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‘Standard Operating Procedure’ Sure Seems Criminally Sleazy

Anna Bower, Benjamin Wittes
Sunday, April 28, 2024, 1:04 PM
Wherein David Pecker finishes his marathon testimony.
New York State Supreme Court, Criminal Term, at 100 Centre Street on April 26, 2024. (Photo credit: Anna Bower)

Published by The Lawfare Institute
in Cooperation With

Previously on Trump New York Trial Dispatch: "'Catch It and Kill It': Opening Statements, Pecker Testimony, and a Contempt Testimony"

Day 3: April 25, 2024

A murmur travels down a row of press seated in the gallery, and furious typing ensues.

This is the sound of the New York courts press corps finding out that Harvey Weinstein's conviction has been overturned.

The room is large, which means it can be hard to see if you're seated in the back.

This explains why one reporter has brought his grandmother's opera glasses today. He also has a pair of birding binoculars, as a backup. These are both great for seeing exhibits, displayed on the screens at some distance in front of us. They are good for looking at witness and juror faces and at the back of Trump’s head, too—if that’s your thing.

They are not so great for seeing rumors, though.

There’s another distraction from another courtroom today, beyond the Weinstein decision. Two hundred thirty miles away, the Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments in Trump’s claim of presidential immunity. A great many reporters are keeping one eye on that case, which seems to be making the proceedings at hand more important by the minute.

As one wag says at one point, “The Supreme Court is making clear that this is the only game in town.”

At 9:29 a.m., Trump enters courtroom 1530 and takes a seat at the defense table. He's joined by his attorneys, Todd Blanche, Emil Bove, and Susan Necheles. The obligatory press photography pool files in to take Trump's photo.

Now Justice Juan Merchan sweeps into court, resplendent in his robes, gray hair catching the glare from the fluorescent lights above, judicial authority radiating from his very being.

It is Day 3 of the first trial of a former American president: Pecker Day.

When we left court on Tuesday afternoon, David Pecker—the former tabloid publisher—was on the stand. His testimony will resume today. It’s going to be all Pecker, all day.

The prosecution will wrap up its direct examination of the former tabloid publishing executive, and the defense will begin its cross-examination.

The lawyers enter their appearances.

But we begin with a preliminary matter: the embedded hearsay issue from the previous session. Emil Bove, speaking for the defense, sounds conciliatory: “We received, your Honor, an email regarding the embedded hearsay issue that we raised during Tuesday's proceedings,” he says. He and the government have conferred, he says, and he thinks the parties are basically on the same page. There are still some objections, he says, and he’s prepared to discuss them whenever.

The issue has to do with the documents prosecutors want to admit as evidence. But the defense says those documents include "embedded hearsay" (or hearsay-within-hearsay). If that sounds confusing, that's because it is. And Justice Merchan doesn’t want to deal with it just yet. He says, in essence, that he'll deal with this later, when the issue arises. The judge wants to get started with Pecker's testimony. 

But the prosecution has a preliminary matter too: More alleged gag order violations. “We are asking the Court to sign this Order to Show Cause to hold the defendant in contempt of this Court's April 1st order ... for [committing] four violations in the last three days,” says prosecutor Christopher Conroy.

The first was on April 22 “right outside the door to this courtroom in one of the defendant's press—whatever they are—conferences that he holds on his way in and out of court in the area that's set up for that purpose outside of the door.” Trump talked about Michael Cohen and the jury in those comments. In a television interview the following day, he talked about both Cohen and Pecker, both witnesses. And only just this morning, Conroy notes, Trump talked to the press about Pecker. He’s been “very nice” so far, Trump said.

“In about five minutes or less, David Pecker's going to walk into this room to continue testifying. This is a message to Pecker: Be nice,” Conroy declares. "It's a message to others: I have a platform, and I will talk about you and I can say things like this, or things like what I said about Cohen."

In about five minutes or less, Pecker does, indeed, walk through into this room and continue testifying.

*        *        *

He is wearing a red tie today. We're picking up where we left off on Tuesday—with the "catch-and-kill" scheme to prevent the publication of Karen McDougal's story. McDougal is a former Playboy Playmate who was shopping a story about her alleged affair with Trump in 2016. 

Pecker describes a three-way call he had with Cohen and National Enquirer Editor in Chief Dylan Howard, in which the three discussed acquiring the rights to McDougal’s story.

Howard was out in California meeting with McDougal and her representative, Keith Davidson. He concluded that, as Pecker describes the matter, she was a 12 out of 10 (titters from the press corps), her story was probably true, and that she had no corroboration for it. He had offered her $10,000 for the story, but she and Davidson had rejected that. Cohen immediately denied the story was true but suggested that Pecker and Howard should try to buy it anyway to prevent her from selling it elsewhere. There was indication of other interest in the story. Davidson had claimed that a Mexican group was looking to buy the story for $8 million, and ABC was reportedly in on the action, too, though both of these claims seem shady.

Sometime later, in the third week of June, Pecker testifies that he got a call from Trump. He was at an investor’s meeting in New Jersey at the time. “I was making a presentation and an update on our business, and the assistant in the office came into the conference room and said: There is a call for you from Donald Trump. And I left and took the call.”

When Pecker got on the phone, he testifies, Trump said, “I spoke to Michael [Cohen]. Karen is a nice girl.” Trump wanted to know: “Is it true that a Mexican group is looking to buy the story for 8 million dollars?” 

Pecker said he didn’t think there was a “Mexican group” who was going to buy the story but he nonetheless told Trump, "I think you should buy the story and take it off the market."

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass asks Pecker why he thought the story about Karen McDougal should be taken off the market. Pecker says he believed the story was true and would be embarrassing to Trump and his campaign.

Trump told Pecker that he doesn’t buy stories because that always ends up getting out. But he said he would speak with Cohen and call Pecker back.

That day or the next day, Cohen called Pecker and said, “You should go ahead and buy this story.” Trump doesn’t buy stories, but he apparently loves having other people buy them for him.

Pecker testifies that he told Cohen he would have Howard negotiate the deal. But there was a question. “Who is going to pay for it?” he asked Cohen. Cohen said “Don’t worry, I’m your friend. The Boss will take care of it.” 

Pecker says he took that to mean he would be reimbursed by Trump or the Trump Organization. He says he knew Cohen didn’t have the authority to spend Trump’s money. But he nonetheless instructed Howard to negotiate the deal. He received frequent updates from Howard, who ultimately related the following terms to him. Testifies Pecker:

To purchase the lifetime rights from Karen McDougal was going to cost $150,000. Plus Karen wanted to restart her career. She wanted to write for the celebrity magazines. She wanted to be on the cover of some of the health and [fitness magazines]. She had a major problem when her breast implants were removed and she wanted to write some articles about that in Shape and in some of the other magazines. And she also wanted to launch a clothing line, a fitness clothing line, as well as a beauty product company—beauty products. And she wanted to ... be an anchor for the red carpet events with Radar Magazine.

Pecker spoke with Cohen daily while the negotiations were ongoing, he says, to update him on the progress. When they spoke, Pecker says, Cohen seemed “agitated.”

“Why is this taking so long?” Why haven’t we reached an agreement? Cohen would ask Pecker.

Once Howard negotiated the price of $150,000 from McDougal's camp for the story, the issue of who was going to pay the bill arose again. Cohen said that Pecker should pay for it, but Pecker was hesitant:

I said: “Michael”—I said—“why would I pay? I just paid $30,000 for the doorman story.” I said: "Now you're asking me to pay $150,000 for the Karen story, plus all of these other additional items that she wants to do. I don't have a problem in doing everything else that she requested about writing for the magazines, to be on the cover of the books—of the fitness titles. That's not an issue. That I don't have a problem with. The $150,000, who is going to reimburse me for this?"

So he said, again: "Don't worry about it. I'm your friend. The Boss will take care of it."

Pecker testifies that the contract was signed the first week of August 2016, but that he had concerns about the legality of AMI’s paying to kill a story involving a political candidate.

He traces these concerns back to the early 2000s, when he had a similar catch-and-kill agreement with Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was in the middle of his shift from bodybuilder and actor to running for governor of California. Pecker had acquired a large number of sexual harassment stories on behalf of the would-be-Governator, and it ultimately blew up in his face. That experience caused him to be "sensitive" about legal issues related to buying stories.

So as a result of what happened with Schwarzenegger, Pecker wanted to be comfortable with the agreement they were going to prepare for McDougal, particularly with respect to the potential campaign contribution legalities. 

All of which is why AMI consulted with an election law attorney before the McDougal agreement was finalized, Pecker explains. 

But as far as Pecker knows, the election law attorney only reviewed the plain text of McDougal’s contract, which didn’t mention anything about Pecker’s arrangement with Trump and Cohen or his expectation that he would be reimbursed for buying McDougal’s story.

After the election law attorney reviewed the contract, Pecker called Cohen to tell him that the deal with McDougal had been finalized. He also informed him that AMI had consulted with a campaign attorney. McDougal’s contract, Pecker told Cohen at the time, is “bulletproof.”

Now the prosecution displays the text of the McDougal contract on the flat-screen monitors mounted in front of the jurors. The contract included the purchase of McDougal's “limited life rights,” meaning the rights to any life story of McDougal regarding “any relationship she has ever had with a then-married man.” The contract doesn’t specifically name Trump, but Pecker testifies that the contract’s reference to a “then-married” man referred to Trump. Critically, buying McDougal’s limited life rights meant that other publications could not publish McDougal’s Trump story, Pecker explains.

As per McDougal’s demand, the contract also included an agreement for her to write articles for Pecker's publications. 

Taken at face value, this presents a potential problem for the prosecution's theory of the case: If the McDougal contract was a part of a coordinated effort to help Trump’s political campaign, why would it include an agreement for McDougal to publish columns on aging and fitness in AMI’s magazines? The story seems at least a little bit more complicated than a simple hush money scheme.

Steinglass elicits testimony that provides an answer to this problem. Pecker says that he wanted the contract to stipulate that McDougal would perform services (in other words, write articles) for AMI, because he wanted it to look like the $150,000 agreement had "a basis for it." In actual fact, however, his primary purpose was to buy her silence on the Trump story.

Were the provisions of the contract that involved McDougal performing services for your publications put in there to disguise the true nature of the contract? Steinglass asks for the prosecution.

Yes, they were, Pecker replies.

Pecker says he never had any intention of printing McDougal’s story about Trump. His primary purpose in buying the story was to suppress information regarding a political candidate. “We didn't want the story to embarrass Mr. Trump or embarrass or hurt the campaign,” he says. And according to Pecker, AMI never would have entered into the contract with McDougal if not for Cohen’s promise that Trump would reimburse the company.

Pecker admits that he was aware the payment was subject to campaign finance laws. He knew, for example, that expenditures by corporations made for the purpose of influencing an election in coordination with or at the request of a political campaign are unlawful. And no, Pecker admits, neither he nor AMI reported the $150,000 payment to the Federal Election Commission. 

After AMI executed the contract and paid McDougal the money owed, Pecker says he spoke with Cohen about how Trump would reimburse AMI for the purchase of the story. “I asked Michael Cohen on a number of occasions how the company would be reimbursed,” Pecker says. Helping Trump out was always a pleasure, of course, but money is money.

In September 2016, Cohen told Pecker that Trump wanted to acquire McDougal’s lifetime rights from AMI. Cohen told Pecker that he should sign McDougal’s contract over to him—meaning Cohen—and that the company would be “reimbursed.” Cohen added that Trump also wanted “all of the content that the National Enquirer had or developed and retained on Mr. Trump.” 

With respect to the latter request, Pecker told Cohen that the company’s old files on Trump were stored in boxes in Florida. According to Pecker, he assured Cohen that the boxes contained “nothing” but old news clippings, magazine articles, and old files. Sorry, kids, there is no AMI kompromat file on Trump—at least not according to Pecker’s sworn testimony.

Pecker’s assurances notwithstanding, Cohen called Pecker “constantly” that September to request that Pecker send the boxes from Florida. At one point, Pecker asked Cohen why Trump wanted the boxes so badly. Cohen replied: “The Boss said that if I got hit by a bus, and/or if the company was sold, he did not want for someone else to potentially publish those stories.”

Readers who are familiar with Trump’s separate criminal case for unlawful retention of national defense information in the Southern District of Florida are left to wonder: What is it with this guy and boxes in Florida?

As for Cohen’s request that Pecker sign McDougal’s life rights over to him, Pecker agreed to do so. He saw it, he testifies, as a way to “recoup” the money that AMI had paid out to buy the story on behalf of Donald Trump. But Pecker didn’t insist on reimbursement for the entire $150,000 sum AMI paid to McDougal. Because McDougal would be writing for AMI magazines under her agreement, Pecker asked Cohen for a $125,000 payment in exchange for her life rights. (Pecker considered McDougal's writing services to be worth about $25,000.)

By the end of September, they had an agreement in place. Cohen told Pecker that he had established a shell company, called Resolution Consultants LLC, to pay the $125,000 to AMI in exchange for McDougal’s life rights. AMI, using a shell company of its own, invoiced Resolution Consultants LLC for the payment.

But the agreement was never executed, Pecker says. He explains that, prior to execution of the agreement, he spoke to AMI’s general counsel, Cameron Stracher. Based on that conversation, Pecker determined that he no longer wanted to be reimbursed for AMI's payment for the McDougal story.

In October, Pecker called Cohen and told him “the deal is off.” It is a bad idea and I want you to rip up the agreement, Pecker said to Cohen. The change of heart caused Cohen to become “very, very angry,” Pecker says. Cohen was upset and “screaming.” 

“The Boss is going to be very angry with you,” Cohen said.

*        *        * 

After a brief break, Steinglass shifts the focus of his direct examination to the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape, which nearly derailed Trump’s presidential campaign just one month before the 2016 election. 

Pecker says he spoke to Cohen following the tape’s publication by the Washington Post on Oct. 7, 2016. At the time, Pecker testifies, Cohen described the tape as "damaging" for the campaign. Cohen said that “the campaign was very concerned about what impact it would have,” according to Pecker.

A few days after the release of the "Access Hollywood" tape, Pecker was out to dinner with his wife when he received an urgent call from Howard, the National Enquirer’s editor in chief. Howard informed him that he had received a call from one of his best sources—Keith Davidson, the lawyer who previously represented McDougal in negotiating her deal with AMI. Davidson, Howard explained to Pecker over the phone, told him that an adult film actor named Stormy Daniels was shopping a story about a sexual relationship she had with Donald Trump. Howard told Pecker that AMI could acquire the story for $120,000, but only if they make a decision “right now.”

Pecker told Howard that AMI couldn't pay Daniels the requested sum. "I don't want the National Enquirer to be associated with a porn star," Pecker says he told Howard that night—reflecting a Puritanical streak he shows nowhere else in his testimony.

What’s more, AMI’s experience with the Dino Sajudin and McDougal payments also left him hesitant to do anything like that again. A juror would be forgiven for thinking the money—not the stain on the good name of the National Enquirer of association with the adult entertainment industry—might be the real reason for his hesitation.

“I said, we already paid $30,000 to the doorman, we paid $150,000 to Karen McDougal, and I am not a bank.  I am not paying out any further disbursements among us,” Pecker testifies.

Pecker told Howard that he didn’t want AMI to have anything to do with the Daniels matter. Call Michael Cohen, he instructed Howard. “Ok, they need to handle it,” Howard wrote in a text message to Pecker later that night. “They” meant Cohen and Trump, according to Pecker, not AMI.

Pecker later spoke to Michael Cohen about the Daniels matter. Cohen asked AMI to pay for the story, Pecker says. But Pecker refused. Pecker repeated the explanation he gave Howard: “I am not going to be involved with a porn star,” he said. And after paying for the Sajudin and McDougal stories, we’re not paying anymore, he told Cohen.

Cohen was upset. “He said that The Boss would be furious at me and that I should go forward with purchasing it.” But Pecker stood firm. Money is money, after all.

Pecker next heard about the Daniels matter in late October, he testifies, when Howard told Pecker that Daniels’s lawyer had reached a deal with Cohen for the purchase of the story. The problem was that Cohen had twice failed to pay the agreed sum, Howard said. Howard was frustrated by this, Pecker explains, because Daniels’s lawyer, Davidson, had been a good source of information for the National Enquirer. And Howard believed that Cohen’s non-payment made him look bad, according to Pecker.

Pecker says he was upset with Howard for involving himself in the Daniels deal, which he had explicitly instructed him not to do. But he offered to call Cohen anyway. During that phone call, Pecker says, Cohen again asked AMI to pay Daniels for the story, and Pecker again declined. 

Meanwhile, a few days before the Nov. 8, 2016, election, the Wall Street Journal published a story about the deal with McDougal. One day after the article came out, on Nov. 5, Pecker spoke to Trump on the phone. “Donald Trump was very upset, saying, how could this happen, I thought you had this under control,” Pecker testifies. Trump thought Pecker or someone at AMI had leaked the story.

Though Pecker assured Trump that there was “no way on earth” he or anyone at AMI leaked the story, he says he got the sense that Trump didn't believe him. Trump was very "agitated" and the call ended abruptly, Pecker says.

Pecker explains that the publication of the Wall Street Journal article also precipitated a phone call from an attorney representing McDougal. In light of the Wall Street Journal story, Pecker explains, McDougal asked AMI to amend the confidentiality agreement in her contract so that she could speak to the press.

In response, Pecker called Cohen to see what he thought about McDougal’s request to amend the agreement. Cohen "said it was a very bad idea, that The Boss would be very angry," according to Pecker.

But Pecker didn't take Cohen's advice. He agreed to amend the confidentiality agreement with McDougal. The agreement was amended on Dec. 7, 2016. Trump, at that point, had already been elected president, Pecker acknowledges. 

Around the time that AMI amended the McDougal contract, Pecker met with Cohen at Trump Tower. Cohen was still pestering him about the boxes Trump wanted from the National Enquirer’s offices in Florida, Pecker says. Pecker told Cohen not to worry about the boxes. They didn't contain anything “damaging” about Trump, according to Pecker.

During this meeting, as the men went back and forth over the boxes, Pecker says, Cohen mentioned that he hadn’t been “reimbursed for the money owed to him on the Stormy Daniels payment.” Pecker says this was the first time he learned that Cohen had paid Stormy Daniels out of his own funds. Pecker understood Cohen to be complaining that he had not been repaid by Trump, he says. 

Cohen also told Pecker that bonuses for the Trump Organization would be paid at Christmas. He asked if Pecker could put in a good word for him with “The Boss.” 

Pecker had an opportunity to do so shortly thereafter, when Trump showed up unannounced. Cohen told Trump that Pecker was there to discuss the National Enquirer files, referring to the Florida boxes. “We have nothing to be concerned about,” Pecker recalls Cohen saying to Trump about the materials in the boxes.

Leaving Cohen behind, Pecker then walked with Trump back to his office. There, Pecker recalls, he told Trump that Cohen was concerned about his bonus this year. He has been working very hard, Pecker said of Cohen.

“I believe he would throw himself in front of a bus for you,“ Pecker says he told Trump.

“I don’t know what you're talking about,” Trump replied. “Michael Cohen has multiple apartments in my buildings,” he apparently said. According to Pecker, Trump claimed that Cohen had “about 12 apartments in my buildings” and that he “owns 50 taxi medallions, which are worth a million-dollars apiece.” Trump told Pecker, “don’t worry about it, I’ll take care of it.”

*        *        * 

Next, Steinglass directs Pecker to recall a different meeting that occurred at Trump Tower, this time on Jan. 6, 2017. After Trump was president-elect, Pecker says he received a call summoning him to Trump Tower. As Pecker tells it, he arrived in Trump’s office as Trump was wrapping up a meeting with several of his top officials, including Sean Spicer, James Comey, Mike Pompeo, and Reince Priebus.

“Here’s David Pecker,” Trump said as he introduced the tabloid publisher to the nation’s top law enforcement and intelligence community officials. "He’s the owner and publisher of the National Enquirer, and he probably knows more than anyone in this room,” Pecker recalls Trump saying.

No one laughed, Pecker adds. 

Once Pecker and Trump were alone, Trump asked, “How’s our girl doing”—a reference to McDougal. 

“She’s quiet, easy,” Pecker told him. “Things are going fine.” 

According to Pecker, Trump replied, “I want to thank you” for “handling” the McDougal situation and “the doorman situation.”

Did he say why he was so appreciative? Steinglass asks.

“He said the stories could be very embarrassing,” Pecker replies.

Steinglass follows up: What do you understand that to mean?

“I felt that it was going to be very embarrassing to him, his family, and the campaign,” Pecker explains.

Did he ever say anything that made you think his concern was for his family, rather than his campaign? Steinglass queries. “I thought it was for the campaign,” Pecker replies. The reason, Pecker explains, is that concerns about Trump’s family never arose during his conversations with Cohen about the Sajudin and McDougal stories. “So I made the assumption it was the—the concern was the campaign,” Pecker says. 

In fact, Pecker continues, there seemed to be a time when Trump’s motivation for quashing negative stories shifted from concerns about his family to concerns about the campaign.

Pecker then recounts how, before Trump ran for election, his concern when a negative story was coming out focused on what Melania or Ivanka or other family members might think. But after Trump announced his candidacy, Pecker continues, he never mentioned anything about how Melania or Ivanka or his family might react. With the doorman story, for example, Pecker says that when he discussed the story with Trump in his office, his focus was on the “impact to the campaign or election.” And that was true about his conversations with Trump regarding the McDougal story, too, Pecker testifies.

We break for lunch. 

*        *        *

When we return, there’s a new face seated in the row of the gallery reserved for Trump’s family and closest allies. It’s Boris Epshteyn, a Trump ally who was indicted yesterday in Arizona on charges related to the 2020 election.

Members of Trump’s family, meanwhile, have yet to make an appearance in court—suggesting that maybe they agree with Pecker that Trump’s concern in these transactions was not first and foremost for them. 

Now Pecker is back on the witness stand. Steinglass, for the prosecution, trots to the lectern to resume his direct examination.

Pecker picks back up with a White House dinner he and Howard attended in July 2017.   

During that visit to the White House, Pecker recalls, Trump walked Pecker to the dining area following a photo op in the Oval Office. During that walk, Trump asked Pecker, “How is Karen doing?” It was a reference, Pecker says, to McDougal. Pecker repeated a version of what he told Trump during their meeting several months earlier: Everything is going good, she’s quiet.

Now Pecker explains that he became worried about the whole matter after he received a letter from the Federal Election Commission in March 2018. He called Cohen “immediately” after receiving the letter, he says. But Cohen dismissed Pecker’s concerns

"Why are you worried?" Cohen asked. "Jeff Sessions is the AG and Donald Trump has him in his pocket," he said.

But Pecker, as it turns out, had good reason to be concerned. A 2021 ruling by the FEC would later find that AMI “knowingly and willfully violated 52 U.S.C. §§ 30118(a) by making and consenting to prohibited corporate in-kind contributions with regard to payments related to Karen McDougal.” Though that finding was a regulatory matter, rather than a criminal allegation of a violation of campaign finance law, AMI paid $187,000 in fines as a part of a conciliation agreement with the FEC to make the issue go away.

On the criminal side, several months after Pecker’s 2018 call with Cohen, AMI reached a non-prosecution agreement with the Justice Department, in which the company admitted to knowingly making an unlawful contribution.

Now Steinglass directs Pecker to an exhibit that displays that non-prosecution agreement. Steinglass instructs Pecker to read several passages from the agreement aloud, and then he asks Pecker to explain his “understanding” of the agreement.

“We admitted to a campaign violation,” Pecker replies.

Justice Merchan, for his part, instructs the jurors that they are not to consider the facts in the agreement as substantive evidence of Trump's culpability. The non-prosecution agreement, he explains to the jurors, is merely “permitted to assist you, the jury, in assessing David Pecker's credibility and to help provide context for some of those surrounding events.”

Steinglass concludes his direct examination with a question about Pecker’s feelings toward Trump. It’s an important question, in part because the defense has indicated that it intends to attack the credibility of key witnesses—Michael Cohen, Stormy Daniels—by portraying them as relentlessly hostile to Trump.

“Do you have any bad feelings or ill will toward the defendant?” Steinglass asks. 

“Not at all. To the contrary,” Pecker replies, “I felt that Donald Trump was my mentor. ... He helped me throughout my career.” 

Pecker speaks about Trump with genuine warmth. He launches into a story that begins in 2001, when the offices for all of AMI’s magazines were consolidated in a single building in Boca Raton, Florida. That October, shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks, the magazine offices received multiple letters filled with anthrax. One of the magazine editors inhaled anthrax and ended up dying, he says. The FBI quarantined the building. All of the content they had stored inside—stories, photos, kompromat files on future political candidates—were quarantined, too.

I was in a very, very difficult place, Pecker recalls of that time. And “[t]he first person who called me [to ask] if I needed help was Donald Trump,” he says.

“And he was very helpful,” Pecker says. “So I have no ill will at all,” he concludes. “Even though we haven’t spoken, I still consider him a friend.” 

On that note, Steinglass announces that he has concluded the prosecution’s direct examination. As he returns to his seat, Bove strides to the lectern to begin his cross-examination on behalf of Trump.

*        *        *

Bove begins by asking Pecker a series of questions about business practices in the tabloid magazine industry. You buy stories as a part of your standard business practice, right? And you’ve bought stories that aren’t about Trump? That kind of thing.

He’s trying to elicit testimony to support the defense theory of the case: that there’s nothing illegal about hush money payments; that there’s nothing unusual about a campaign coordinating with friendly media entities; and that what AMI did for Trump is not really different from its normal course of business. In the defense narrative, that's just “standard operating procedure.” 

Bove focuses his inquiries on Trump and Pecker’s long-standing and, as Pecker has described it, “mutually beneficial” relationship.

The first time you gave Trump a heads up about a potentially negative story was in 1998, right? Yes. So you’d been providing Trump with heads ups about negative stories for 17 years by the time the campaign rolled around? Yes.

Bove asks Pecker about other celebrities with whom he had a "mutually beneficial" relationship and for whom he has sought to publish positive stories or kill negative stories. Pecker admits that he has indeed engaged in similar relationships with other celebrities. Those relationships, he says, were also mutually beneficial.

As one example, Pecker says he helped suppress a negative story about the actor Mark Wahlberg. Wahlberg had “an argument” with his wife, according to Pecker. The story was “bubbling” and was going to come out, Pecker says.

Pecker also testifies that he helped suppress a negative story about Rahm Emmanuel at the request of Emmanuel's brother, Ari.

And he admits that on one occasion, he bought the rights to compromising photographs of Tiger Woods as a part of a plot to use the photos as “leverage” to convince Woods to appear on the cover of “Men’s Health.”  

It’s a compelling line of questioning. Whereas the prosecution had treated the deal with the Trump campaign as an exceptional conspiracy, Bove is trying to get Pecker to admit that it’s not very different from what he had been doing with Trump for nearly two decades—and what he does for others as well.

Moving on, Bove attempts to attack Pecker’s credibility by focusing on potential inconsistencies between his prior statements and his testimony at trial.

Pecker admits, for example, that during grand jury testimony he initially testified that the pivotal August 2015 Trump Tower meeting occurred during the first week of August. At trial this week, however, he testified that that meeting occurred in the middle of August.

This argument is less effective. On such discrepancies, convictions for former presidents will not hinge.

Bove moves on but to another point on which little seems to turn. He tries to get Pecker to concede that he omitted any mention of Hope Hicks’s presence at the August 2015 Trump Tower meeting during a 2018 interview with federal investigators.

This line of questioning elicits several rounds of objections and out-of-earshot sidebars at the bench. When the parties return from the bench following one particularly lengthy sidebar, Justice Merchan tells the jurors that we're going to break for the day. The jurors are dismissed. 

*        *        *

Once the jurors are out of the room, the parties discuss prosecutors' objection to Bove's line of questioning here regarding Pecker's previous statements about Hope Hicks's presence at the 2015 Trump Tower meeting.

Justice Merchan is evidently frustrated with Bove. Basically, he thinks Bove didn't properly refresh Pecker's recollection and that the testimony he elicited as a result might mislead the jurors. He says he'll try to cure potential misperceptions with a jury instruction before we begin tomorrow morning.

And with that, court is out for the day. 

Day 4: April 26, 2024

Another chilly morning. 

The press corps is ready to be done with Pecker, who is set to retake the stand for more cross-examination and for redirect examination for the prosecution. A second witness could be called to testify later today. It's not entirely clear whom prosecutors intend to call next. Among the possibilities: Rhona Graff, Trump's former executive assistant; Hicks; McDougal. This is good for dramatic tension.

Trump arrives in court for Day 4. His attire is something of a sartorial plot twist: He's wearing a blue tie today, not his usual red. Does it mean something?

Justice Juan Merchan sweeps into the room, resplendent in his robes and all that.

There are some preliminaries to deal with, the only important one of which is how Bove means to handle his interaction with the witness yesterday afternoon, which Steinglass calls “improper impeachment” regarding Hicks. Bove tells the judge he intends to apologize: “Just to clarify, my intentions for this morning on this issue are to begin by basically saying to Mr. Pecker: I apologize for any confusion about that, clarify a little bit about his relationship with Ms. Hicks, and move on. There's grand jury testimony on this issue for where a specific question was asked. I'll draw the witness's attention to that and go through it.” Bove promised he will lay a proper foundation for his inquiry.

Pecker comes in. He's wearing a gray suit. He's still sporting the walrus-style mustache. 

Bove begins with his Hicks apology and clarification. She was in and out of the meeting and did not participate in it, he clarifies. Pecker agrees.

You testified in federal grand jury proceedings, right? Yes.

And you were under oath? Yes. 

And you recall being asked if you met with Trump and Cohen at Trump Tower? This latter question elicits an objection, and Justice Merchan instructs Bove to refer to the specific part of the transcript to which he is referring.

Bove complies and directs Pecker to the transcript in front of him, which is presumably a copy of Pecker's 2018 federal grand jury testimony. During that testimony in August 2018, Bove asks, you did not make any statements about Hicks, right? Another objection, which Justice Merchan sustains.

This line of questioning is a bust, so Bove decides to move on from Hicks. He wants to talk about the substance of the August 2015 Trump Tower meeting, in which Pecker, Cohen, and Trump allegedly hatched the alleged scheme to influence the election using hush money payments and negative media stories about Trump's opponents. Under questioning from Bove, Pecker concedes that long before the meeting, he had decided to run negative stories about Bill and Hillary Clinton, so it was easy for him to promise Trump and Cohen that part of the deal—since it involved stuff he was going to do anyway. Bove links this back to his “mutually beneficial” and “standard operating procedures” lines from yesterday:

Q: So, it was easy for you to say during the August 2015 meeting that you would continue to do that; right?

A: Yes.

Q: That was no issue for you?

A: No.

. . .

Q: Running those stories were beneficial to AMI; correct?

A: Running the stories were beneficial to AMI. Correct.

Q: And doing what was good for AMI was standard operating procedure?

A: Yes. 

Bove turns now to some of the negative articles the National Enquirer ran about Trump’s Republican primary opponents. Under his questioning, Pecker acknowledges that many of these too were standard operating procedure he had his own reasons to want to run. Bove elicits from him that much of the material in these stories was recycled from other publishers, that doing it this way was “cost effective.” In many cases, Bove elicits, the National Enquirer was not using its network of sources but simply republishing negative information about Trump’s primary opponents published in outlets like the Guardian and Politico.

Bove now turns to the question of whether the August 2015 meeting was even a secret deal at all. While Pecker testified on Tuesday that it was his objective to keep the August 2015 meeting “highly, highly confidential,” didn’t the Wall Street Journal piece about the National Enquirer’s support for Trump, specifically referencing McDougal, come out before the election? Pecker concedes that it did.

Bove then walks him through the article, which says that the National Enquirer has supported Trump’s presidential bid by publishing negative stories about his opponents. So this was out there before the election, right? Yes.

Bove now clarifies that at the 2015 meeting, the concept of "catch-and-kill" was not discussed. Pecker concedes that is correct. And there was no discussion of a financial element to any of it, Bove asks? 

Q: And there was no discussion of a financial dimension to any agreement at that meeting; correct?

A: Yes. That's correct.

Bove moves to the next topic of his cross-examination: Dino Sajudin, the former Trump Tower doorman whom AMI paid $30,000. Under questioning from Bove, Pecker testifies that Trump never paid any money in connection with that agreement and neither did Cohen. He admits that the source agreement with Sajudin was a standard AMI one, and he admits that had the story turned out to be true, he would have felt the need to publish it.

If the story about Trump was true, he testifies, it would have been the biggest National Enquirer story ever. He would have had to run it, given his fiduciary commitments to the company. It would have made business sense, if true, to run it, he concedes, and he knew that as soon as he heard about the story.

He didn’t give Sajudin the money right away, however. Because AMI wanted to vet the story, and that took time. But sometime after this agreement, but before AMI paid him, Sajudin started to make threats about going elsewhere. And that’s, Bove asks, why you decided to give Sajudin $30,000? Yes. Because it would be too great a loss to AMI if the story was true? Yes.

Again, Bove is trying to show that AMI wasn’t in some secret deal with Trump to influence the election. It was just doing what it always does under standard operating procedure to make money for its investors.

Bove is making some headway here, and he turns to the key deal that AMI cut during the campaign: the one to write McDougal a big check.

Under questioning from Bove, Becker concedes that Trump did not pay him any money related to Karen McDougal and that neither did Cohen. Pecker also testifies that when he first learned about this story, he knew McDougal did not want to publish her story but, rather, wanted to restart her career. She saw this as an opportunity for AMI to help her do that.

Bove elicits that as a part of its agreement with McDougal, AMI ultimately published 65 stories in McDougal’s name. He gets Pecker to testify that when AMI signed this agreement, he believed it had a legitimate business purpose.

Again, Bove is attempting to show the jury that AMI and Pecker had their own business interests in these agreements—that they weren't executed just to benefit the campaign. And he's trying to suggest that these types of "hush money" agreements are just "standard operating procedure" in the tabloid magazine industry.

In combination with yesterday’s eliciting of AMI’s catch-and-kill work for other celebrities and its prior such work for Trump, Bove is doing a pretty good job casting doubt on the notion that AMI’s work with the Trump campaign was a conspiratorial deviation from Pecker’s normal course of business.

But having made these points, Bove’s interrogation now begins to falter. Instead of resting on this theme, he turns to trying to impeach Pecker’s credibility. And this doesn’t go nearly as well. 

There are lengthy exchanges about a company called iPayments, and you can add a Mark Cuban reference to your Trump trials bingo card, as Pecker acknowledges that he once agreed to send paparazzi to photograph a meeting between Mark Cuban and Michael Cohen. Cohen apparently thought that publication of the photos would impress Trump and "put pressure" on him to treat Cohen differently. It’s not clear from the press gallery—and very likely unclear from the jury box—what work any of this does to diminish Pecker’s testimony. But it takes a while. 

Bove now turns to the agreement between McDougal and AMI and elicits from Pecker the admission that AMI acquired real obligations as a result of that deal—that it wasn’t simply a disguise for a hush money payment. The articles with McDougal actually happened, Pecker admits. And McDougal was not primarily interested in the money but in restarting her career. And Pecker was concerned to make sure everything was clean from a legal point of view and he consulted with counsel on the matter.

Sounds like ordinary business, right? Well, sure, if your ordinary business is covering up what Bill Clinton’s staff used to call “bimbo eruptions” for presidential campaigns.

Bove now displays an exhibit of an invoice for the $125,000 payment Cohen agreed to pay as a reimbursement of sorts after AMI bought McDougal's life rights as part of the ill-fated scheme to make AMI whole for that payment. 

Using the invoice, Bove attempts to highlight potential inconsistencies in Pecker's statements. Do you remember testifying that you saw this document at the time it was prepared in 2016? Pecker says he does. But then Bove proffers a transcript of a meeting Pecker had in 2019 with state prosecutors.

Do you recall saying during that meeting that the first time you saw this invoice was in 2017, when you were going through document production for federal prosecutors? Pecker pauses for a moment before replying. The statement in 2019 is correct, he finally concedes. His testimony yesterday was in error on this point.

Bove has landed his punch, but it’s a comparatively weak one. He hasn’t shown that Pecker was lying or that he has a generally bad memory, after all. He has shown that he made a small error of no particular consequence.

Bove is now trying to show that Pecker’s handling of the Stormy Daniels matter—in which he refused to get involved—was also consistent with his business interests.

And now he’s once again trying to attack Pecker's credibility, this time focusing on his recollection of a Jan. 6, 2017, meeting with Trump and his national security briefers at Trump Tower. Yesterday, Pecker testified that Trump thanked him for Karen McDougal and "the doorman situation" at that meeting.

But Bove today exhibits an FBI report summarizing an interview between Pecker and federal law enforcement officials in 2018. In that FBI interview, Bove says, do you recall saying that “Trump did not express any gratitude to Pecker or AMI” during the Jan. 6, 2017, Trump Tower meeting?

Pecker is confused. These are the FBI's notes, right? he asks Bove. Bove confirms that it's the FBI's report of the meeting conducted with Pecker in 2018. Pecker pushes back: The FBI notes could be wrong. I am not responsible for this report, he says. I know what I said yesterday, I know what the truth is, I know what was said to me.

Pecker acknowledges that the FBI’s notes are inconsistent with what he testified to yesterday, but he stands by his testimony. 

It’s not a good moment for Bove.

With that, Justice Merchan announces that we're ready for our morning break. Bove, for his part, estimates that he needs another hour to wrap up cross-examination. 

*        *        *

When we reconvene, Bove is back to his cross-examination—and it’s dragging. He is trying to get Pecker to acknowledge that there was no campaign finance violation. He begins by focusing on the non-prosecution agreement AMI reached with federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York in 2018.

If AMI had been indicted, that would have affected the value of its assets, Bove elicits from the witness. But AMI wasn’t charged. And there are no charges in this agreement, right? Pecker concedes the point.

You testified yesterday that you admitted to a campaign violation? Yes. But there is no admission of a violation in this agreement? Yes. That’s why it’s called a non-prosecution agreement? Yes. So no admission of any kind of campaign violation in this agreement, right? Right.

Frankly, it’s a dumb point, one designed to confuse the jury.

And the cross-examination doesn’t improve from there. Bove turns now to the 2018 letter Pecker received from the FEC and tries a similar line. Yesterday, Pecker said that he spoke to Cohen about the letter. Cohen told Pecker not to worry about it because "Jeff Sessions is the attorney general and Trump has him in his pocket."

You knew that wasn’t right? Bove asks, referring to the idea that Sessions was in Trump's "pocket." Yes, Pecker says, that’s why I said to Cohen that I was worried. Because Trump didn't have Sessions in his "pocket"? Yes. Cohen is prone to exaggeration? Yes.

Your attorneys argued to the FEC that you had not committed a campaign finance violation? Yes. And you believed in 2021 that that was true, yes? Yes. And that’s why you authorized your lawyers to make that argument to a federal agency? Yes.

Now we're back to the beautiful mind paper boxes (National Enquirer's version). Bove reminds Pecker that he testified that Cohen had asked him about obtaining “boxes” of material about Trump from the National Enquirer.

And there was some concern from Michael Cohen about what would happen with these boxes if you left AMI? Yes. But you weren’t suggesting that there was some trove of damaging information about Trump in the National Enquirer boxes? Right. And there was nothing damaging in them? Yes, Pecker confirms, there was nothing.

Bove is done with his cross-examination.

*        *        * 

Steinglass pops up on behalf of the prosecution for his redirect. 

This redirect is the highlight of the day. Bove has landed some blows, particularly as to the standard operating procedure aspect of the case, and Steinglass’s job now is to reestablish that what AMI did for Trump was not standard but exceptional. 

He does this in a rapid-fire series of questions, jumping from subject to subject in a fashion that seems chaotic but is quite effective.

His first project is to make clear that the AMI agreement with McDougal was anything but standard for AMI. And he first wants to shred the notion that Pecker’s consultation with counsel on the matter suggests that this was normal business.

Prior to the McDougal agreement, Steinglass asks, you spoke to outside counsel? Yes. Did you tell outside counsel about the Trump Tower meeting? No. Did you tell them that Cohen had promised to reimburse you? No.

Steinglass refreshes Pecker’s recollection as to how much time AMI was billed for review of the McDougal contract. It was half an hour, Pecker confirms. 

In other words, the review by counsel was a review of the document alone, not the circumstances that surrounded them. The lawyers knew none of the complexity. And they took a half an hour to review what seemed like a routine document.

What was the context omitted from the plain text of the contract? The contract itself doesn’t mention anything about the agreement Pecker reached with Cohen and Trump at Trump Tower in 2015, for example, Pecker confirms.

You testified that after you entered the contract with McDougal, you agreed to sell Cohen her life rights? Yes. The only reason you entered the McDougal contract in the first place is because Cohen agreed to reimburse you? Right.

And you had a written agreement to sell McDougal’s life rights to Cohen? Yes. And you had another conversation with legal counsel before Cohen paid you $125,000 pursuant to that agreement? Yes, Pecker says. And after that conversation, he called Cohen and told him to rip up the agreement.

Speaking of Michael Cohen, he told you he didn't work for the campaign; he said he worked for the Trump Organization? Yes. But you were aware that Cohen did campaign-related work? Yes. He invited you to Trump's candidacy announcement? Yes.

Steinglass comes to the meat of the issue. You testified that there were "hundreds of thousands" of non-disclosure agreements executed by your tabloid magazines? Yes. And how many of those NDAs involved coordination with a campaign to help a presidential candidate? It's the only one, Pecker replies. 

Prior to your August 2015 meeting at Trump Tower, did you ever preview positive stories you planned to run about a political candidate with his campaign? No. Prior to 2015 meeting, did you ever agree to actively seek out damaging stories and report them to Trump? No. 

What was your understanding about the aspect of the agreement reached that involved money? I would use the company's sources to look for damaging information about Trump, then inform Cohen about it. And Cohen or someone else would buy them so they wouldn't get published.

Before we break for lunch, Steinglass asks Pecker about his decision not to publish the McDougal story about her alleged affair with Trump. That story would have helped your bottom line, but you killed the story to help candidate Donald Trump? That’s correct, Pecker says. 

It was not standard operating procedure, Steinglass seems to be saying. 

We break for lunch.

*        *        *

We're back, and Steinglass has more on redirect. Why did you reach out to Cohen when you learned that Stormy Daniels was shopping a story about sexual infidelity by Trump? It went back to our agreement in 2015 that I would tip off Cohen about negative stories, Pecker says.

If Cohen heard it from someone else, he would have gone "ballistic," Pecker continues. And you didn't want to have anything to do with paying for the story? Yes. But you were still fulfilling your obligation to bring Cohen negative stories about Trump? Correct. 

Steinglass now asks Pecker a series of questions about the interview he sat for with the FBI in 2018. This responds to Bove’s efforts on cross to Pecker's credibility by suggesting that his statements to the FBI were inconsistent with his testimony at trial yesterday. That line of questioning didn’t go well for Bove, and Steinglass wants to twist the knife now.

You didn't take notes during those interviews? No, I did not. It was the FBI that took those notes. Steinglass gets him to read two other interview or grand jury interviews from that period in which he testified in a fashion consistent with his current testimony. After each one, he asks: And that was true then? Pecker affirms that it was. And that is true now? Pecker affirms it again. 

The problem lies in the FBI's interview report, not in Pecker's recollection, Steinglass is clearly saying. 

Bove is back up for a mercifully brief re-cross. McDougal didn’t want to publish her Trump story but to promote her image, he elicits again. She was a legitimate celebrity at that time in her own right, he suggests. Pecker looks dubious, and there’s a long pause, which prompts chuckles in the courtroom.

McDougal would not at that time be thought of as a legitimate celebrity, Pecker finally says. 


You know Trump cares about his family? Yes. (More chuckles in the courtroom.) 

And so you know that those stories coming out in 2016 was something that was stressful to him?

Justice Merchan sustains an objection, sustained. And with that—after four days of testimony—Pecker is done.

He climbs down from the witness stand. 

*        *        *

The People call their next witness—drumroll, please—Rhona Graff, Trump's former executive assistant and senior vice president of the Trump Organization.

Graff no longer works for the Trump Organization, but she was there for 34 years. She's appearing at her former boss's trial today under subpoena. She's joined by legal counsel, who are being paid for by the Trump Organization, she says. 

Graff sets out some of the responsibilities she performed as Trump's executive assistant. She maintained his calendar, contacts, and that sort of thing. 

She is here, it turns out, to get certain business documents into the record. Susan Hoffinger, on behalf of the district attorney’s office, asks her to review and identify certain email exhibits. Some of the emails involve Madeline Westerhout, one of Trump's assistants at the White House, and Graff.

Hoffinger also asks Graff to review exhibits that include the contact entries of Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, which were entered into the Trump Organization's Outlook computer system.

Graff says she has a vague recollection of seeing Stormy Daniels in the reception area of Trump Tower around 2015. At the time, Graff knew she was an adult film actress. It’s not clear what the significance of this testimony is supposed to be. 

Hoffinger displays exhibits showing calendar entries for Trump's schedule on Jan. 17, 2017. On that date, he was scheduled to have teleprompter practice and a photo shoot with the Washington Post in Trump Tower. The purpose of this is to show that Trump was at Trump Tower on Jan. 17, 2017. 

That's all from the prosecution. Now Susan Necheles, for the defense, is up. She asks Graff about her work at the Trump Organization. Graff seems to have fond memories of her time working there.

Graff says that Trump's office was right next to hers. And she says that she has a "vague" memory of Trump saying that Stormy Daniels is someone who might be an interesting addition to his reality TV show, "The Apprentice." It was "office chatter," she said.

Graff says that on the occasion she saw Stormy Daniels at Trump Tower, she "assumed" that Daniels was there to discuss being cast on "The Apprentice."

You saw Trump sign checks? Yes. And often he was multitasking when he did so? It depends, but it would happen, yes. This appears to be an effort to get her to admit that Trump didn’t pay much attention when signing checks—a point that could become important because he signed the check to Cohen that form the core of this case.

The only reason you're testifying today is because you worked at the Trump Organization? Yes. You have nothing personally to add to this? No, I don't.

And you don't want to be here today? No. And legal fees are expensive? Yes, though Graff does not pay them. Is the payment of your legal fees by the Trump Organization contingent on how you testify? No. And you're here to tell the truth? Yes. 

Graff is done. After a brief recess, the People call their third witness: a man named Gary Farro, who was a senior managing director at First Republic Bank. First Republic plays a role in the story because Cohen allegedly wired the hush money payment to Stormy Daniels using First Republic. 

Farro says that he left First Republic last year after the bank was purchased by another financial institution. He now works at another bank. Rebecca Mangold, for the prosecution, asks Farro a series of questions about First Republic's policies and practices. 

One of the types of transactions that requires additional review are transactions involving political candidates. The bank also wouldn't do business in the adult film industry, he testifies. 

Rebecca Mangold, on behalf of the prosecution, asks what a shell company is. It's an entity opened up to send out money and receive wires, but it doesn't have an actual business behind it, Farro says.

Farro says he knows Cohen. After a colleague left the bank in 2015, Cohen was assigned to Farro. Farro was told he was selected because of his knowledge and because of his ability to handle individuals who are a little "challenging."

Cohen had more than one account at First Republic, Farro says. His accounts related to his personal accounts and personal entities, not his work at the Trump Organization. Cohen was familiar with banking requirements and review processes, Farro says.

Farro is also here as a document witness.

Mangold displays a First Republic bank email dated Oct. 11, 2016. It's from Farro's assistant. "Michael Cohen just called for you, I let him know you were out of the office." He asked for you to give him a call, the email continues.

Two days later, Farro's assistant sent another email saying, "Please return Michael Cohen's call when you are available regarding an important matter." Farro called Cohen, who said he wanted to open a new LLC account. He said it was an account for real estate.

On Oct. 13, 2016, Farro sent an email to his team members instructing them that Cohen needed an account "immediately." It wasn't unusual for Cohen to say that something needed to be done immediately. Cohen wanted no address listed on the checks for the new account. 

The LLC Cohen wanted a new account for was called "Resolution Consultants," and Farro's understanding was that it was supposed to be for real estate purposes. The LLC was established in Delaware on Sept. 30, 2016.

Later on Oct. 13, one of Farro's team members sent Cohen an email with account paperwork attached, instructing him to complete the paperwork and return it to the bank.

Cohen filled out the paperwork. One of the documents, the bank asked whether the account was associated with political fundraising or a political action committee. Cohen checked "no" on the paperwork.

Farro says the bank did all the work to establish the account, but it never went live because Cohen didn't fund it. So the account was technically never opened.

Cohen initially didn't explain why he didn't fund the account. But he called later that month, on Oct. 26, to say he changed course and no longer wanted to open the Resolutions LLC account. 

Instead, he wanted to fund a new LLC, which was called Essential Consultants LLC. As with Resolutions LLC, Cohen indicated that the LLC was for real estate consulting purposes. On the bank forms, Cohen similarly marked "no" in response to the question about political fundraising/political action committees.

Mangold announces that she's at a natural stopping point. "We'll call it a week," Justice Merchan tells the jurors. Merchan gives them the usual instructions before they leave.

And so the first week of Trump’s trial comes to an end. “Way to end with a bang, huh?” one reporter quips as we exit the press room. The focus on bank documents during the afternoon session is a reminder that even trials involving former presidents can get a little boring.

Bottom line? Pecker has been a very useful and effective witness for the government. He has credibly established the entire outline of the story the prosecution needs to tell—save the key part about falsification of business records within the Trump Organization. The defense got him to admit that he had done some similarish things for other people, but they didn’t land much of a glove on his basic presentation of his story. This will relieve a lot of pressure on the ultra-credibility-compromised Cohen. While Bove made some headway in his argument that Pecker was doing business as usual for a sleazy tabloid company in its interactions with the rich and famous, the witness held up well. And the rehabilitation of the witness in redirect was powerful.

Read the next Trump New York Trial Dispatch, "Cornered by the 'Estrogen Mafia': Keith Davidson on the Stand"

Anna Bower is Lawfare’s Legal Fellow and Courts Correspondent. Anna holds a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Cambridge and a Juris Doctorate from Harvard Law School. She joined Lawfare as a recipient of Harvard’s Sumner M. Redstone Fellowship in Public Service. Prior to law school, Anna worked as a judicial assistant for a Superior Court judge in the Northeastern Judicial Circuit of Georgia. She also previously worked as a Fulbright Fellow at Anadolu University in Eskişehir, Turkey. A native of Georgia, Anna is based in Atlanta and Washington, D.C.
Benjamin Wittes is editor in chief of Lawfare and a Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. He is the author of several books.

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