© 2024 Central Florida Public Media. All Rights Reserved.
90.7 FM Orlando • 89.5 FM Ocala
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Jurors heard opening statements from both sides in Trump's hush money trial


There were opening statements today in Donald Trump's New York criminal trial for paying hush money to a porn star during the 2016 presidential campaign. It was election fraud, pure and simple, said the Manhattan district attorney. The defense asserted President Trump is innocent. President Trump did not commit any crimes. Testimony has now begun. NPR's Andrea Bernstein was in court today and joins us now. Hey, Andrea.


SUMMERS: So Andrea, I just want to start off with the election fraud statement. Tell us how the Manhattan district attorney arrived at that.

BERNSTEIN: So Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records, which is a felony in New York if it's done to cover up another crime, which does not have to be charged. In this case, the DA is alleging that Trump, Michael Cohen and another man, supermarket tabloid publisher David Pecker, agreed very early on in the campaign, in August of 2015, that they'd do three things. Pecker would keep his eyes out for negative information and pay cash if necessary to keep it buried. He'd print positive stories about Trump and negative ones about his opponents.

SUMMERS: OK, so the hush money payments were to carry it out?

BERNSTEIN: That is what the DA says. So for example, in September of 2016, a woman named Karen McDougal came forward with the story. She'd had a yearlong affair with Trump. And the Inquirer staff alerted Cohen, and Cohen went to Trump. And according to the DA, quote, "the evidence will show the defendant desperately did not want the information about Karen McDougal to become public because he was concerned about the effect on the election."

So a plan was formed for Pecker to pay McDougal and be reimbursed by Trump. But Trump didn't reimburse Pecker for paying McDougal, and Pecker was putting pressure on Cohen. So Cohen went and recorded Trump discussing in order to vouch for him with Pecker. That tape is going to be played at this trial. That's this tape, where Trump says, what do we got to pay for this one - 150? And Cohen says he's figured it out.


MICHAEL COHEN: So I'm all over that, and I spoke to Allen about it. When it comes time for the financing, which will be...

DONALD TRUMP: Listen. What financing?

COHEN: We'll have to pay.

TRUMP: So I'll pay cash.

COHEN: No, no, no, no, no. I got - no, no, no.

SUMMERS: So that was Karen McDougal, not Stormy Daniels. Tell us why the DA is talking about McDougal here.

BERNSTEIN: Because the DA said today after Pecker paid McDougal, when Stormy Daniels threatened to come forward, Cohen ended up having to pay her himself because Pecker wouldn't lay out the money a second time if he wasn't going to get paid back. I know it's confusing. The DA says phone records will show Cohen called Trump twice on October 26, 2016, to tell him he'd finalized the payments to Stormy Daniels. This is the point where Assistant DA Matthew Colangelo says this was not spin or communication strategy. This was a planned, coordinated, long-running conspiracy to help Donald Trump get elected through illegal payments to silence people. It was election fraud, pure and simple.

SUMMERS: Andrea, as we mentioned, you were there in court. Tell us. How did the jury look?

BERNSTEIN: Very attentive. This is not a complicated story about tax records. It's about porn stars and Playboy models. And the Manhattan DA, which has struggled to articulate its theory of the case, took a page from Trump's book by really repeating the idea that this is about election fraud, a conspiracy to affect the outcome. The jury's attention really didn't flag.

SUMMERS: You've been talking about Trump's political defense, but what did we learn about his legal defense today?

BERNSTEIN: Trump's lawyers said none of this was a crime. It's not illegal to try to affect the outcome of an election. That's what all campaigns do. They said maybe there's 34 pieces of paper that might have mischaracterized payments, but Trump never told anyone to do that. But most of all - and I suspect we'll hear this in some form for the next six weeks - Michael Cohen is a convicted liar. Don't trust anything he says.

SUMMERS: That's NPR's Andrea Bernstein, who was in court for us today in New York. Andrea, thank you.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Andrea Bernstein
[Copyright 2024 NPR]