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At Trump trial, Stormy Daniels’ ex-lawyer Keith Davidson details fallout from “hush money” payment

A lawyer who represented two women seeking payments in 2016 for their silence about alleged sexual relationships with Donald Trump continues his testimony Thursday in the criminal trial of former president.

Keith Davidson spoke in court about his interactions with Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer. Davidson negotiated a deal with Cohen in 2016 in which Cohen paid $130,000 in exchange for adult film star Stormy Daniels’ silence about an alleged sexual relationship with Trump.

Earlier in the week, he told the court how he represented Daniels and model Karen McDougal, another woman who said she had sex with Trump and was seeking a deal for the rights to her story.

McDougal received $150,000 from the parent company of the National Enquirer tabloid on his behalf in what prosecutors say was a scheme to support Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Cohen is expected to be called later in the trial as a key witness against Trump, who has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records. Trump denies committing the crimes and says he did not have sex with Daniels or McDougal.

In court Tuesday, prosecutors showed a series of text messages and emails in which Davidson publicized McDougal’s allegations to the tabloid, calling them a success story about Trump. He then negotiated directly with Cohen to sell the rights to Daniels’ concessions. Davidson said he understands that removing these articles would benefit Trump’s candidacy.

Before returning to the stand, Judge Juan Merchan held a hearing to determine whether Trump should be tried for contempt of court and fined for four other alleged violations of a silence order imposed by Merchan before the trial. The order limits what Trump can say about people involved in the case, including likely witnesses and jurors. Prosecutors urged the judge to re-impose fines of $1,000 per offense, but said they were not seeking prison time. Mercan did not immediately issue a ruling.

The testimony of Keith Davidson

Attorney Keith Davidson testifies at the trial of former President Donald Trump in New York on Thursday, May 2, 2024.

Jeanne Rosenberg

Under questioning by prosecutor Joshua Steinglass, Davidson detailed the settlement agreement between Daniels and Trump that Davidson ultimately reached with Cohen days before the 2016 election. He added that the agreement included a $1 million penalty. for any violation, a provision that he deemed “inapplicable”. Trump never signed the documents, which used pseudonyms for him and Daniels.

Davidson recalled the hours and days following Election Day on November 8, 2016, when Trump won the presidency. Steinglass showed a text exchange between Davidson and National Enquirer editor Dylan Howard in the early morning hours of November 9. Davidson said: “What have we done? Howard replied, “Oh my God.”

“It was a kind of dark humor,” Davidson said on the stand, later explaining: “There was an understanding… that our activities, in one way or another, might have helped Donald’s presidential campaign Trump.”

He said Cohen would call him “quite frequently” in the weeks following the election. He remembers a conversation that occurred on a Saturday morning in mid-December.

“It was a long call, and he had told me that he was depressed and discouraged and had said that I – and he used very colorful language about this stage of his life,” Davidson said.

Steinglass said Davidson could cite the “colorful language” used by Cohen.

“He said something like, ‘Jesus Christ, can you believe I’m not going to Washington, after everything I’ve done for that damn guy?'” Davidson recalled. “‘I can’t believe I’m not going to Washington. I’ve saved this guy’s ass so many times you don’t even know it.'”

He said Cohen told him he “never even got paid” and that Trump “wasn’t even going to pay me back the $130,000.”

Stormy Daniels deal emerges

This image released by ABC shows adult film star Stormy Daniels, left, laughing with host Jimmy Kimmel during an appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” Tuesday January 30, 2018, in Los Angeles.


Fast forward to 2018, Davidson recounted how Daniels’ payment first came to light. He said a Wall Street Journal reporter sent him an email on Jan. 10, 2018, seeking comment on an article about Daniels and Trump.

Davidson said he denied the allegation of a sexual relationship between Trump and Daniels and forwarded the email to Cohen. “I think I had a contractual obligation to let them know that something was about to be published,” he told the court. Cohen asked him to write a “strong” response denying “everything.”

The same day, Davidson prepared a statement under Daniels’ name, which she would later renounce. The statement said the allegations of “a sexual and/or romantic affair with Donald Trump many, many years ago” were “absolutely false.”

On January 12, the Wall Street Journal first published an article revealing the “financial hush” agreement, under the headline: “Trump lawyer arranged payment of $130,000 for silence of a adult film star.” The story included Daniels’ alleged denial, which Cohen also spread to other media outlets.

On the stand, Davidson said an “extremely strict interpretation of this denial would be technically true.”

“I don’t think anyone has ever claimed that an interaction between (her) and Mr. Trump was ‘romantic,'” he said. Daniels later alleges that Cohen used “intimidation and coercion tactics” to get her to sign the statement.

A week later, on January 17, Davidson said Cohen told him he had arranged for Daniels to appear on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program. Cohen later reconsidered, telling Davidson in a text that “the wise guys all think the story is dying and don’t think it’s smart for her to do interviews.” Davidson replied: “100%.”

“It was kind of in one of (Cohen’s) pants on fire scenes, and he was running around planning things and then when he got him up the flagpole and consulted with somebody or group, whatever ‘wise men’ they were, they didn’t do it. I don’t really think it was a good idea for her to appear on ‘Hannity,'” Davidson testified. Daniels never appeared on the show.

After Trump’s State of the Union address on January 30, Daniels appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” but refused to confirm or deny that she had sex with Trump. Earlier in the day, Davidson prepared a second statement under Daniels’ name denying the encounter. In his interview with Kimmel, Daniels implied that the signature under the statement was not his, a claim Davidson disputed on the stand.

“Impossible,” Davidson texted Cohen, saying she signed it in front of him.

At this point, Davidson said he was “trying to thread the needle” and avoid sparking allegations that Daniels broke his contract with Trump. “We try to appease her while trying to accommodate Stormy’s desires,” he testified.

Davidson said Cohen threatened to sue Daniels “multiple times.”

“He can be a very aggressive guy. Aggressive in his efforts to protect his client, and he often makes legal threats, says he will bankrupt her and rain legal hell on her, and, ‘Don’t fuck’ with us, you don’t know who you’re fucking with,” he said. “He wanted to deny his story to protect his client.”

Davidson under cross-examination

Emil Bove, Trump’s lawyer, began his cross-examination of Davidson after Steinglass finished his questions. He suggested that Davidson “can also be aggressive,” just like Cohen.

Bove asked a series of questions about other clients the Hollywood lawyer had represented, including women who made allegations against Charlie Sheen and people who allegedly purchased sex tapes of Hulk Hogan and Tila Tequila.

Bove asked Davidson if these and other agreements required Davidson to understand “going all the way without committing extortion.”

Davidson repeatedly said he didn’t quite understand what Bove was getting at.

Davidson declined to discuss details of the deals, ultimately invoking attorney-client privilege when Bove asked him if he had “extracted” money from Sheen. During a tense exchange, Bove said, “Look, we’re both lawyers, I’m not going to play lawyer games with you,” adding that he just wanted truthful answers.

“You get truthful answers, sir,” Davidson said. “I will not discuss confidential matters.”

Davidson then added: “If you’re not here to play legal games, don’t say ‘extract.’

Bove showed Davidson a Tampa Police Department report on an investigation into the Hogan case. Davidson was not charged, but acknowledged that the investigation was aimed at determining whether extortion had been committed.

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With a penchant for words, jack began writing at an early age. As editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper, he honed his skills telling impactful stories. Smith went on to study journalism at Columbia University, where he graduated top of his class.After interning at the New York Times, jack landed a role as a news writer. Over the past decade, he has covered major events like presidential elections and natural disasters. His ability to craft compelling narratives that capture the human experience has earned him acclaim.Though writing is his passion, jack also enjoys hiking, cooking and reading historical fiction in his free time. With an eye for detail and knack for storytelling, he continues making his mark at the forefront of journalism.
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