Key takeaways from day 15 of Trump’s hush money trial

Jurors were shown Trump’s 2018 tweets about Michael Cohen and text messages negotiating a deal for Stormy Daniels’ story as another week came to an end in the historic trial

Alex Woodward
in Manhattan criminal court
,Ariana Baio
Saturday 11 May 2024 15:27 BST
Donald Trump ignores reporter’s question about Stormy Daniels’ challenge to testify

Prosecutors in Donald Trump’s New York criminal trial presented a marathon of witnesses and experts to jurors on Friday to corroborate evidence of phone conversations and records in the case ahead of calling their final witnesses, including Mr Trump’s former lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen.

In a relatively quiet day for the hush money trial, jurors heard from a former Trump administration aide and three analysts who introduced phone records, text messages and other evidence that will tee up Cohen’s expected testimony next week.

Cohen, a star witness in the case, played a central role in helping the former president suppress politically damaging stories in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election.

He coordinated with former tabloid publisher David Pecker to catch and kill stories and ultimately paid adult film star Stormy Daniels $130,000 for her silence over a sexual encounter she allegedly had with Mr Trump in 2006. The former president is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records over the $130,000 payment.

Cohen could take the stand to testify as early as Monday with Manhattan prosecutors telling New York Justice Juan Merchan they are on track to rest their case as soon as next Friday.

Here are the key moments from today’s day in court:

Trump’s 2018 tweets reveal sudden change of heart about Cohen

Georgia Longstreet, a paralegal for the Manhattan DA’s office, returned to the witness stand to introduce tweets that Mr Trump made about Cohen in 2018.

Ms Longstreet’s job was to “hash” publicly available materials, like tweets, by screenshotting and preserving them.

The tweets revealed how Mr Trump had a sudden change of heart about Cohen – going from gushing about him being “a fine person” to trashing him as a lawyer in the space of just four months.

In one tweet from April 2018, Mr Trump condemned The New York Times for trying to “destroy” Cohen. In it, he called Cohen “a fine person with a wonderful family” who he “always liked [and] respected”.

A few months later in August, Mr Trump tweeted: “If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!”

Donald Trump speaks to reporters inside the criminal courthouse in Manhattan on 10 May (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Text messages show Stormy Daniels’ manager negotiating sale of story

Jurors were shown a series of text messages between Stormy Daniels’ manager Gina Rodriguez and then-National Enquirer editor-in-chief Dylan Howard in 2016, in which the pair are negotiating a price for the rights to her story about having sex with Mr Trump.

That deal ultimately fell apart, after National Enquirer publisher David Pecker bowed out of Cohen’s plan to wire money through a shell company. Instead, Cohen paid Ms Daniels’ attorney himself.

In October 2016, Ms Rodriguez texted Mr Howard asking if he was “interested” in her story.

“How much for Stormy?” Mr Howard replied.

“250k,” Ms Rodriguez replied.

She also mentioned there was interest from Good Morning America and The Daily Mail, which she said claimed to offer her $200,000.

“I can get 100,” Howard replied

“Lol,” she said.

“Ok what about 150k?”

The pair continued to go back and forth hashing out a price.






By 25 October 2016 however, Mr Howard had learned that Ms Daniels had not yet been paid and apparently fumed at his publisher. He told Ms Rodriguez that he is “not going to burn my lifelong contact for these f******,” likely referencing Ms Daniels’ attorney Keith Davidson, a source for Mr Howard who had negotiated the deal with Cohen.

The following day – the same day that Cohen opened up a bank account for a shell company to funnel cash into – Mr Howard texted Ms Rodriguez: “Good news I hear”.

The messages were previously entered into evidence last month, but they were read aloud in court on Friday by a paralegal called to testify about the collection of evidence in the case.

Stormy Daniels is questioned by prosecutor Susan Hoffinger during Trump's criminal trial on May 7 2024 (REUTERS)

Ex-White House ‘gatekeeper’ blows up Trump’s defense

Former White House “gatekeeper” Madeleine Westerhout fawned over her former boss and smiled and laughed on Thursday as she fondly remembered working as an executive assistant in the Trump administration.

She said that Mr Trump was “upset” when Ms Daniels’ allegations surfaced in 2018 and that it was her “understanding” that “he knew it would be hurtful to his family.”

But he never told her that, according to her testimony under cross-examination from Mr Trump’s team on Friday.

“I don’t believe he specifically said that but I could just tell the whole situation was unpleasant,” she said. “Meaning, he didn’t specifically mention his family in that conversation.”

The judge sustained the prosecution’s objection to the question and her answer, which was struck from the record.

On Thursday, she also agreed with Mr Trump’s attorney Susan Necheles – who she had spoken with on Wednesday night – that his campaign was “freaking out” after the release of the Access Hollywood tape in October 2016. Ms Westerhout testified that the RNC thought about replacing him as the 2016 nominee because of the scandal.

But she wasn’t working for the campaign at that time, and she didn’t meet Mr Trump until November 2016.

Assistant District Attorney Rebecca Mangold questioned her about this apparent indiscrepancy. “You didn’t spend any real time until January 2017? So you have no firsthand knowledge of his reaction?”

Her current employer is Robert O’Brien, Mr Trump’s former national security adviser.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump watches as former Director of Oval Office Operations Madeleine Westerhout is cross-examined by defense attorney Susan Necheles (REUTERS)

Judge to prosecutors: Tell Michael Cohen to stop talking

Mr Trump’s attorneys have repeatedly suggested that Judge Merchan find a way to gag Michael Cohen, and ahead of testimony from the former president’s one-time “fixer,” Mr Trump’s team said his TikToks are now “becoming a real problem”.

He “continues to speak publicly about this trial and President Trump,” including in a video “wearing a white T-shirt with a picture of President Trump behind bars” and “announcing that he’s running for Congress,” Mr Trump’s attorney Todd Blanche complained to the judge.

Mr Blanche said he wants Cohen “prohibited from talking” about the case, just “like Trump is”.

“It’s becoming a problem every single day that President Trump is not allowed to respond to this witness, but this witness is allowed to continue to talk,” Mr Blanche said.

“We have no control over what they do, and we have repeatedly, repeatedly, asked the witnesses to do that. Not just Mr Cohen. All the witnesses,” responded ADA Joshua Steinglass. “If Mr Blanche is asking the court to order the people not to do something, we have already done that.”

The judge found a compromise: prosecutors should tell him that the judge has told him to be quiet.

“I will direct the People to communicate to Mr Cohen that the judge is asking him to refrain from making any more statements about Mr Trump or anything else related to this case,” Judge Merchan said. “That comes from the bench.”

Michael Cohen at Donald Trump’s civil fraud trial in October (Getty Images)

Allen Weisselberg could end up testifying after all

Allen Weisselberg, the twice-convicted former chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, is currently in Rikers Island jail after pleading guilty to perjury in another case involving his former boss.

Weisselberg was sentenced to five months in jail after reaching a plea deal with Manhattan prosecutors to admit that he lied to state investigators and a judge probing the former president’s real estate empire in a sprawling civil fraud case.

Last year, he spent 100 days at the notorious New York jail after he was convicted on a range of tax crimes in a separate case stemming from a sweeping criminal investigation into the business.

Manhattan prosecutors now want to explain to jurors in Mr Trump’s criminal trial why he won’t be making an appearance in this case, despite his name appearing throughout trial documents and cropping up on the lips of nearly every witness.

But Mr Trump’s attorneys don’t want jurors to know why.

It’s not the jail part that bothers them – it’s a severance agreement from the Trump Organization. Inside? A promise that he won’t “denigrate” the company “verbally or in writing or any of its entities.”

In other words, Weisselberg could lose out on his $750,000 severance if he testifies against his former boss.

Assistant District Attorney Christopher Conroy suggested, half-jokingly, that the court could instead explain to jurors that he’s not appearing in court because he’s in jail for perjury.

“I think that would be one way to solve the problem,” the judge replied.

Former Trump executive Allen Weisselberg is taken into custody after sentencing in court on Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in New York (AP)

Judge Merchan said attorneys on both sides were “trying to jump the gun.”

“We’re trying to explain why he’s not here without making an effort to get him here,” he said.

He suggested that Weisselberg could be called into court to answer questions under oath but without a jury present. He’ll reserve a decision until a later date.

What to expect next week: Michael Cohen takes the stand

Manhattan prosecutors had anticipated wrapping up their case in chief by 21 May. But they could finish several days earlier, ADA Steinglass revealed on Friday.

He told the judge that there are only two witnesses left – including the man believed to be the star witness in the case: Cohen.

Mr Trump’s former lawyer and “fixer” is expected to begin his hotly-anticipated testimony in the trial on Monday, according to reporting by NBC News.

It’s possible the prosecution could then rest its case by the end of next week.

The next few weeks of the trial will take up three days each, rather than four (Wednesdays are “off” the calendar). Mr Trump convinced Judge Merchan to adjourn on 17 May so he could attend his son’s high school graduation, and the trial will also be “off” on 24 and 27 May.

This means that if the defense doesn’t present a case, or presents an abbreviated one, jurors could begin deliberating as soon as early as June.

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