Stormy Daniels: Adult film star gives evidence at former US president Donald Trump's trial

Adult film actor Stormy Daniels has started giving evidence in the trial against Donald Trump

Stormy Daniels entered the witness box on Tuesday to give evidence in the hush money trial of former president Donald Trump.

Daniels was expected to give evidence about a sexual encounter that she says she had in 2006, which resulted in her being paid to keep silent during the presidential election 10 years later.

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Daniels strode briskly into the courtroom before being sworn in, not pausing to look at Trump, who stared straight ahead as she entered the room.

Former US president Donald Trump (left) and adult film actor Stormy DanielsFormer US president Donald Trump (left) and adult film actor Stormy Daniels
Former US president Donald Trump (left) and adult film actor Stormy Daniels

Daniels’ evidence, even if sanitised for a courtroom setting and stripped of tell-all details, is by far the most-awaited spectacle in a trial that has toggled between tabloidesque elements and dry record-keeping details.

Evidence from an adult film performer who says she had an intimate encounter with a former American president, and the presumptive Republican nominee, adds to the long line of historic firsts in a case already laden with tawdry claims of sex, payoffs and cover-ups.

Her evidence is central to the case because in the final weeks of Trump’s 2016 Republican presidential campaign, his then-lawyer and personal fixer, Michael Cohen, paid Daniels $130,000 (£103,000) to keep quiet about what she says was an awkward and unexpected sexual encounter with Trump at a celebrity golf outing in Lake Tahoe in July 2006.

Trump denies having sex with Daniels and has pleaded not guilty.

In the early moments of her evidence, Daniels told jurors that she met Trump because the adult film studio she worked for at the time was sponsoring one of the holes on the golf course.

They chatted about the adult film industry and her directing abilities when Trump’s group passed through.

The celebrity real estate developer remarked that she must be “the smart one” if she’s making films, Daniels recalled.

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Later, in an area known as the “gift room”, where celebrity golfers collected gift bags and swag, Trump remembered her as “the smart one” and asked her if she wanted to go to dinner, Daniels said.

Daniels said she accepted Trump’s invitation because she wanted to get out of a planned dinner with her adult film company colleagues.

She said her then-publicist suggested in a phone call that Trump’s invitation was a good excuse to duck the work dinner and would “make a great story” and perhaps help her career.

“What could possibly go wrong?” she recalled the publicist saying.

Prosecutors and defence lawyers quibbled at the start of the day over the contours of her evidence.

Trump’s attorney Susan Necheles had earlier asked that Daniels be barred from testifying about “the details” of the alleged sexual encounter.

Prosecutor Susan Hoffinger said such details were relevant to her credibility but also offered reassurances that they would be “really basic”.

Judge Juan M Merchan agreed to permit limited testimony.

Evidence has made clear that at the time of the payment to Daniels on October 7, 2016, Trump and his campaign were reeling from the publication of the never-before-seen 2005 Access Hollywood footage, in which he boasted about grabbing women’s genitals without their permission.

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Trump spoke with Cohen and Hope Hicks, his campaign’s press secretary, by phone the next day as they sought to limit damage from the tape and keep his alleged affairs out of the press, according to testimony.

Cohen paid Daniels after her lawyer at the time, Keith Davidson, indicated she was willing to make on-the-record statements to the National Enquirer or on television confirming a sexual encounter with Trump.

National Enquirer editor Dylan Howard alerted publisher David Pecker and then, at Pecker’s direction, told Cohen that Daniels was agitating to go public with her claims, prosecutors said.

Daniels had previously sought to sell her story to another celebrity gossip magazine, Life & Style, in 2011.

The jury on Monday heard from two witnesses, including a former Trump Organisation controller, who provided a mechanical but vital recitation of how the company reimbursed payments that were allegedly meant to suppress embarrassing stories from surfacing and then logged them as legal expenses in a manner that Manhattan prosecutors say broke the law.

The evidence from Jeffrey McConney yielded an important building block for prosecutors trying to pull back the curtain on what they say was a corporate records cover-up of transactions designed to protect Trump’s Republican presidential bid during a pivotal stretch of the race.

It focused on a $130,000 (£103,000) payment from Cohen to Daniels and the subsequent reimbursement Cohen received.

McConney and another witness said that the reimbursement checks were drawn from Trump’s personal account.

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Yet even as jurors witnessed the checks and other documentary evidence, prosecutors did not elicit testimony on Monday showing that Trump dictated that the payments would be logged as legal expenses, a designation that prosecutors contend was intentionally deceptive.

McConney acknowledged during cross-examination that Trump never asked him to log the reimbursements as legal expenses or discussed the matter with him at all.

Another witness, Deborah Tarasoff, a Trump Organisation accounts payable supervisor, said under questioning that she did not get permission to cut the cheques in question from Trump himself.

“You never had any reason to believe that President Trump was hiding anything or anything like that?” Trump attorney Todd Blanche asked.

“Correct,” Ms Tarasoff replied.

The evidence followed a stern warning from Judge Merchan that additional violations of a gag order barring Trump from inflammatory out-of-court comments about witnesses, jurors and others closely connected to the case could result in jail time.

The $1,000 (£797) fine imposed on Monday marks the second time since the trial began last month that Trump has been sanctioned for violating the gag order. He was fined $9,000 (£7,174) last week, 1,000 dollars for each of nine violations.

Prosecutors are continuing to build toward their star witness, Cohen, who pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the hush money payments.

He is expected to undergo a bruising cross-examination from defence attorneys seeking to undermine his credibility with jurors.

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Trump, the Republican Party’s presumptive presidential nominee, is charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in connection with the hush money payments but has pleaded not guilty and denied any wrongdoing.

The trial is the first of his four criminal cases to reach a jury.

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