Trump’s closest staffer takes the stand – and tears up after damaging testimony | Donald Trump

On the docket: Hope Hicks, Trump’s favorite staffer, takes the stand

Hope Hicks spent more time with former president Donald Trump than perhaps anyone else, from the launch of his political career through the end of his time in the White House.

On Friday, Hicks took the witness stand to testify against her former boss.

Hicks, a former campaign and White House spokeswoman who was constantly by Trump’s side and one of his most trusted advisers until he left office, appeared at his trial under subpoena, and was clearly unhappy about being compelled to testify. After being asked to speak more clearly into the microphone, she said she was “really nervous” to be there. Later, as Trump’s lawyer began cross-examining her, Hicks burst into tears, and Judge Juan Merchan granted a recess to allow her to compose herself. She was spotted clutching a tissue.

Hicks testified to prosecutors that Trump told her in 2018, when the story about adult film star Stormy Daniels’ alleged affair became public, that his fixer and attorney Michael Cohen had paid to keep the story quiet “from the kindness of his own heart” and didn’t tell anyone it had happened. She said she didn’t believe him, because that would be “out of character for Michael”, whom she knew as the “kind of person who seeks credit”, not “an especially charitable or selfless person”. That testimony undercuts Trump’s chances of distancing himself from Cohen’s hush-money payment. Prosecutors need to prove Trump falsified business records to repay Cohen for that payment.

At the end of prosecutors’ questions, Hicks told them that Trump’s attitude in 2018 when the Daniels news broke “was it was better to be dealing with it now and that it would have been bad to have that story come out before the election”. That helps prosecutors, who are seeking to show that Trump conspired to bury accusations of marital infidelities to help win the election – the underlying crime that lets them elevate their charges of falsifying business records against him to felonies.

She also testified about the panic that set in within the campaign in early October 2016 when the Access Hollywood recording emerged of Trump bragging about groping women. “It was a damaging development,” she said. “This was a crisis.”

But she then undercut prosecutors’ theory of the case – and helped her former boss with testimony that, while it made Trump look like a huge jerk, could actually help him avoid conviction. Trump’s lawyers argue that Trump was simply worried about how his wife, Melania, would feel about extramarital affars – and Hicks gave them some significant ammo on that front.

Hicks testified that on the day that the Wall Street Journal planned to publish the story that the National Enquirer had bought then buried about former Playboy model Karen McDougal’s claim of an extended affair with Trump, he was concerned about how Melania would react and tried to keep the news from her. “He wanted me to make sure that the newspapers were [not] delivered to their residence that morning,” Hicks said.

Melania Trump, who has not attended any of her husband’s criminal trial, was pregnant and delivered their son Barron during the period that McDougal claims the affair occurred. Trump’s son Eric is the only member of his immediate family to join the former president in the courtroom.

During cross-examination, Trump attorney Emil Bove took a gentle approach with Hicks, who seemed not to want to hurt her boss. Bove got Hicks to agree with his statement that Cohen sometimes “went rogue” without discussing things with the campaign.

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In other news

Judge Juan Merchan presides during former Trump’s criminal trial on 3 May 2024 in this courtroom sketch. Illustration: Jane Rosenberg/Reuters

Before the jury was brought in on Friday morning, Merchan corrected Trump’s false claim made yesterday outside the courtroom that the judge’s gag order against him prevents the former president from testifying in the trial (it just blocks him from talking about witnesses and the jury outside the courtroom). ​​“It came to my attention that there may be a misunderstanding [about] the order restricting extrajudicial statements and how it impacts Mr Trump’s right to testify at trial,” he said. “I want to stress, Mr Trump, that you have an absolute right to testify at trial … The order prohibiting extrajudicial statements does not prevent you from testifying in any way.”

After the trial day concluded, Merchan ruled with Trump’s attorneys and said that if the former president takes the stand to testify, prosecutors aren’t allowed to bring up the fact that Merchan had held him in contempt for violating his gag order, saying it would be “prejudicial”.

A California man has been charged with sending death threats to Fani Willis, the Fulton county district attorney who is overseeing the Georgia prosecution against Donald Trump over his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election in the state. The man, Marc Shultz, posted multiple comments last October in two separate YouTube live streams that threatened Willis with violence and murder, including one comment that she “will be killed like a dog”.

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