Takeaways from the start of week 2 of testimony in Trump's hush money trial

Trump denies any wrongdoing and has pleaded not guilty

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The first week of testimony in Donald Trump’s hush money trial was the scene-setter for jurors. This week, prosecutors are working on filling in the details of how they say he pulled off a scheme to bury damaging stories to protect his 2016 presidential campaign.

Prosecutors are setting the stage for crucial testimony from Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen, who arranged hush money payments on Trump's behalf before going to prison for campaign finance violations and other crimes.

Trump denies any wrongdoing and has pleaded not guilty.

Here’s a look at how things are shaping up so far this week at the historic trial:

Jail threat

Six months before the 2024 presidential election, the presumptive Republican nominee is being threatened with possible jail time — even before jurors decide whether he is guilty in the hush money case.

Judge Juan Merchan raised the specter of time behind bars if Trump continues to violate a gag order barring him from making public statements about witnesses, jurors and others connected with the case.

In a ruling Tuesday fining Trump $9,000 for repeated violations of the gag order, Merchan wrote that as a judge he was “keenly aware of, and protective of” Trump’s First Amendment rights, “particularly given his candidacy for the office of President of the United States.”

But Merchan said that the court would not tolerate “willful violations of its lawful orders and that if necessary and appropriate under the circumstances, it will impose an incarceratory punishment.”

Trump was ordered to pay the fine by the close of business Friday. Ahead of a separate Tuesday deadline set by the judge, Trump deleted his posts that the judge ruled violated the order. The judge will hear arguments on Thursday on other alleged gag order violations by Trump.

Nuts & bolts

Prosecutors are using detailed testimony on email exchanges, business transactions and bank accounts to form the foundation of their argument that Trump is guilty of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in connection with the hush money payments.

Jurors heard from Gary Farro, a banker who helped Cohen open the account Cohen used to buy the silence of porn actor Stormy Daniels in the weeks before the 2016 election. Daniels was threatening to go public with claims of a sexual encounter with Trump.

Farro also testified about helping Cohen create another account, which Cohen planned to use to buy the rights of former Playboy model Karen McDougal's story about an alleged affair with Trump. Trump denies both Daniels' and McDougal's claims.

Cross-examining Farro, Blanche, the defense lawyer, underscored that Cohen made no mention that the accounts he opened in October 2016 had anything to do with deals involving then-candidate Trump or his company.

If Cohen had done so, “I would have asked questions,” Farro said.

Cohen told Farro the accounts were related to real estate. Farro testified that he might not have opened an account if he had known their intended purpose.

Trump trial

During the trial, Trump is being increasingly confronted with images and testimony on the very stories he tried to bury.

The judge has ruled that jurors won’t get to see the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump was caught on a hot mic describing grabbing women sexually without their permission. The tape from 2005 didn’t become public until Oct. 7, 2016, just weeks before election day.

That video is important because prosecutors are trying to make the case that Trump paid hush money to Daniels because he feared her claims about a sex encounter could further hurt him with female voters after the video leaked.

Prosecutors worked around that limitation on Tuesday by showing jurors C-SPAN clips of Trump on the campaign trail in 2016 forcefully denying allegations made by several women after the video became public. The prosecutors also asked witnesses to generally describe the “Access Hollywood” video.

“The stories are total fiction. They’re 100% made up, they never happened, they never would happen,” Trump said at a Oct. 14, 2016, rally in North Carolina.

The deal maker

Keith Davidson, a lawyer who represented McDougal and Daniels in their negotiations with Cohen and the National Enquirer, took the witness stand Tuesday. The tabloid bought McDougal’s story to prevent her from going public with the claims about Trump.

Davidson's testimony provided jurors with an inside look at the negotiations behind the two deals to keep the women quiet.

Davidson testified that the National Enquirer initially wasn't keen on the idea of buying McDougal's story because she “lacked documentary evidence of the interaction."

But the talks between the tabloid and McDougal's camp restarted weeks later. Eventually Davidson said they agreed that McDougal would receive $150,000 payment as well as the promise of magazine covers and regular columns for publications owned by the National Enquirer’s parent company American Media Inc.

Soon after the “Access Hollywood” tape leaked, Daniels' agent reached out to the National Enquirer about buying the rights to Daniels' story for $120,000. The tabloid, however, didn't want to go through with the deal and told Daniels' agent to call Cohen to deal with him directly, Davidson said.

Davidson said he stepped in to negotiate the deal, and raised the price to $130,000 to build in a fee for his work.

“In essence, Michael Cohen stepped into AMI’s shoes,” Davidson said, referring to the name of the Enquirer’s parent company at the time.

The court calendar

The trial is expected to last another month or more, with jurors hearing testimony four days a week. Trump — who has cast the prosecution as an effort to hurt his 2024 campaign — is required to be there, much to his stated dismay.

"They don’t want me on the campaign trail,” he said Tuesday.

The judge said Tuesday that there will be no court on May 17 so Trump can attend his son Barron's high school graduation.

Court also won't be in session on Friday, May 24 to accommodate a juror who has a flight that morning, the judge said. That means the trial will be off for four straight days for the Memorial Day weekend, resuming on Tuesday, May 28.


Long and Richer reported from Washington. Associated Press reporters Jennifer Peltz and Ruth Brown contributed from New York.

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