Trump lawyer tries to undermine credibility of Enquirer publisher at trial

United States: Donald Trump’s lawyer sought on Friday to undermine the credibility of a former tabloid publisher who testified at the former president’s criminal trial about his paper’s efforts to bury news that could have damaged Trump’s 2016 White House bid.

In a second day of cross-examination, Trump lawyer Emil Bove sought to highlight discrepancies in the testimony of former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, who has described working with Trump’s campaign to suppress allegations of adultery at a time when the then-presidential candidate was facing multiple accusations of sexual misbehavior.

Bove asked whether Pecker had inaccurately testified that Trump thanked him at the White House for handling those negative stories. That conflicted with a report by FBI agents who previously interviewed Pecker, which said Trump had not expressed gratitude.

Pecker, 72, said the FBI report could be wrong.

“I know what I testified to, and I know what I remember,” Pecker told the court’s 12 jurors and six alternates.

Bove asked Pecker whether his statements aligned with facts contained in an agreement by the Enquirer’s parent company to cooperate with legal authorities to avoid prosecution. Pecker denied any substantial mismatch.

Pecker is a key witness in the case, which accuses Trump of falsifying business records to cover up a hush money payment to porn star shortly before the election.

Pecker has testified that his tabloid paid to “catch and kill” two of those stories and alerted Trump that porn star Stormy Daniels was also looking to sell her story of a sexual encounter with Trump.

New York prosecutors have charged Trump with falsifying business records to cover up a hush money payment to Daniels. Trump has pleaded not guilty and denies the encounter took place.

Bove sought on Thursday to illustrate to the jury that Pecker’s checkbook journalism was not confined to Trump.

Under questioning by Bove on Thursday, Pecker said it was normal for celebrities and politicians to curry favor with the Enquirer to get good publicity and that he sought to kill negative stories about other famous figures, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tiger Woods.

He said the Enquirer paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to obtain stories from women who came forward during Schwarzenegger’s 2003 run for California governor to say they had affairs with him.

Pecker said the first time he gave Trump a heads up about a negative story was in 1998 in relation to Marla Maples, his wife at the time.

Prosecutors say Pecker’s arrangement with Trump corrupted the 2016 election. He agreed to cooperate to avoid criminal charges.

Trump is the first former president to face criminal charges. The trial, which is expected to run through May, could be the only one of his four criminal prosecutions to be completed before his Nov. 5 election rematch with Democratic President Joe Biden.

One of those cases, which charges Trump with trying to overturn his 2020 loss to Biden, has been delayed for months by the U.S. Supreme Court as it considers Trump’s argument that presidents should be immune for actions they take while in office.

In oral arguments on Thursday, justices on the conservative-majority court signaled support that Trump should have some level of protection from criminal charges.

Justice Juan Merchan, who is hearing the hush money case, has yet to rule on a request by prosecutors to punish Trump for allegedly violating a gag order that bars him from publicly criticizing witnesses, some court officials and their relatives.

Merchan said he would hold a hearing next Thursday to examine what prosecutors say are further gag order violations. Trump could be fined $1,000 for each violation or jailed, though prosecutors say they are not seeking imprisonment at this point. (Reuters)

Reporting by Jack Queen and Jody Godoy in New York and Andy Sullivan in Washington; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Howard Goller

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