Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Major setback for Trump as judge denies request to block Stormy Daniels testimony in hush-money case

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Donald Trump lost his bid to prevent testimony from a porn star and a Playboy model at the former president’s criminal trial in New York, where he’s accused of falsifying business records related to hush-money payments before the 2016 election.

State court judge Juan Merchan ruled Monday that adult firm actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal can be called as witnesses because their testimony is central to claims by prosecutors that Trump sought to conceal alleged sexual encounters with the women. Trump, who denies wrongdoing, had argued their testimony wasn’t relevant to charges that he’d falsified business records.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg alleges the real estate mogul engaged in a “catch and kill” scheme with his former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen and former American Media Inc Chairman David Pecker to buy rights to the salacious claims and keep them quiet through non-disclosure deals to help Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. The trial was set for March 25, but has been delayed until at least the middle of next month.

Trump was indicted on charges he falsified his company’s records to conceal the true nature of a $130,000 payment to Cohen as legal fees that prosecutors allege went to Daniels to suppress her claims of an extramarital sexual encounter with Trump a decade earlier. Prosecutors also claim McDougal got $150,000 to keep quiet about her claim of an affair, and former Trump doorman Dino Sajudin got $30,000 to suppress his claim that Trump fathered a child out of wedlock.

“The probative value of the evidence is evident,” Merchan said in his ruling. The alleged actions of Trump, Cohen and Pecker “flow directly” from a 2015 meeting at Trump Tower between the three men in which prosecutors claim they discussed making payoffs, the judge said. Their discussion “is inextricably interwoven with the narrative of events” and the “steps that eventually led to the purchasing of information from others,” Merchan said.

Trump argued that allowing Daniels to testify would be “unduly prejudicial,” and that information from McDougal and Sajudin would relate to “uncharged crimes” not included in the district attorney’s indictment.

But the judge said testimony from Daniels, McDougal and Sajudin was admissible to show Trump’s “propensity” that he was “likely to have committed the crime at issue,” the judge said.

However, Merchan barred prosecutors from showing the jury the so-called “Access Hollywood” tape, in which Trump makes vulgar comments about grabbing women in a hot-mic recording to a show host in 2005. Merchan said while it “helps establish” Trump’s motive for a making payment to Daniels and then attempting to conceal it, the tape could cause “undue prejudice.” Instead, prosecutors could ask witnesses about the tape if they want, the judge said.Major setback for Trump as judge denies request to block Stormy Daniels testimony in hush-money case

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