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Trump hush money trial: Trump fined $1K for another gag order violation

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump’s judge silence, money test fined him $1,000 on Monday and, in its harshest warning yet, told the former president that future violations of the silence order could send him to prison. That rebuke opened a revealing day of testimony, as jurors heard for the first time details of the financial transactions at the center of the case and saw payment checks bearing Trump’s signature.

What you need to know about Trump’s secret trial:

The testimony of the former controller of the Trump Organization Jeffrey McConney provided a mechanical but vital recitation of how the company reimbursed payments that were allegedly intended to prevent embarrassing stories from surfacing during Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, then recorded them as legal fees for a manner that Manhattan prosecutors say broke the law.

McConney’s appearance on the witness stand comes as the first criminal trial of a former U.S. president enters its third week of testimony. His story lacked human drama offered Friday by Hope Hicks, longtime Trump aidebut it nonetheless served as an important building block for prosecutors trying to pull back the curtain on what they see as a cover-up of corporate records on transactions designed to protect Trump’s presidential bid during a pivotal period in the race.

At the center of the testimony was a $130,000 payment that Michael Cohen, then Trump’s lawyer and fixer, made to porn actor Stormy Daniels in October 2016 to cover up her allegations of an extramarital sexual relationship with Trump a decade later. early.

The 34 counts of falsifying business records accuse Trump of characterizing the money paid to Cohen in his company records as legal fees. Prosecutors say that by paying her income and giving her extra to pay her taxes in monthly installments for a year, Trump’s executives were able to hide the refund.

McConney and another witness testified that all but two of the monthly checks came from Trump’s personal account. Yet even though jurors saw the checks and other documentary evidence, prosecutors did not obtain testimony Monday demonstrating that Trump himself dictated that the payments would be recorded as legal fees — a designation that prosecutors say was intentionally misleading.

Former President Donald Trump speaks to the media as he returns to his trial in Manhattan Criminal Court, Friday, May 3, 2024, in New York.  (Charly Triballeau/Pool photo via AP)

Former President Donald Trump speaks to the media as he returns to his trial in Manhattan Criminal Court, Friday, May 3, 2024, in New York. (Charly Triballeau/Pool photo via AP)

McConney acknowledged under cross-examination that Trump never asked him to record the reimbursements as legal expenses and never discussed the matter with him. Another witness, Deborah Tarasoff, an accounts payable manager for the Trump Organization, said under questioning that she did not get permission to cut the checks in question from Trump himself.

“You never had any reason to believe that President Trump was hiding anything or anything like that?” asked Trump’s lawyer, Todd Blanche.

“That’s right,” replied Tarasoff.

Former President Donald Trump appears in Manhattan Criminal Court before his trial in New York, Friday, May 3, 2024. (Charly Triballeau/Pool Photo via AP)

Former President Donald Trump appears in Manhattan Criminal Court before his trial in New York, Friday, May 3, 2024. (Charly Triballeau/Pool Photo via AP)

AP Correspondent Julie Walker reports on what a judge’s silence order against Trump in his hush money case means

The testimony follows Judge Juan M. Merchan’s sober warning to Trump that additional violations of a silence order prohibiting inflammatory extrajudicial comments Information about witnesses, jurors and others closely connected to the case could land the former president behind bars.

The $1,000 fine imposed Monday marks the second time since the trial began last month that Trump has been sanctioned for violating the silence order. He was fined $9,000 last week — $1,000 for each of the nine violations.

“It appears that the $1,000 fines are not a deterrent. Therefore, going forward, this court must consider a prison sanction,” Merchan said before jurors were brought into the courtroom. Trump’s statements, the judge added, “threaten to interfere with the just administration of justice and constitute a direct attack on the rule of law.” I cannot allow this to continue.

Trump sat forward in his seat, glaring at the judge as he delivered the ruling. When the judge finished speaking, Trump shook his head twice and crossed his arms.

Yet even as Merchan warned of a prison sentence in his most specific and direct warning, he also made clear his reservations about a measure he described as a “last resort” and said that he would only do so if prosecutors recommended it.

“The last thing I want to do is put you in jail,” Merchan said. “You are the former president of the United States and perhaps the next president as well. There are many reasons why incarceration is truly a last resort for me. Taking this step would disrupt this procedure, which I imagine you want to end as quickly as possible.

The latest violation stems from an April 22 interview with Real America’s Voice in which Trump criticized the speed with which the jury was chosen and claimed, without evidence, that it was made up of Democrats.

Once the testimony resumed, McConney recounted his conversations with the longtime financial chief of the Trump Organization. Allen Weisselberg in January 2017, for reimbursing Cohen for a $130,000 payment intended to buy Daniels’ silence about her account of a sexual encounter during a 2006 celebrity golf outing in Lake Tahoe, California.

Weisselberg “said we had to get Michael money, we had to pay Michael back. He threw me a notepad and I started taking notes on what he was saying,” McConney testified. “That’s how I found out.”

“He kind of threw the notepad at me and said, ‘Take that away,'” said McConney, who worked for Trump’s company for about 36 years. he retired last year after being granted immunity to testify for the prosecution during the Trump Organization criminal tax fraud trial in New York.

A bank statement displayed in court showed Cohen paying $130,000 to Keith Davidson, Daniels’ attorney, on Oct. 27, 2016, from an account Cohen opened for that purpose.

Weisselberg’s handwritten notes describe a plan to pay Cohen $420,000, which included a base reimbursement that was later doubled to reflect withholding taxes as well as a $60,000 bonus and an expense that prosecutors described like a technology contract.

McConney’s own notes, taken on the notepad he said Weisselberg threw at him, were also presented to the court. After calculations that Cohen would receive $35,000 per month for 12 months, McConney wrote: “a monthly transfer from DJT.”

When asked what that meant, McConney replied, “It came from the president’s personal bank account.” »

McConney testified that he asked Tarasoff to record the reimbursements to Cohen as legal expenses, reasoning that “we were paying a lawyer, so I said record it as legal expenses in the ledger.”

McConney suggested it was his idea alone to record the payments that way, acknowledging during cross-examination that Trump never asked him to record Cohen’s payments as legal fees, and Weisselberg didn’t ask him either. more made it known that Trump wanted them recorded that way.

“Allen never said that to me,” McConney testified. In fact, McConney said he never spoke to Trump about the reimbursement issue. Regardless, Trump lawyer Emil Bove suggested, the “legal fees” label made sense — and was not misleading — because Cohen was a lawyer at the time.

“OK,” McConney replied, prompting laughter throughout the courtroom. “Of course yes.”

After paying the first two checks to Cohen through a trust, the rest of the checks, starting in April 2017, were paid from Trump’s personal account, McConney said.

With Trump, the sole signatory of that account, now in the White House, changing the funding source required “a whole new process for us,” McConney added.

Tarasoff, the other witness who testified Monday, said that once Trump became president, checks issued from his personal account first had to be delivered, via FedEx, “to the White House so that he signs them.”

The checks would then be returned with Trump’s Sharpie signature. “I would take them apart, mail the check and file the backup copy,” she said, meaning I would put the bill in the Trump Organization’s filing system. .

Prosecutors continue to make progress toward their star witness, CohenWHO pleaded guilty to federal charges related to hush money payments, went to prison and was disbarred. He is expected to face a bruising cross-examination from defense attorneys who will seek to undermine his credibility with jurors.


Tucker reported from Washington.

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