Key takeaways from Stormy Daniels' testimony in Trump hush money trial

It was the biggest spectacle yet in the first criminal trial of a former American president, now in its third week of testimony in Manhattan

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Stormy Daniels was paid to prevent her from going public with claims of a sexual encounter with Donald Trump before the 2016 election. Now Trump is having to confront her testimony in court about the allegations in the midst of another presidential campaign.

Daniels took the witness stand Tuesday in his hush money criminal trial, putting the presumptive Republican presidential nominee face-to-face with the woman whose story prosecutors said he tried to bury years ago. Trump denies having sex with her.

His lawyers unsuccessfully pushed for a mistrial midway through her testimony, saying what she testified is prejudicial and "there is no way to come back from that."

The trial was previously scheduled to start May 20.

At issue in this trial is not whether the alleged trysts happened, but whether the hush money to buy and bury the stories was recorded falsely 34 times on business records, and whether those alleged falsehoods amounted to a felony scheme to impact the 2016 presidential election.

It's the biggest spectacle yet in the first criminal trial of a former American president, now in its third week of testimony in Manhattan. Trump was charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records — crimes that can come with jail time.

Here are some takeaways from Daniels' testimony so far:

Who is Stormy Daniels?

Daniels is at the center of the case because she was paid $130,000 in the final weeks of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign to keep quiet about what she says was an awkward and unexpected sexual encounter with Trump a decade before. He says the encounter never happened.

Prosecutors say Trump paid Daniels as part of a scheme to illegally influence the 2016 campaign by burying negative stories about him. His lawyers have sought to show that Trump was trying to protect his reputation and family — not his campaign — by shielding them from embarrassing stories about his personal life.

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, said she grew up poor in Louisiana and originally wanted to become a veterinarian. She danced ballet growing up and got into exotic dancing when she was in high school, she testified.

Daniels told jurors that she began appearing in adult films at age 23 and soon began working behind the camera as well, eventually directing more than 150 films and winning a roster of porn industry awards.

How she met Trump

Daniels testified about first meeting Trump in 2006 at a celebrity golf outing in Lake Tahoe. The adult film studio she worked for at the time sponsored one of the holes on the golf course.

Daniels testified that she saw Trump again after the golf round in what was known as the “gift room,” an area where the celebrity golfers collected gift bags and swag. There, she said, he remembered her as “the smart one,” and asked her if she wanted to go to dinner. Rather than get her number himself, Trump had one of his bodyguard get it, she told jurors.

Daniels said she accepted Trump’s invitation because she wanted to get out of a planned dinner with her adult film company colleagues, some of whom she “didn’t want to be around — catfights,” she said with a chuckle.

She said her then-publicist suggested in a phone call that Trump’s invitation was a good excuse to duck the work dinner and would “make a great story” and perhaps help her career.

“What could possibly go wrong?” she recalled the publicist saying.

When they met up later in his penthouse, she appreciated that he seemed interested in the business aspects of the industry rather than the “sexy stuff." He also suggested putting her on his TV show, “The Apprentice,” a possibility she hoped could help establish her as a writer and director.

She left to use the bathroom and was startled to find Trump in his underwear when she returned, she said. She didn’t feel physically or verbally threatened but realized that he was “bigger and blocking the way,” she testified.

“The next thing I know was: I was on the bed,” and they were having sex, Daniels recalled. "That’s when I felt like the room spun in slow motion and blood leave my hands and my feet and I thought 'Oh my good, what did I misread to get here?'"

The encounter was brief but left her “shaking,” she said. “I just wanted to leave,” she testified.

During the second week of the trial, former Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said she believed her former boss was concerned how his wife Melania might react to the stories of infidelity. But Daniels told the jury, after their brief sexual encounter, "he didn’t give me anything. No money. He didn’t express any concern about his wife finding out."

Daniels says afterwards they spoke on the phone often and saw each other a few times including once at Trump Tower. She said she was threatened in 2011 after she talked about Trump — then when Trump ran for office, Michael Cohen came into the picture and he paid her.

In an animated and at-times bruising cross examination later in the afternoon, Daniels was immediately confronted by the defense.

"I'm correct that you hate President Trump," the defense attorney said, to which Daniels said yes. When asked if she wanted him to go to jail, she responded, "I want him to be held accountable."

Trump’s defense lawyer also asked Daniels, "a story about President Trump that doesn’t include sex will make you no money, right?" Daniels answered: "It taught me that I should tell the truth."

Trump in court

Trump didn't show dramatic changes in his behavior as Daniels took the stand, but there were signs of what appeared to be discomfort from the former president and current presidential candidate hearing testimony about his alleged extramarital sexual encounter.

The former president started the day by posting a comment—and later deleting it--on his social media network complaining that he’d “just recently been told who the witness is today” and falsely said his lawyers had no time to prepare. He's under a gag order that prevents him from commenting publicly on witnesses, jurors and some others connected to the case.

Also before the hearing, Trump spoke to reporters in the hallway outside the courtroom, defending the payments.

"We didn’t put it down as construction costs, the purchase of sheet rock, electrical costs. The legal expense that we paid was put down as 'legal expense,'" the former president said.

When Daniels entered the courtroom, Trump stared ahead and turned his head slightly in her direction, then looked at her as she walked to the witness stand. He whispered frequently to his attorney as she began to testify. Trump later wore what seemed to be a pained expression as she recounted details about the dinner she says they shared, muttering at times to lawyers on either side of him.

He shook his head and appeared to say something under his breath as Daniels testified that Trump told her he didn't sleep in the same room as his wife.

Trump has denied the sexual encounter ever happened and doesn't believe he should be on trial.

"The previous DA wouldn’t bring it. Bragg didn’t want to bring it but then he brought it because I’m running the number one class. This all comes out out of the White House and crooked Joe Biden," he said Tuesday.

Defense tries to limit details

Before Daniels took the stand, Trump’s lawyers tried to stop her from testifying about the details of her alleged sexual encounter with Trump, saying it was irrelevant in “a case about books and records.”

Prosecutor Susan Hoffinger countered that the details were important to buttress Daniels’ credibility, which the defense has questioned. The prosecutor assured Judge Juan Merchan that the description of the alleged sexual act would be “really basic” and would not “involve any details of genitalia.”

At one point, Merchan admonished the prosecutor about the “degree of detail” she was eliciting from Daniels, saying there was no need to get into the design of the floor in the hotel room or the various subjects covered in her conversation with Trump.

“The degree of detail that we’re going into here is just unnecessary,” Merchan said.

Trump's son Eric, who was with his father in court on Tuesday, slammed the proceeding in a post on X, accusing prosecutors of being “giddy by this salacious show.”

“Sitting front row attempting to figure out how any of this garbage from 20 years ago relates to ‘legal’ bills submitted by a long time personal attorney being booked as a ‘legal’ expense,'" he wrote.

Daniels took the stand a day after testimony that was more mechanical but just as key to prosecutors’ case: a recitation from former Trump Organization controller Jeffrey McConney of how the company reimbursed payments that were allegedly meant to suppress embarrassing stories from surfacing during Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. They were logged as legal expenses in a way that Manhattan prosecutors say broke the law.

Push for a mistrial

Trump’s lawyers asked Merchan to declare a mistrial, arguing that the details in Daniels’ testimony about her alleged sexual encounter with Trump and other meetings with him have “nothing to do with this case” and were “extremely prejudicial” against Trump.

Trump lawyer Todd Blanche called it “the kind of testimony that makes it impossible to come back from,” and hurts the former president as he tries to campaign for the White House. But prosecutors contended that Daniels’ testimony was vital for establishing why Trump wanted to pay to silence her.

Merchan rejected the mistrial request, saying Daniels provided excessive detail in some instances but that defense attorneys should have raised more objections at the time.

Though the trial continues, the argument by Trump’s lawyers could be something he uses in an appeal if he is ultimately convicted.

A jarring split screen

Trump’s appearance in court Tuesday, like all other days he’s stuck in the courtroom, means he can’t be out on the campaign trail as he runs for president a third time. It’s a frequent source of his complaints, but Daniels' testimony in particular might underscore how much of a distraction the trial is from the business of running for president.

While Trump was stuck in a Manhattan courthouse away from voters and unable to speak for much of the day, his rival, Democratic President Joe Biden, was attending a Holocaust remembrance ceremony and condemning antisemitism.

It’s an issue Trump has sought to use against Biden in the campaign by seizing on the protests at college campuses over the Israel-Hamas war.

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