is restricted from making disparaging comments about Trump, the case against him, or his political campaign.

“President Trump is allowed to respond to political attacks,” Trump’s attorney told the judge last week.

“To allow such attacks upon protected witnesses with blanket assertions that they are all responses to ‘political attacks’ would be an exception that swallowed the rule. The Expanded Order does not contain such an exception,” Merchan responded.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Trump had already removed the social media posts.

According to prosecutors, four additional comments made by Trump since last week’s hearing also allegedly violated the gag order. Merchan will hold another hearing later this week to consider those comments.

The trial will resume on Thursday with a gag order hearing, and Davidson is expected to continue his testimony.

Anything else?

On Tuesday, Trump was joined in court by his son Eric Trump and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

“With President Trump in NYC to sit through this sham of a trial. This trial is a travesty of justice. I stand with Trump,” Paxton wrote on X.

The prosecution stated that if Trump testifies, it would like to use the gag order violations during cross-examination to show “the defendant’s attempt to dissuade witnesses, including Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels.”

Trump responded to the gag order violation ruling on Truth Social, writing, “This Judge has taken away my Constitutional Right to FREE SPEECH. I am the only Presidential Candidate in History to be GAGGED. This whole ‘Trial’ is RIGGED, and by taking away my FREEDOM OF SPEECH, THIS HIGHLY CONFLICTED JUDGE IS RIGGING THE PRESIDENTIAL OF 2024 ELECTION. ELECTION INTERFERENCE!!!”

In addition to ruling on the alleged gag order violations, Merchan granted Trump approval to attend his son Barron Trump’s upcoming high school graduation.

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