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Stormy Daniels Is Steady on the Stand: 5 Takeaways From Trump’s Trial

LocalStormy Daniels Is Steady on the Stand: 5 Takeaways From Trump’s Trial

In a combative cross-examination Thursday, Stormy Daniels battled the former president’s lawyers as they attacked her account of a sexual encounter with Donald J. Trump in a Nevada hotel.

Susan Necheles, a lawyer defending Mr. Trump in his criminal trial, spent almost three hours delving into Ms. Daniels’s memories of that 2006 night in Lake Tahoe, as well as suggesting that Ms. Daniels’s desire to tell her story was motivated only by money. Eventually, Ms. Necheles went straight to the point.

“You made all this up, right?” she asked.

Ms. Daniels responded forcefully: “No.”

At the conclusion of the day, Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Todd Blanche, asked Justice Juan M. Merchan whether he would modify a gag order to let Mr. Trump respond publicly to Ms. Daniels’s testimony. The judge denied the request and Mr. Trump’s second motion this week for a mistrial.

The former president is accused of falsifying business records to hide a $130,000 payment to Ms. Daniels just before the 2016 election, a payment meant to silence her story. Mr. Trump, 77, has denied the charges and says he did not have sex with Ms. Daniels. If convicted, he could face prison or probation.

Here are five takeaways from Mr. Trump’s 14th day on trial.

Ms. Necheles repeatedly attacked Ms. Daniels, a former porn star, for trying to monetize her story about Mr. Trump with a book, a tour of strip clubs and merchandise like a $40 devotional candle depicting herself as a saint.

But Mr. Trump himself has spent decades preaching the glories of wealth, in books and on “The Apprentice,” and has peddled an array of Trump-branded merchandise. Ms. Daniels had a simple response when asked about promoting her branded products online.

“Not unlike Mr. Trump,” she said.

The defense did get Ms. Daniels to concede that she had made money from the scandal. But she flatly denied Ms. Necheles’s assertion that she was threatening to hurt Mr. Trump politically “if he didn’t give you the money.”

Mr. Trump’s legal team leaned into inconsistencies in Daniels’ testimony, often falling flat.

One particular tangent was Ms. Necheles’s long attempt to get Ms. Daniels to admit a discrepancy between her testimony that she had not eaten with Mr. Trump that night in Lake Tahoe and statements to reporters that they had dinner.

Ms. Daniels brushed the distinction aside. “It was dinner time in the room,” she said, adding that having dinner with someone “doesn’t necessarily mean you have to put food in your mouth.”

At another moment, Ms. Necheles accused Ms. Daniels of lying about details of the night in the hotel room: “Your story has completely changed, hasn’t it?”

“You’re trying to make me say that it has changed, but it hasn’t,” Ms. Daniels retorted.

Ms. Daniels had shaky moments Tuesday, but became steadier the longer her testimony continued, offering sharp responses Thursday during cross-examination.

At one point, Ms. Necheles turned to Ms. Daniels and in a reference to her porn movies said, “You have a lot of experience in making phony stories about sex appear to be real.” Despite being momentarily taken aback, Ms. Daniels responded “the sex in the films is very much real, just like what happened to me in that room.”

Later, after Ms. Necheles implied that Ms. Daniels had made up her story of a liaison with Trump, Ms. Daniels said that had she invented it, “I would have written it to be a lot better.”

Several people in the courtroom laughed. Mr. Trump glowered.

Ms. Daniels testified for more than seven hours, displaying nerves, defiance and flashes of humor. But she also talked about fear. She said had to hire security and take precautions because of her daughter.

Her voice seemed small when she addressed online posts where people called her a “harlot.” And she choked up when saying that going public had been a negative experience overall.

When Ms. Daniels stepped down from the stand Thursday afternoon, Mr. Trump stared at a monitor, not glancing up as she walked by.

Thursday’s last witness was Madeleine Westerhout, Trump’s former White House executive assistant, who offered a look at the Oval Office’s inner workings — including a contact list that included celebrities and media figures like Bill O’Reilly — and amusing habits, like Mr. Trump’s tendency toward exclamation points in online posts.

Ms. Westerhout spoke more flatteringly of Mr. Trump than perhaps any other witness, breaking down in tears, before describing him as a good president and a great boss. “I don’t think he was treated fairly,” she said.

She also spoke of Mr. Trump’s close relationship with Michael D. Cohen, his former lawyer and fixer, and said she sometimes saw Mr. Trump sign checks in his office by hand. Those checks and Mr. Cohen, who is expected to testify later this month, are central to the prosecution’s case. Ms. Westerhout’s testimony will continue on Friday.

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