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The Latest | Trump’s hush money trial set to resume with third day of witness testimony

NEW YORK — Donald Trump was expected to return to court Thursday morning as witness testimony in his hush money trial enters a third day.

The trial resumes at the same time that the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in Washington over whether he should be immune from prosecution for actions he took during his time as president.

At his trial in Manhattan, veteran tabloid publisher David Pecker took the stand earlier in the week, testifying about his longtime friendship with the former president and a pledge he made to be the “eyes and ears” of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Pecker, the National Enquirer’s former publisher, said the pledge culminated in an agreement to warn Trump’s personal lawyer about potentially damaging stories and help quash them. Pecker said the tabloid ultimately ran negative stories about Trump’s political opponents and even paid $30,000 for a doorman’s silence.

Pecker was expected to return to the stand Thursday.

The testimony was sought to bolster prosecutors’ premise that Trump sought to illegally influence the 2016 election through a “catch-and-kill” strategy to buy up and then spike negative stories. Key to that premise are so-called hush money payments that were paid to porn actor Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, along with the doorman.

Prosecutors say Trump obscured the true nature of those payments and falsely recorded them as legal expenses.

He has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.

The case is the first-ever criminal trial of a former U.S. president and the first of four prosecutions of Trump to reach a jury.


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Here’s the latest:

Donald Trump is accused of falsifying internal Trump Organization records as part of a scheme to bury damaging stories that he feared could hurt his 2016 campaign, particularly as Trump’s reputation was suffering at the time from comments he had made about women.

The allegations focus on payoffs to two women, porn actor Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, who said they had extramarital sexual encounters with Trump years earlier, as well as to a Trump Tower doorman who claimed to have a story about a child he alleged Trump had out of wedlock. Trump says none of these supposed sexual encounters occurred.

Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, paid Daniels $130,000 and arranged for the publisher of the National Enquirer supermarket tabloid to pay McDougal $150,000 in a journalistically dubious practice known as “catch-and-kill” in which a publication pays for exclusive rights to someone’s story with no intention of publishing it, either as a favor to a celebrity subject or to gain leverage over the person.

Prosecutors say Trump’s company reimbursed Cohen and paid him bonuses and extra payments, all of which were falsely logged in Trump Organization records as legal expenses. Cohen has separately pleaded guilty to violating federal campaign finance law in connection with the payments.

David Pecker, formerly the publisher of the National Enquirer, took the stand both Monday and Tuesday and testified about how his longtime friendship with the former president culminated in an agreement to warn Donald Trump’s personal lawyer about stories that could damage the White House hopeful’s 2016 campaign and help quash them.

Pecker told the court that the agreement followed an August 2015 meeting with Trump, Michael Cohen and Hope Hicks. He further testified that he told the National Enquirer bureau chiefs to be on the lookout for any stories involving Trump and said he wanted them to verify the stories before alerting Cohen.

“I told him that we are going to try to help the campaign and to do that I want to keep this as quiet as possible,” Pecker testified. “I did not want anyone else to know this agreement I had and what I wanted to do.”

Donald Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records — a charge punishable by up to four years in prison — though it’s not clear if the judge would seek to put him behind bars.

A conviction would not preclude Trump from becoming president again, but because it is a state case, he would not be able to pardon himself if found guilty. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Judge Juan M. Merchan has yet to rule on whether or not Donald Trump violated a gag order barring him from making public statements about witnesses in his hush money case.

Merchan held a hearing Tuesday on prosecutors’ earlier request that Trump be held in contempt of court and fined at least $3,000 for allegedly violating his gag order.

Prosecutors cited 10 posts on Trump’s social media account and campaign website that they said breached the order, which bars him from making public statements about witnesses in the case.

They called the posts a “deliberate flouting” of the court’s order.

In one post, from April 10, Trump described his former lawyer-turned-foe Michael Cohen and porn actor Stormy Daniels as “two sleaze bags who have, with their lies and misrepresentations, cost our Country dearly!”

Prosecutors are seeking a $1,000 fine — the maximum allowed by law — for each of the first three alleged violations.

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