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Judge denies bid to modify gag order so Trump can respond to Stormy Daniels’ sex tryst testimony

Trump v. Cohen: a courtroom showdown for the ages on tap next in hush money trial
CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP via Getty Images
Stormy Daniels leaves Manhattan Criminal Court after testifying at former US President Donald Trump’s trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs, in New York City, on May 9, 2024. (Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP via Getty Images)
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Humiliating details revealed about Donald Trump’s alleged sexual encounter with Stormy Daniels during the porn star’s bombshell trial testimony were entirely due to his lawyers’ mystifying defense strategies, a judge said Thursday in eviscerating comments before the fuming former president.

The extraordinary rebuke by Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan — denying Trump’s latest request for a mistrial in a one-two punch — followed tearful testimony from another of Trump’s White House acolytes, the unveiling of evidence appearing to starkly contradict much of Trump’s defense, and a contentious morning of cross-examination painting a perverted picture of Trump clad only in his underwear hitting on a woman half his age in a Lake Tahoe hotel room.

Trump’s legal team demanded a mistrial over those details, but an incredulous Merchan said the sordid account relayed by Daniels was a result of their own doing.

“For some reason, I don’t know why, you went into it ad nauseam on cross-examination,” Merchan addressed Trump lawyer Susan Necheles regarding the adult film star’s testimony about feeling disoriented during the alleged 2006 encounter.

The judge said he didn’t know how much time Necheles spent “drilling it over and over and over again into the jury’s ears” earlier Thursday.

“I don’t understand the reason for that,” he said.

Stormy Daniels testifies on the witness stand as a promotional image for one of her shows featuring an image of Trump is displayed on monitors in Manhattan criminal court, Thursday, May 9, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)
Stormy Daniels, Thursday, May 9, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

Merchan, who repeated his confusion Tuesday about why Trump’s lawyers hadn’t objected more during graphic testimony, said they made their bed when the trial got underway by accusing Daniels of extortion and lies in opening statements.

“Right off the bat, that pits your client’s word against Ms. Daniels’ word,” the judge said, requiring prosecutors to rehabilitate their witness.

Merchan noted that Trump’s lawyers went after Daniels, yet, inexplicably, “You didn’t attack falsification of business records” charges that Trump faces.

Trump lawyer Todd Blanche, in his failed bid for a mistrial, said Daniels’ account of being cornered by Trump in his boxers — after she’d been summoned for dinner by his longtime bodyguard, Keith Schiller, at a charity golf tournament — and uncomfortably having unwanted sex without a condom was “a dog whistle for rape.”

“That has nothing to do with the case,” Blanche said.

But prosecutor Joshua Steinglass, along with outright rejecting the defense’s position that Daniels had changed her story over time, said Trump’s team was trying to have its cake and eat it, too — seeking to discredit her account while also preventing prosecutors from crediting it.

Steinglass said the testimony was also crucial to establish Trump’s motives.

“Mr. Blanche complains about the fact these details are messy. … But you know who knew what happened in that room, those messy details? Mr. Trump,” Steinglass said.

“That was Mr. Trump’s motive.”

Steinglass said the prosecution “deliberately” sought to protect Trump from embarrassment — declining to elaborate on the record explicitly but saying he’d do so in a sealed hearing — but a general account of the story the hush money purchased was necessary to prove their case.

“That is why Mr. Trump tried so hard to prevent the American people from learning about this.”

In denying the former president’s motion to pare back a gag order prohibiting comments about Daniels, Cohen and other trial participants, Merchan said he sought to protect their safety and the integrity of the trial. Trump’s team said he wanted to public respond to the claims by Daniels, who he has repeatedly belittled as “horse face” over the years.

Donald Trump and Stormy Daniels pose for a photo at a Lake Tahoe golf tournament, where their alleged tryst took place in 2006. (Court Evidence)
Donald Trump and Stormy Daniels in 2006. (Court Evidence)

Trump’s lawyer comes in hot on cross-examination

Grilling Daniels about purported inconsistencies in her testimony, her memoir “Full Disclosure” and various media interviews — like saying they met for dinner and at the trial that they didn’t eat — Trump lawyer Necheles also skeptically asked how a porn star could feel uncomfortable with a sexual encounter. 

“This was not the first time in your life someone had made a pass at you?” Necheles asked. 

“It is the first time they had a bodyguard standing outside the door … and were in their underwear and were twice my age,” Daniels shot back. 

When she took the stand on Tuesday, Daniels told the jury that about five years after her alleged tryst with Trump, she was threatened by a stranger in a Las Vegas parking lot to stay silent. She said that incident was front of mind when Trump announced his candidacy several years later and that she wanted to go public before being presented with a nondisclosure agreement from her then lawyer, Keith Davidson, and Trump’s henchman, Michael Cohen.  

Former President Donald Trump speaks to the press before his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs, at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City, on May 9, 2024. (ANGELA WEISS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Trump speaks to the press May 9, 2024. (ANGELA WEISS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Necheles repeatedly accused Daniels of being money hungry and fabricating her claims — which Daniels forcefully denied — and asked if she wanted the world to believe she’d slept with a future president once Cohen’s payoff hit the headlines in 2018 and she spoke out. 

“No, nobody would ever want to publicly say that,” Daniels said. “I wanted to defend myself.”

In another line of questioning, Necheles asked Daniels about her “experience making up phony sex stories” after directing more than 150 adult films.

“The sex in the films is very real, just like what happened to me in that room,” Daniels said. Some jurors were seen laughing when she then said: “If this story wasn’t true, I would have written it to be a lot better.”

On redirect with prosecutor Susan Hoffinger, Daniels spoke of having to move with her daughter out of fear for their safety after becoming a household name. She said she wanted to go public as “something won’t happen to you if everyone is looking at you.”

Former President Donald Trump speaks to the press before his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs, at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City, on May 9, 2024. (ANGELA WEISS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Donald Trump in court, May 9, 2024. (ANGELA WEISS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

New evidence 

The presumptive Republican nominee in this year’s election, 77, has alleging he covered up a $130,000 reimbursement to fixer Cohen for paying Daniels into silence 11 days before the 2016 election, logging it in the books as payment for legal fees. Prosecutors allege the payoff was hastily arranged as the Trump campaign sought to contain the fallout of the damning “Access Hollywood” tape. 

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office says the reimbursement to unlawfully promote Trump’s candidacy by suppressing negative information from voters that was devised between Trump, Cohen, and former tabloid publisher David Pecker at Trump Tower. 

Trump’s defense has claimed that Cohen went rogue in paying off Daniels and that he believed he’d paid him for legitimate legal services. 

In potentially crucial testimony, Rebecca Manochio, the longtime finance chief Allen Weisselberg, said that unlike the “stacks” of checks sent straight to Trump’s desk at the White House, she was directed in 2017 to send certain ones to the D.C. home of his personal bodyguard Schiller, and later to the home of his top aide John McEntee. 

Dates on some of the checks displayed aligned with those the jury has seen that were issued to Cohen. Manochio said Trump didn’t always sign off on checks, sometimes sending them back with questions, bolstering the prosecution’s position that he stayed on top of every penny.

Prosecutors also elicited testimony through Manochio showing Trump admitted in a civil case in California that he reimbursed Cohen for the hush money. 

Outside court, Trump criticized the case as “a disgrace.”

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