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Takeaways from Day 6 of the Donald Trump criminal hush money trial


By Jeremy Herb, Lauren del Valle and Kara Scannell, CNN

New York (CNN) — Judge Juan Merchan appeared poised on Tuesday to sanction Donald Trump for violating the gag order in his criminal hush money case after peppering the former president’s lawyers with questions about why Trump’s social media posts were acceptable.

Tuesday began with a hearing on Trump’s 10 alleged violations of the gag order, and it ended with former American Media Inc. chief David Pecker talking about how he vetted allegations of an alleged affair between Trump and Playboy playmate Karen McDougal in 2016 while in constant communication with Trump’s then-fixer, Michael Cohen. (Trump has denied the affair.)

Even with an abbreviated day for the Passover holiday, the one-two punch of the gag order violations and the testimony about the “catch-and-kill” deals to bury negative stories about Trump during the 2016 election added up to a frustrating day in court for Trump, who fumed about the news coverage of the trial and the limitations of the judge’s gag order.

Pecker will return to the stand on Thursday after court is dark on Wednesday. He has spoken now about two of the three catch-and-kill deals – but not adult film star Stormy Daniels, which is likely coming on Thursday.

Here are takeaways from Tuesday’s day in court:

Gag order hearing goes badly for Trump

Merchan issued the gag order before the trial began, limiting Trump from publicly discussing witnesses, the jury or the district attorney’s staff. Merchan expanded the order, which Trump has appealed, to cover his own family after Trump attacked his daughter.

He has not yet ruled on the district attorney’s motion to sanction Trump for allegedly violating the gag order, but it wasn’t hard to tell the judge’s sentiments.

Merchan rejected the explanations that Trump attorney Todd Blanche offered for the offending posts, after Trump’s attorney tried to argue that posts about Stormy Daniels and Michael Cohen were political and not about the case.

When Blanche tried to argue that Trump’s response to a Cohen post about Michael Avenatti, Daniels’ former lawyer, was political because it discussed pardons, the judge grew frustrated.

“So the pardon is what makes it political?” Merchan asked Blanche.

“Of course,” Blanche responded.

“When your client is violating a gag order, I expect more than one word, Merchan said after Blanche argued that pardons were political in nature.

Merchan also pressed Blanche on Trump’s intentions, after Trump’s attorney argued that reposts of others on Truth Social were not necessarily subject to the gag order.

“It’s your client’s position that when he reposts he did not believe he was violating the gag order. I’d like to hear that. Or you just want me to accept it because you’re saying it?” Merchan asked Blanche shortly before the hearing ended.

Merchan did not say when he would rule. The district attorney is asking the judge to fine Trump $1,000 for each violation, and to remind him additional violations could result in imprisonment.

Judge says Trump lawyers are ‘losing all credibility’

Tensions continued to grow between Trump’s legal team and the trial judge during the gag order hearing.

Merchan repeatedly asked Blanche to clarify examples of when Trump was specifically responding to attacks from Cohen and Daniels on social media and grew visibly frustrated when Blanche failed to comply.

“You’ve presented nothing,” Merchan said to Blanche. “I’ve asked you eight or nine times [to] show me the exact post he was responding to. You’ve been unable to do that even once.”

“President Trump is being very careful to comply with your order,” Blanche said at one point.

“You’re losing all credibility with the court,” Merchan responded.

Last week, Merchan supported prosecutors when they refused to give Trump’s legal team notice of their witness list, saying he understood the sentiment given Trump’s social media attacks.

Last Thursday, assistant district attorney Josh Steinglass said he wouldn’t take the risk of subjecting trial witnesses to Trump’s social media wrath.

When Blanche claimed he could promise that Trump wouldn’t reveal or discuss the witnesses on deck to testify, Merchan shot back, “I don’t think you can make that representation.”

Pecker puts jury inside how AMI helped Trump in 2016 campaign

Pecker, who ran American Media Inc. during the 2016 election, testified for around two-and-a-half hours on Tuesday, walking jurors through how he worked with Michael Cohen on Trump’s behalf to squash unflattering stories during the 2016 election.

On Tuesday, Pecker testified about the “catch and kill” deals involving McDougal and Trump’s doorman. He said that he met with Trump and Cohen in 2015 where he agreed to be the “eyes and ears” of the campaign and look out for negative stories.

“At the meeting, Donald Trump and Michael, they asked me, what can I do, and what my magazines could do, to help the campaign,” Pecker testified. “I would run or publish positive stories about Mr. Trump and I would publish negative stories about his opponents.”

While ultimately Pecker wasn’t directly involved with the $130,000 payment to Daniels, his role is important to prosecutors’ case because he establishes there were a pattern of payments made to hide unflattering stories about Trump during the 2016 election.

“I think it was a mutual benefit. It would help his campaign and it would also help me,” Pecker said of the agreement.

Pecker places Michael Cohen deep in the conspiracy

Pecker placed Cohen in the heart of the alleged “catch and kill conspiracy” Tuesday. He testified that Cohen was the go-between for Trump fielding media stories from Pecker since 2007.

At the August 2015 Trump Tower meeting, Pecker said he would notify Cohen about negative stories.

“Anything that I hear in the marketplace – if I hear anything negative about yourself or if I hear anything about women selling stories, I would notify Michael Cohen as I did over the last several years,” Pecker said. “Then he would be able to have them killed in another magazine or have them not be published, or somebody would have to purchase them.”

During Trump’s campaign in 2015 and 2016, Pecker said Cohen would also pitch stories about Trump’s political opponents and offer feedback on behalf of “the boss,” as Cohen referred to Trump.

“Michael Cohen would call me and say, ‘We would like you to run negative article on a certain – let’s say for argument sake – on Ted Cruz,’” Pecker said. “Then he, Michael Cohen, would send me information about Ted Cruz or Ben Carson or Marco Rubio and that was the basis of our story and then we would embellish it from there.”

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Article Topic Follows: CNN - US Politics

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