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Judge corrects Trump claim he “can’t testify” in hush money trial due to gag order: live updates


Donald Trump is in no way limited by what he can say about witnesses at his Manhattan hush money trial if he chooses to take the stand in his own defense, the judge presiding over the case told him Friday — correcting a claim Trump made outside court.

On his way out of court Thursday, Trump claimed Merchan’s gag order — the subject of ongoing debate –  prevented him from taking the stand.

“Well, I’m not allowed to testify. I’m under a gag order, I guess. I can’t testify,” Trump said. 

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan started Friday’s proceedings by saying he needed to “clear up any misunderstandings” about the gag order preventing Trump from publicly remarking on witnesses and jurors. 

“I want to stress, Mr. Trump, that you have an absolute right to testify at trial, if that’s what you decide to do,” the judge said, noting his order applies to “statements that are made outside of court, it does not apply to statements made from the witness stand.”

The gag order prevents Trump from making public statements — or directing others to — about jurors, witnesses involved in the case, or relatives of court employees, prosecutors, the judge, and District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

On Tuesday, Trump was held in contempt and hit with $9,000 in sanctions for breaching the order nine times in comments disseminated about the jurors claiming they were biased against him and key witnesses Michael Cohen and David Pecker. Prosecutors want him to face further punishment for four more alleged violations.

Trump, 77, has pleaded not guilty to 34 felonies alleging he repeatedly and fraudulently falsified business records to disguise reimbursement to Cohen for paying Daniels $130,000 in the leadup to the 2016 election to stay silent about her claims of an extramarital one-night-stand with Hilary Clinton’s Republican contender. 

Michael Cohen in the Whitye House briefing room. (Manhatten District Attorney's Office)
Michael Cohen in the Whitye House briefing room. (Manhatten District Attorney’s Office)

Bombshell recording

Doug Daus, a forensic analyst at the Manhattan district attorney’s office, is expected to continue on the stand Friday.

On Thursday, Daus authenticated digital evidence in the case, including a September 2016 discussion between Trump and Cohen that was secretly taped by Trump’s then-fixer depicting the two men talking about the deal with former Playboy model Karen McDougal, which the defense has adamantly sought to distance Trump from.

On the tape, Cohen tells his boss, “I’ve spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up,” about the Trump Organization’s longtime, twice-convicted finance chief.

“So, what do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?” Trump says during the back-and-forth, at one point ordering someone to get him a Coke.

Donald Trump and Karen McDougal (Getty Images)
Donald Trump and Karen McDougal (Getty Images)

What to know

Trump is accused off falsifying business records to disguise reimbursement to Cohen for paying Daniels $130,000 in the leadup to the 2016 election to stay silent.

Prosecutors allege Cohen’s compensation capped a scheme devised at a meeting between Trump, Cohen, and David Pecker, the former CEO of American Media Inc, or AMI, in August 2015 at Trump Tower, where Trump had announced his candidacy a couple of months before. 

Pecker, who testified last week as the first witness under an immunity deal with prosecutors, said he agreed to be the campaign’s “eyes and ears by looking out for stories brewing that could hurt Trump’s chances with voters to notify Cohen of publish puff pieces about Trump in AMI-run publications like the National Enquirer and orchestrate hit jobs against his opponents like Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio. 

This week, jurors heard extensive testimony from Keith Davidson, the lawyer who represented McDougal and Daniels in hush money negotiations in 2016. The Los Angeles-based attorney said AMI’s $150,000 payoff to McDougal, finalized in August 2016, came after he tipped off Dylan Howard, the former top editor at the National Enquirer, who got the green light from Pecker to buy and bury the former Playboy model’s story.  

The supermarket tabloid also reached a deal with Daniels as she mulled coming forward weeks later amid the release of the “Access Hollywood tape, but backed out due to Pecker’s fears an association with a porn star could hurt AMI’s reputation, the publisher said when he testified. 

Davidson told the jury he was forced to deal directly with Trump’s fixer, who would wire him the money through a shell company after taking out a home equity loan. Cohen was convicted of federal campaign finance charges in 2018 and sentenced to three years. 

Check back for updates. 

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