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Stormy Daniels, on the far right, testifies in Donald Trump's criminal trial in New York City in a courtroom sketch

Stormy Daniels identifies ‘Donald Trump’ as the beneficiary of NDA during hush-money testimony, defense attacks credibility over alleged parking lot threat, debt and insults

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, Tuesday, May 7, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

On Tuesday afternoon, with excruciatingly-precise-for-the-defense details about an allegedly “brief” sexual encounter and the subsequent, year-and-a-half-long game of cat-and-mouse over unfulfilled promises and dreams of network TV work out of the way, Stormy Daniels discussed how she came to receive a substantial hush-money payment from Michael Cohen in October 2016.

In 2011, Daniels testified, there was an interview with In Touch magazine about her alleged affair with Trump that eventually went unpublished. Later, while walking with her daughter to a workout class, a man accosted and threatened her over what she told the publication.

Tuesday’s testimony tracks with her estimation of that incident relayed in a long-ago scuttled defamation lawsuit against Trump.

In the filing, Daniels claimed a man threatened her in a Las Vegas parking lot “a few weeks” after she spoke with In Touch. The man allegedly said: “Leave Trump alone. Forget the story.”

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    “That’s a beautiful little girl,” the man allegedly continued. “It’d be a shame if something happened to her mom.”

    “He threatened me not to continue to tell my story,” Daniels reiterated in a downtown Manhattan courtroom on Tuesday, according to a report by New York Daily News reporter Molly Crane-Newman.

    Years later, the parking lot scene would come back to haunt her.

    In 2015, the witness recalled, she got a call from her manager, Gina Rodriguez, suggesting she once again try to tell — and sell — her story. Trump had announced his run for the presidency; the time was right. Daniels said the parking lot threat weighed heavy in her mind at this time, so she spoke with a lawyer to memorialize what happened.

    The state sought to elicit testimony over efforts to sell the story, but several objections from the defense were sustained by New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan and prosecutors moved on, according to a report by Newsweek reporter Katherine Fung.

    One sustained objection came after a question about an ulterior motive for selling the story. Assistant District Attorney Susan Hoffinger asked the witness if she wanted to do it because going public would keep her safe, according to a report by Just Security fellow Adam Klasfeld. Daniels did not get a chance to answer directly.

    But, the witness did express a secondary motive later on when asked about agreeing to money from Cohen in exchange for her silence.

    “My motivation wasn’t money, it was to get the story out,” Daniels reportedly said. “I was motivated out of fear and not money.”

    After an infamous Access Hollywood tape was discovered in which Trump appeared to brag about sexually assaulting women, Rodriguez contacted Daniels and put her in touch with Cohen, who was interested in buying the rights to her story, the actress testified.

    And, in a likely point for prosecutors, the witness said she understood that Trump was to be the true beneficiary of the arrangement.

    Daniels signed the nondisclosure agreement on Oct. 10, 2016 — less than a month before the 2016 presidential election.

    “Who did you understand was the beneficiary of that NDA?” Hoffinger asked.

    “Donald Trump,” Daniels replied.

    “And who was representing him at the time?” the prosecutor pressed.

    “Michael Cohen,” the witness said.

    But the payment took some time, Daniels testified, saying Cohen always had an excuse for the delay. She ultimately came to understand the cash was moving slowly because, she thought, it would go from Trump to Cohen, to her attorney, and then, finally to her.

    In reality, the $130,000 amount she received came by way of Cohen personally taking out a home-equity loan from First Republic Bank.

    Asked at one point why she didn’t negotiate for a bigger payout, Daniels again said the issue was not the money but that getting the deal done prior to the election was crucial for her peace of mind.

    “I was afraid that if it wasn’t done before the nominations and things, then I wouldn’t be safe,” the witness testified.

    In January 2018, the Wall Street Journal reported on the hush-money payment. Daniels testified that the resulting media firestorm was personally chaotic and more or less upended her life — with her daughter even being ostracized from play groups by other parents.

    On cross-examination by defense attorney Susan Necheles, Daniels was asked whether she hated Trump.

    The witness testified that she did.

    Asked whether she wanted the former president to go to jail, Daniels replied that she wanted him held accountable.

    Necheles then focused on a series of derisive tweets posted on X (formerly Twitter) regarding Trump. In one such tweet, Daniels admittedly said she would dance if Trump was “selected” to go to jail — but said she was quoting someone.

    Pushed further, Daniels said she “absolutely” wanted Trump to go to jail if he is found guilty of a crime.

    The defense brought up a tweet posted in November 2022 which reads: “I don’t owe him s— and I’ll never give that orange turd a dime.”

    “He made fun of me first,” the witness replied, according to a report by New York Daily News reporter Josie Stratman.

    The upshot of Necheles’ focus on the back-and-forth insults and barbs leveled between Trump and Daniels was in service of the hundreds of thousands of dollars the actress owes the ex-president in attorney’s fees after her failed defamation lawsuit. This lawsuit was precipitated by her then-attorney Michael Avenatti releasing a sketch of the man who allegedly accosted her in the parking lot. On Tuesday, Daniels testified that Avenatti released the image without her permission.

    Necheles returned to that incident as testimony drew to a close.

    The defense pressed the witness as to why she did not share the story about the threat until “seven years after it supposedly happened.”

    “It wasn’t a supposed incident,” Daniels defiantly told Trump’s lawyer. “It was a true incident, and I told a lot of people.”

    Necheles also sought to make hay out of the purported threat to her daughter’s life — pressing the witness on whether or not the girl’s father was told about it. Daniels affirmed she did not tell him.

    Key to the defense is the credibility of the witness — and her admittedly at-times varying motivations over telling the Trump story. Daniels and the state would have the plural motives be seen as complementary. The defense would like jurors to view the witness as avaricious and unreliable.

    “You were looking to extort money from President Trump, right?” Necheles asked at one point.

    “False,” Daniels replied.

    “Well, that’s what you did, right?” the defense pressed.

    “False,” Daniels said again.

    Merchan, who earlier in the day denied a mistrial request from the defense over the graphic and accusatory testimony elicited by the state, called for a recess just after 4:30 p.m. EST. The actress is slated to retake the stand on Thursday morning.

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