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Stormy Daniels faced cross examination in hush money trial

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Attorneys defending Donald Trump in his New York criminal trial wrapped up their cross-examination of Stormy Daniels today. They had a withering series of questions about inconsistencies in her accounts of a sexual encounter with Donald Trump. But Daniels held her ground, standing by her story that she had sex with him and then was paid to keep quiet about it in the waning days of the 2016 campaign. Andrea Bernstein joins us from near the court once again. Hi, Andrea.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: On Tuesday you told us about the defense confronting Daniels with conflicting details about whether she wanted to tell her story or keep quiet. What did they come back with today?

BERNSTEIN: There were two major issues they leaned into. The first was Stormy Daniels' varying accounts of what happened that evening in 2006 at the Celebrity Golf Tournament in Lake Tahoe. So, for example, in 2011, Daniels gave an interview with In Touch magazine. It was never published. And Daniels told the magazine that Trump had invited her to dinner. But in her testimony on Tuesday, she said that Trump's bodyguard, Keith Schiller, had approached her and invited her up to the penthouse suite. So it was a lot of that - had she eaten; had she not eaten - to the point where the jury seemed a little weary.

SHAPIRO: So two major issues. You said first was the inconsistencies. What was the other?

BERNSTEIN: That Stormy Daniels was in it for the money, that they asked about her book, which she sold for $800,000, and a documentary she participated in, for which she sold the rights. They showed a social media post that said, quote, "in celebration of the new indictments, all orders in the next 45 hours get a surprise gift." She was asked, you are selling your stuff. And her retort, not unlike Mr. Trump.

SHAPIRO: Tell us more about that.

BERNSTEIN: So grilling people on their social media posts has been a theme all through this trial. It began with jury selection, when potential jurors were confronted with old Facebook posts. And, of course, Stormy Daniels has a lot of posts. But this was kind of mixed. At one point, she disavowed a particular strip club tour promotion. But after a break, when the defense showed her an Instagram post about that tour, she said it was a repost, which, by the way, was part of arguments that Trump's lawyers made about posts violating the gag order - that they were reposts. But that was outside of the presence of any witnesses or the jury.

SHAPIRO: Big picture, this woman has been the center of so much attention, conflicting accounts of what happened. She's testified for hours. What's your sense of how it all went?

BERNSTEIN: The defense ended by saying, isn't the reason your story keeps changing because you never had an affair with President Trump and realized you could make money from selling your story and you've been doing it for 12 years? And Daniels said very clearly, no. The prosecution ended with this question. On balance, has your public telling the truth been net positive or negative in your life? And she said, negative.

But after the final no further questions, another witness came on the stand - a junior bookkeeper current at the Trump Organization. And she testified how, when Trump was in the White House, Keith Schiller, his personal bodyguard, went with him. And this bookkeeper would send checks for Trump to sign from New York to Washington but not to the White House, to Schiller's home in D.C. It was just kind of a little echo subtly corroborating a detail of Daniels' testimony. I should say Trump's defense attorneys seemed to feel they'd been successful. When the jury left and they were filing out, Trump lightly punched the air in front of him with his fist, and two of his lawyers fist-bumped.

SHAPIRO: Also, today the defense asked the judge to lift the gag order and allow Trump to respond to Daniels' testimony. How did he rule?

BERNSTEIN: Yeah. So this just happened. At the end of the day, there were arguments. Trump's lawyers say Daniels' story is different now because of her testimony about feeling a power imbalance before the sexual encounter, that there was a whiff of coercion. The defense called this a dog whistle for rape. But the prosecution said her account shows why Trump was so worried about the story going public right before the 2016 election. The judge said he still feels that future witnesses can be deterred by Trump attacks. He's not allowed to attack Stormy Daniels. The gag order remains in effect. And the defense moved for a mistrial based on prejudicial new evidence, but that motion, at the very end of the day, was denied.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Andrea Bernstein. Thank you.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Andrea Bernstein
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
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