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Adult film star Stormy Daniels grilled by Trump lawyer in hush money trial

Judge Juan Merchan presides over proceedings as Stormy Daniels, far right, answers questions on direct examination by assistant district attorney Susan Hoffinger in Manhattan criminal court as former President Donald Trump and defense attorney Todd Blanche look on on May 7.
Elizabeth Williams
Judge Juan Merchan presides over proceedings as Stormy Daniels, far right, answers questions on direct examination by assistant district attorney Susan Hoffinger in Manhattan criminal court as former President Donald Trump and defense attorney Todd Blanche look on on May 7.

Updated May 09, 2024 at 19:17 PM ET

NEW YORK — A second attempt to get a mistrial in the hush money case has failed for former President Donald Trump. New York Judge Juan Merchan on Thursday denied the attempt to toss out the trial following two days of testimony from adult film star Stormy Daniels.

Trump's lawyers argued that Daniels' recollection of a night in 2006 where she alleged she had sex with with the former president has changed and included too many details unrelated to the case at hand. That, they argued, could prejudice the jury against Trump.

But Merchan said he disagreed that there was a brand new account to her story that hasn't already been featured in other places and said he agrees "certain details add a sense of credibility if the jury chooses to believe them."

These details included the tile flooring color and the furniture in the hotel room where Daniels and Trump met. Merchan said the defense's line of questioning seeks to discredit Daniels' story and these details "allow the people to rehabilitate her."

What Trump's lawyers asked Daniels on the stand

Trump lawyer Susan Necheles' cross examination turned heated over questions aimed at discrediting Daniels. Daniels sparred with Necheles over her motives for signing the settlement and nondisclosure agreement at the center of the trial.

For example, Necheles pressed Daniels on her role as an adult film director and screenwriter: "So you have a lot of experience making phony stories about sex appear real?"

"The sex is real," Daniels fired back. "That's why it's pornography."

Necheles' line of questioning covered Daniels' strip club tour and interview series, her belief in paranormal activity and her experience directing films about sex. Necheles asked Daniels about her strip club tour — called "Make America Horny Again," a play on Trump's familiar campaign slogan — questioning whether Daniels has profited from her allegations and connection to Trump.

Daniels said it was named despite her wishes and that how clubs promoted it was out of her hands.

And she also asked questions aimed at discrediting her sanity, including whether she believed an old house she lived in was haunted. Daniels said a house she lived in in New Orleans had "unexplained activity," much of it debunked by a possum living under the house.

The series of questions prompted laughter from the dozens of members of the public in the overflow room who had lined up early outside the courthouse to watch the testimony.

During the heated moments, Trump whispered to his lawyers, leaned over the defense table and watched the testimony, while jurors looked back and forth from Daniels to Necheles, some taking notes.

Her testimonyfollowed a graphic day on the stand on Tuesday where she detailed an alleged 2006 sexual encounter with Trump in a hotel suite as well as their contact between 2006 and 2008. Trump has denied the affair.

Stormy Daniels leaves Manhattan criminal court on May 9.
Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images
Getty Images
Stormy Daniels leaves Manhattan criminal court on May 9.

Necheles' questioning eventually pivoted back to the night in the hotel in 2006. Daniels testified that she was invited to dinner with Trump but didn't eat. If she had, she said, she would have talked about the food.

"I am very food motivated," Daniels quipped.

Necheles pushed on details about whether or not there was food that night, and whether or not Daniels was uncomfortable with Trump being in his underwear — aimed at finding inconsistencies with her recollection.

Daniels testified that some inconsistencies between her testimony and published work was caused by authors failure to fact check and her lack of editorial control over journalists, which resulted in leaving some details out.

Necheles pushed many times for Daniels to admit that she changed her story about the alleged sexual encounter, arguing that it was fabricated. That prompted denials from Daniels and objections that were sustained by prosecutors.

Thursday's questioning wrapped up with prosecutors questioning Daniels on if she has benefited from telling her story and combing through various engagements on X, the social media platform formally known as Twitter. Necheles aimed to show that Daniels has celebrated Trump's legal troubles while defending herself against attacks on social media.

Daniels testified that on balance, telling her story yielded negative publicity, noting she has had to move and hire personal security.

Daniels' testimony is central to the charges

Daniels, also known as Stephanie Clifford, is one of two women the prosecution is alleging Trump paid off to protect his electoral prospects the first time he ran for the White House.

The former president faces 34 felony counts alleging that he falsified New York business records to conceal damaging information to influence the 2016 presidential election. Trump, who pleaded not guilty, claims the trial itself is "election interference" because of how it is disrupting his 2024 bid for president. He must be present in court every day and thus, isn't able to campaign when he is.

Prosecutors argued the details Daniels gave so far in testimony were aimed at establishing her credibility and also help explain what exactly Trump wanted to silence with a nondisclosure agreement and $130,000 settlement from his then-lawyer Michael Cohen. The defense didn't want her to talk at all about sex, arguing this is a case about books and records and called for a mistrial, a move the judge denied. On Tuesday Judge Juan Merchan told prosecutors to instruct her not to give unnecessary details and be more succinct in her answers.

The former president sat in the courtroom for her testimony, as he is required by New York criminal law, and has been accompanied by one of his sons, Eric Trump, though he was not present at the start of testimony on Thursday. Florida Sen. Rick Scott did join the former president in listening to testimony in the courtroom.

Daniels' time on the witness stand — which clocked in at more than five hours — wrapped up early Thursday afternoon.

Jurors heard from more witnesses after Daniels finished testifying

Jurors heard from former Trump Organization employees and a former Trump administration official.

Rebecca Manochio, executive assistant at the Trump Organization, testifyied to the workings of the Trump Organization. Specifically, she detailed the process for cutting checks. Manochio said she FedExed checks about once a week to Trump when he was at the White House. Among these were checks that the district attorney is alleging are falsified business records.

They also heard from Madeleine Westerhout, a former Trump White House director of Oval Office operations and executive assistant. Still a supporter of the former president, Westerhout testified to little details about Trump: how he would edit copy and that he would prefer to sign checks and paperwork (with a Sharpie or felt tip pen) and receive documents. This all goes to the prosecution's case that Trump was intimately aware of the ins and outs of his business and administration. "He was attentive to things brought to his attention," she said.

She also was responsible for getting the checks from the Trump Organization to Trump to sign and then mailing them back. Westerhout's testimony turned emotional as she detailed her ouster from the Trump White House which she blamed on "regretful youthful indiscretion" for saying "things she shouldn't have" during an off-the-record dinner.

Westerhout's testimony to Trump's defense team was complimentary: "He never made me feel like I didn't belong. He was a really good boss. I found him enjoyable to work for," she said.

While the prosecution used her testimony to show how detailed Trump was regarding his money and personal contact list, the defense used her testimony to show a more sympathetic side to the former president.

Jurors will not hear testimony from former Playboy model Karen McDougal, prosecutors confirmed. She had previously been expected to be a potential witness because prosecutors argue she is one of the other recipients of payments used to conceal information in the "catch and kill" scheme. She was paid $150,000 by American Media Inc.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Ximena Bustillo
Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.