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Saturday, May 25, 2024

Stormy Daniels Fights Back

USStormy Daniels Fights Back

Over her two days in court, Stormy Daniels became the can’t-look-away center of the trial of Donald Trump, a man who typically dominates any room he’s in.

On Tuesday, the first day of her more than seven hours of testimony and cross-examination, Daniels told a story in graphic detail of a brief sexual encounter with Trump, down to the lack of a condom, how they had lain on the bed and how she had felt before, during and after.

It was hard to listen to at times, and sometimes hard to follow: Appearing nervous, Daniels often spoke a mile a minute and was warned by the judge, Juan Merchan, to stay on topic.

Today had other jaw-dropping moments, with mentions of Daniels’s career as a ghost hunter and a porn star, several profanities and put-downs, and a discussion of her “Make America Horny Again” tour of strip clubs. (Daniels said she did not like that title.)

But Daniels seemed to gain confidence during cross-examination — which started on Tuesday and continued today — even while facing intense questioning from Susan Necheles, an experienced defense attorney working for Trump. Again and again, as Necheles attempted to expose inconsistencies or suggest Daniels simply wanted money, the witness parried, denying the defense’s assertions and sometimes hitting back with sharp retorts.

In one such feisty exchange, Necheles noted Daniels had “an online store where you sell merchandise,” showing a picture of a “Stormy Saint of Indictments” devotional candle — $40 — that carried an image of her in a biblical robe. (Trump, of course, himself recently made news by hawking “God Bless the U.S.A.” bibles for $59.99.)

Necheles said Daniels had bragged about getting Trump indicted and called her online commerce “shilling.”

But Daniels was quick to return fire. “Not unlike Mr. Trump,” she responded.

At other moments, Daniels seemed to be almost mirroring Trump, who has repeatedly said that he has a right to defend himself from attacks. His August 2023 social media post was shown at the trial today: “If you go after me,” it read. “I’m coming after you!”

That tendency for counterpunching has continued since the trial began, as Trump has complained about a gag order that prevents him from attacking witnesses, court staff, jurors and the judge’s family. He has been found to have violated that order 10 times and has been threatened with jail if he continues.

Late this afternoon, another lawyer for Trump, Todd Blanche, asked the judge to modify the order to allow the former president to respond to Daniels’s testimony. But Merchan denied that request, and the defense’s second request this week for a mistrial, after prosecutors argued that Trump merely wanted to intimidate and threaten Daniels and other witnesses.

“Let’s not pretend he wants to engage in high-minded discourse,” a prosecutor, Chris Conroy, said.

Daniels said she, too, had to defend herself: In savage online attacks, people had called her a prostitute and a “harlot.” Daniels’s clapbacks were not exactly Shakespearean in their sophistication: She mocked Trump using schoolyard insults like “orange turd,” though she noted that people had called her a “human toilet.”

“If they can make fun of me,” she said. “I can make fun of them.”

Daniels is at the heart of the prosecution’s case against Trump, 77, who is accused of falsifying 34 business records in relation to a $130,000 payment meant to buy her silence about the 2006 sexual encounter she said they had — a fee paid less than two weeks before the 2016 election.

Her fame — and perhaps the sheer sensational nature of her testimony — drew a throng of press and members of the public to the Manhattan courthouse, creating blocklong lines outside and a packed courtroom inside.

Daniels, 45, said she had wanted to get her story out, a motivation that Necheles argued was contradicted by her taking $130,000 in hush money.

The defense lawyer also repeatedly suggested that Daniels had made things up, which she said comported with her career as a porn actress and a writer of such films.

“You have a lot of experience of making phony stories about sex appear real,” Necheles said.

But again, Daniels shot back, saying, “The sex in the films is very real, just like what happened to me in that room.”

Then, she added that had she written the scene with Trump for a movie, she “would have written it to be a lot better.” Laughter was heard in the courtroom.

Necheles also expressed doubt about how shocked Daniels could have been by seeing Trump in a state of near undress. Necheles said that seemed odd, considering Daniels had seen many “naked men and naked women.”

But Daniels insisted she was startled to a point of dizziness to see “an older man in his underwear I wasn’t expecting to see there.”

How the jury takes such comments remains to be seen; as he has at other times, Trump listened to some of Daniels’s testimony with his eyes closed.

Daniels finished early this afternoon, and before she left the stand, she said the experience of speaking out about Trump had been a net-negative. She had to hire security, move several times and take extra precautions because of her daughter, she testified.

Necheles didn’t buy it, arguing that Daniels had made a million dollars on her tale of Trump, an encounter that he and his legal team continue to insist is untrue.

Isn’t it a fact, Necheles asked Daniels just before the end of the cross-examination, that “you never had an affair with President Trump and you realized you could make money from selling your story. And you’ve been doing that for 12 years?”

But for once, Daniels didn’t have a chance to answer. The prosecution objected, and the objection was sustained.

Here’s the team we have reporting on the trial. During the proceedings, we’ll be sending you updates more frequently, including breaking news alerts and our weekly analysis on Thursdays.

We’re asking readers what they’d like to know about the Trump cases: the charges, the procedure, the important players or anything else. You can send us your question by filling out this form.

Why aren’t there any members of Trump’s family or his friends attending the court proceedings? — Pamela Rodriguez, Colorado

Jesse: Nearly four weeks into the trial, and only one member of Trump’s family — his son Eric — has been sighted in the courtroom, including this week, during the testimony of Stormy Daniels. But Trump has had other aides and supporters, including Boris Epshteyn, one of his top legal strategists and Andrew Giuliani, the son of Trump’s former lawyer Rudy Giuliani. He’s also had a courtroom visit from Ken Paxton, the Texas attorney general, and today, Senator Rick Scott of Florida and Greg Kelly, a reliably pro-Trump host on Newsmax. His wife, Melania; daughter Ivanka; and eldest son, Donald Jr., have not appeared so far.

  • We’re keeping our eyes on a new dispute simmering in the classified documents case involving allegations by Trump’s lawyers that prosecutors failed to preserve the integrity of the boxes of documents at the heart of the case. Judge Aileen Cannon has not yet decided how she plans to handle the accusations.

  • After hearing arguments on April 25 about Trump’s claim of immunity in the Jan. 6 case, the Supreme Court could issue a ruling in late June or early July.

Trump is at the center of at least four separate criminal investigations, at both the state and federal levels, into matters related to his business and political careers. Here is where each case stands.

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