Opinion: Stormy Daniels Clears Up Hush Money Events for Jury While Clouding Trump’s Defense | VIDEOs

Written by on May 8, 2024

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*(CNN) — It’s hard to imagine two more different days at trial than Monday’s dry but necessary accounting evidence and Tuesday’s consistently gripping — and at times lurid and even out of control — testimony from Stormy Daniels. This long-awaited witness in the Manhattan criminal trial of former President Donald Trump ultimately checked important boxes for both sides — though more for the prosecution. This was to be expected, as they called her to the stand.

Daniels, the adult film actress who received a $130,000 hush money payment in 2016, is a witness to the heart of the felony false business records case against Trump. Prosecutors allege that the documents were falsified to cover up Trump’s payment to suppress her story of a sexual encounter with him (which Trump denies happened). They claim the payment was, among other things, made with the intent of illegally influencing the presidential election.

We can break down Daniels’ testimony into five critical “C” components:

Curiosity: From the moment Daniels entered the room on stage right, the jury’s eyes — indeed, all eyes in the courtroom — were on her. That included Trump, as he repeatedly glanced toward and away from her as she began her testimony. She was dressed conservatively, her all-black outfit setting off her pinned-up blond hair as she told her story. Juries expect to meet the key players in a case and will reward the prosecution for providing them, as the district attorney’s office did here.

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Character: Assistant District Attorney Susan Hoffinger spent the first 15 minutes or so of direct examination introducing Daniels to the jury. She was not what they might have expected from the label “porn star.” The jury was attentive as she put on her black horn-rimmed glasses and began testifying about her childhood in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, her love of horses and her scholarship to the Texas A&M veterinary program, and her career as an actress in both adult and mainstream films, a director and a writer of scripts and books. Like any of us, juries need to get to know a witness and Hoffinger took the time to do that, conveying a likable persona through biographical details.

Credibility: Next, Daniels testified in detail about meeting and having sex with Trump in 2006, establishing for the jury that the alleged encounter happened —and that she is credible. Daniels provided details right down to how uncomfortable her gold shoes were that night and how hard it was to get them back on after the alleged sexual encounter because her hands were shaking. “I felt ashamed that I didn’t stop it,” she testified. Judge Juan Merchan eventually started upholding defense objections to her sometimes rambling answers that were unflattering to Trump, but the point had been made: the degree of detail meant the witness was believable. (The defense requested a mistrial on the argument that the jury had been irretrievably biased by her testimony, but the judge rightly rejected that as unfounded.)

Corroboration: The witness soon brought us to 2016 and the key moment in the case: the ups and downs of the negotiation of the hush money payment to her that prosecutors allege was an illegal campaign contribution. All of these points had already been established by the documents and other witnesses, but her testimony corroborated all that — and what we expect to hear from the biggest remaining witness to come, former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen.

Cross: As with every witness in this trial, the defense, in this case the able Susan Necheles, landed some blows. She attacked Daniels’ motivations, wresting admissions that she hated Trump and owed him large sums because of losing defamation litigation against him. More fundamentally, Necheles challenged the witness’ credibility on the 2006 encounter with Trump, pointing out that Daniels had previously denied it as recently as 2018. And Necheles cast aspersions on a 2011 threat to Daniels’ life and other statements that the witness testified about on direct examination before the trial broke for the day, with the questioning of Daniels to resume on Thursday (there is no court on Wednesdays).

It was another strong cross-examination for the defense — but like those who came before her, this witness hung in there and the results were not strong enough to knock prosecutors off track. The widely anticipated testimony of Stormy Daniels did not disappoint.

Norm Eisen - screenshot
Norm Eisen – screenshot

Editor’s note: Norman Eisen is a CNN legal analyst and editor of “Trying Trump: A Guide to His First Election Interference Criminal Trial.” He served as counsel to the House Judiciary Committee for the first impeachment and trial of then-President Donald Trump. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion at CNN.

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