Stormy Daniels Offers Grim Look At Transactional Trump

Former US President Donald Trump walks to speak to the press at the end of the day of his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs, at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York Ci... Former US President Donald Trump walks to speak to the press at the end of the day of his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs, at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City, on May 7, 2024. Stormy Daniels, the porn actress at the heart of Trump's hush money trial, was due to testify against the ex-president May 7, US media said, in a blockbuster moment in the courtroom drama rocking the scandal-plagued Republican's attempt to recapture the White House. (Photo by Win McNamee / POOL / AFP) (Photo by WIN MCNAMEE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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NEW YORK — It was a word that was not much used during Stormy Daniels’ appearance on Tuesday: transactional.

And yet, a sense of transaction permeated the entire story told on the stand. Donald Trump appeared in Daniels’ telling as only movable by perceived benefit, to himself and, in exchange, to others, be it sex, an appearance on the TV show he hosted, or the transaction at the heart of the case: money in exchange for not damaging his presidential campaign.

Prosecutors sought to portray Daniels as fundamentally credible in her allegations and sympathetic in her background. She testified to having had sex with Donald Trump after feeling surprised and, at least to a degree, coerced. She then described selling the rights to her story in exchange for her silence in the run-up to the 2016 election.

For the DA’s office, what matters less are the details of Daniels’ claim about a sexual encounter with Trump and more how the former president reacted. He’s charged with falsifying business records in an effort to cover up the reimbursement he paid to keep Daniels quiet. Testimony on Tuesday featured Daniels recounting — in often excruciating detail — exactly what Trump was hoping to squash.

At times, her testimony made the former president visibly uncomfortable. He reddened at various moments, mouthed words at Daniels at one point, and frequently whispered with his attorneys throughout. Unlike other days where he closed his eyes and may have nodded off, he was one thing on Tuesday: attentive.

Daniels started her testimony with a gloomy retelling of her life and entry into the adult film industry. In some ways, it resembled Trump’s often-observed tendency to find people who fit the central casting molds: Daniels grew up dirt poor in the deep south, had a “neglectful” mother, saw an opportunity to make money quickly by stripping, and that soon turned into a porn career.

“I could still make more in two nights than I did shoveling manure eight hours a day,” she recalled.

Daniels testified to her encounter with Trump in terms that intentionally left it unclear whether she had consented. She pointedly said that she had never said yes, and recalled “shaking” after leaving his room. Keith Schiller, Trump’s bodyguard, was standing outside the door the entire time, she said.

But as she left, Daniels testified, Trump reminded her: he would try to get her on Celebrity Apprentice.

That whole section of testimony led to a flurry of objections from Trump’s attorneys, and to a very angry Judge Merchan. Daniels’ telling of her story with the level of detail she gave poses a mortal risk to his case: an allegation of sexual assault could prejudice the jury, tainting the panel with an explosive claim irrelevant to the document falsification charges at hand.

Todd Blanche, a Trump defense attorney, moved for a mistrial based on the testimony, saying that the testimony was elicited for “pure embarrassment” and to “inflame the jury.” Merchan scolded prosecutors for allowing things which would have been “better left unsaid” to appear before the jury, while pointing out to Trump’s attorneys that he was “surprised” at how little they had objected, noting that he had at one point, sua sponte, felt compelled to issue his own objection.

Throughout, Daniels had moments in which she meandered in her testimony and mocked Trump. Merchan admonished her several times to refine her answers to the question asked, and allowed the prosecutor to reiterate that concern during the lunch recess. But Daniels left a clear impression: that despite her asides and other issues, there were multiple episodes in her testimony which could be corroborated by other people. After their encounter, for example, Trump would call Daniels — she put him on speakerphone in front of others.

There is one incident at the heart of Daniels’ story which, so far, appears to lack corroboration. It goes to the heart of her claim that she acted in 2016 not out of greed, or a desire to blackmail, but rather out of fear: she says she was intimidated by Trump, and wanted to protect herself by signing the hush money agreement.

Daniels’ account of her own motives in shopping her story around in 2016 remains uneven. She alternately said under cross examination that she was not motivated by money, while seeming to concede it was a factor: “If I had the chance to get the story out and make some money, then yes,” she said at one point.

Her claim that she was primarily motivated by fear comes from one incident. She alleges that in 2011, a man approached her in a Las Vegas parking lot and threatened her, telling her to stay silent about Trump.

Trump defense attorney Susan Necheles focused on chipping away at that story on Tuesday. She peppered Daniels with questions about the incident, landing at least one admission from Daniels that she had been incorrect in saying in her memoir that she went to an exercise class after receiving the threat.

Elsewhere, Necheles tried to paint Daniels as motivated by greed and hatred for Trump.

“You hate President Trump?” Necheles asked.

“Yes!” Daniels replied.

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