Trump hush money trial: Ex-tabloid publisher, former Trump assistant testify on Day 4

Former US President Donald Trump, center, and Todd Blanche, attorney for former US President Donald Trump, second left, at Manhattan criminal court in New York, on April 25, 2024. Photographer: Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Key things to know:

  • Friday is day four of witness testimony in Trump's hush money trial, with former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker being cross-examined.
  • Trump is charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records as part of a scheme to bury stories that he feared could hurt his 2016 campaign.
  • Others expected to testify are Stormy Daniels, a porn actor who says she had a sexual encounter with Trump, and Michael Cohen, the lawyer who prosecutors say paid her to keep quiet about it.

Former President Donald Trump’s hush money trial continued Friday with defense lawyers cross-examining David Pecker, the former publisher of the National Enquirer, and his efforts to protect Trump from negative stories during the 2016 election.

Defense lawyers in Donald Trump’s hush money trial dug into assertions of the former publisher of the National Enquirer and his efforts to protect Trump from negative stories during the 2016 election.

Pecker returned to the witness stand for the fourth day as defense attorneys tried to poke holes in his testimony, which has described helping bury embarrassing stories Trump feared could hurt his campaign.

The prosecution later called to the stand Rhona Graff, Trump’s former longtime executive assistant who has been described as his "gatekeeper," and Gary Farro, a private client adviser who previously worked at First Republic, which was used by former Trump attorney and fixer Michael Cohen, according to the Associated Press. 

Farro will continue his testimony Tuesday when the trial resumes, with Monday being a long-scheduled day off.

Pecker has testified about "catch and kill" tabloid schemes — catching a potentially damaging story by buying the rights to it and then killing it through agreements that prevent the paid person from telling the story to anyone else.

Here's a recap of day four of the trial: 

4:50 p.m. ET The trial so far 

Prosecutors have called three witnesses.  Former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker spent about 10 hours on the stand over the course of four days.

Then Trump’s longtime executive assistant Rhona Graff answered questions for about 30 minutes.

The current witness, Cohen’s former banker Gary Farro, was on the stand for a little under an hour Friday and will return Tuesday when the trial resumes.

4:45 p.m. ET: Trump speaks to reporters after court ends for the day

The former president spoke to reporters with more energy than he had in past days after spending the day in the courtroom. He declared that the case was politically motivated and reaffirmed his willingness to debate President Joe Biden anytime, anywhere, even Friday night or at the White House.

Trump left for the day after speaking for a few minutes and didn’t take any questions from reporters on the way out of court. He’s expected to head back to Florida, the Associated Press noted. 

4:40 p.m. ET: Trial testimony concludes for the day

Trump walked out of court, exhaling and with a stern expression.

With Monday a long-scheduled day off, the trial will resume Tuesday.

4:30 p.m. ET: Farro explains how be helped Cohen create an LLC

Farro detailed, step by step, the process of helping Michael Cohen create an account for his limited liability company, Resolution Consultants. Prosecutors have also shown emails in which Cohen describes the opening of the account as an "important matter."

The Associated Press reported Cohen said the company, which he opened in September 2016, was related to real estate, according to Farro. In fact, the LLC was formed to facilitate the planned purchase of Karen McDougal’s story rights from American Media. That deal never went through.

Farro said that since the account was never funded, it was never technically opened. Instead, Cohen pivoted to starting another account for another LLC — Essential Consultants, which he used to make the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels. Similarly, Farro said Cohen led him to believe that firm would be involved in real estate consulting.

4:15 p.m. ET: Prosecutions 3rd witness is Gary Farro

Gary Farro works at Flagstar Bank as a private client adviser and was previously at First Republic, which was used by former Trump attorney and fixer Michael Cohen.

Farro testified that Cohen had several personal bank accounts at First Republic Bank when Farro took over the client relationship in 2015.

"I was told that I was selected because of my knowledge and because of my ability to handle individuals that may be a little challenging," Farro said.

"Frankly, I didn’t find him that difficult," he added.

3:47 p.m. ET: Graff concludes her testimony

Trump spoke briefly to Graff as she left the witness stand.

He appeared to reach out to her with his hand as an officer guided her away from the witness stand past the defense table, the Associated Press noted. 

Trump’s lawyers were at the bench, talking with Judge Merchan, when Trump stood up and engaged with Graff.

3:40 p.m. ET: Graff says Stormy Daniels was once at Trump’s offices

Stormy Daniels was once at Trump’s offices in Trump Tower, Graff testified, the Associated Press reported. 

"I have a vague recollection of seeing her in the reception area" one time, the longtime former Trump assistant said.

The date of the visit wasn’t immediately clear.

Graff said she assumed Daniels was there to discuss potentially being a contestant on one of Trump’s "Apprentice"-brand TV shows.

"You had heard President Trump say that he thought that she would be an interesting addition" to the cast, Trump lawyer Susan Necheles asked.

"It was part of the office chatter," Graff said.

3:30 p.m. ET: Graff described what it was like working for Trump

After prosecutors zipped through questions for Graff, primarily focused on specific scheduling details, attorneys for Trump asked open-ended questions about her working relationship with her former boss.

"I never had the same day twice. It was a very stimulating, exciting, fascinating place to be," she said of her 34 years working for the Trump Organization.

Graff then described Trump as a "fair" and "respectful" boss.

3:15 p.m. ET: Graff says Stormy Daniels’ and McDougal’s contacts were stored in Outlook

Graff testified that contact information for Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal were maintained in the Trump Organization’s Outlook computer system.

Prosecutors then displayed those contact entries to jurors. The exhibits showed McDougal’s contact info included a phone number and address. For Daniels, a phone number was listed under a single name: "Stormy."

2:45 p.m. ET: 2nd witness to testify is Rhona Graff, former Trump executive assistant

Rhona Graff, who started working for Trump in 1987 and left the Trump Organization in April 2021, has been described as his gatekeeper and right hand, the Associated Press reported. 

She was among several people involved in keeping his records. Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, wrote in his 2020 book "Disloyal" that she had her own Trump Tower office with a large filing cabinet containing folders on various issues pertaining to Trump.

Former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, the first prosecution witness called, testified Thursday that Graff was often the conduit for his communications with Trump, routing his calls and summoning him to a Trump Tower meeting on Jan. 6, 2017. At the meeting, the ex-publisher said, he and Trump discussed some of the hush money arrangements at issue in the case.

Graff was previously subpoenaed in the New York attorney general’s Trump civil fraud investigation but did not testify when the case went to trial last year.

2 p.m. ET: Trump posts about debating President Biden

During the trial’s lunch break, Donald Trump reacted on social media to President Joe Biden’s comment Friday that he’s willing to debate this fall.

Trump said on Truth Social that he thinks Biden "doesn’t really mean it." He said if Biden is serious, they should debate next week or even Friday at the Manhattan courthouse on national television, saying "I’ll wait around."

On the way into court Friday morning, Trump complained he was in court instead of in Florida with his wife for her birthday and said he planned to fly to Florida after the trial wrapped for the day, the Associated Press noted. 

1:55 p.m. ET: Prosecutors try to refute contention that Enquirer deal wasn’t unique to Trump

Before breaking for lunch, prosecutors clawed back at the defense’s contention that the National Enquirer arrangement wasn’t unique to Trump, eliciting testimony from Pecker that underscored the unusual nature of their deal, the Associated Press reported. 

Several similar questions followed suit, with Pecker acknowledging he had not previously sought out stories and worked the company’s sources for information on behalf of a presidential candidate or allowed political fixers close access to internal decision-making.

1:50 p.m. ET: Prosecution returns to the subject of the Karen McDougal deal

After resuming his questioning of David Pecker, prosecutor Joshua Steinglass made a point of returning to a topic that had been raised during cross-examination: the true objective of a 2016 contract the National Enquirer’s parent company made with former Playboy model Karen McDougal, the Associated Press reported. 

Wasn’t the contract really aimed at "locking up the Karen McDougal story?" he asked.

"Yes," Pecker said, later adding that the parts about columns and articles were "included in the contract basically to disguise the actual purpose of it."

"And what was the actual purpose of it?"

Pecker said it was "to acquire the lifetime rights to her story so it’s not published."

1:45 p.m. ET: Cross-examination of David Pecker comes to an end

As defense attorney Emil Bove wrapped up his cross-examination, Pecker said "I’ve been truthful, to the best of my recollection."

Now prosecutors will get to ask the former National Enquirer publisher some more questions, which is standard in trials.

1 p.m. ET: Questioning turns to agreements to resolve investigations

Bove is questioning Pecker about various agreements American Media Inc. made to resolve investigations into its role in purchasing stories on Trump’s behalf.

After focusing on the company’s non-prosecution agreement with federal prosecutors, the defense lawyer turned to asking Pecker about a conciliation agreement the publishing firm had with the Federal Election Commission. Under the deal, American Media Inc. paid a $187,500 civil penalty to resolve a campaign finance violation.

12:10 p.m. ET: Questions on proposed deal to sell company

David Pecker pushed back on a line of questioning from the defense suggesting a proposed deal to sell his tabloid empire may have pushed him to resolve a federal investigation into his company.

Defense attorney Emil Bove zeroed in on the context surrounding a non-prosecution agreement between Pecker and the federal government. He repeatedly suggested Pecker may have felt pressured to accept an agreement in order to finalize a deal to sell his company to newsstand operator Hudson News Group for a proposed $100 million.

In the end, the deal never went through.

11:30 a.m. ET: Defense challenges former Enquirer publisher on past statements

In the most confrontational moment so far Friday, Bove challenged Pecker on statements he made to federal prosecutors in 2018, which the defense attorney said are "inconsistent" with the publisher’s testimony given this week.

Pecker testified that Trump thanked him for his help handling stories involving former Playboy model Karen
McDougal and Dino Sajudin, a Trump Tower doorman, during a White House visit on Jan. 6, 2017.

But according to notes cited by Bove in court, Pecker had previously told federal authorities Trump did not express any gratitude to him or American Media during the meeting.

11:15 a.m. ET: Questioning turns to National Inquirer's deal with former Playboy model

The defense’s questioning has turned to the deal between the National Enquirer’s parent company and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, the Associated Press reported. 

Defense attorney Emil Bove sought to get at what both her and the Enquirer’s objectives really were in making the 2016 deal.

The $150,000 agreement gave American Media Inc. exclusive rights to McDougal’s account of any relationship with "any then-married man," a clause Pecker has testified was specifically about Trump. She claims they had an affair in 2006 and 2007; he denies it.

The contract also called for McDougal to pose for magazine covers and to produce, with a ghostwriter’s help, columns and other content on fitness and aging for various American Media titles.

Pecker testified earlier this week that the provision for content was essentially a fig leaf for a pact that was really about keeping McDougal’s story from becoming public and potentially influencing Trump’s chances at the presidency.

But in response to questions Friday from Bove, Pecker said McDougal was looking to restart her career and that American Media had pitched itself in a video conference as a venue that could help her. The company indeed ended up running more than 65 stories in her name, he said.

10: 50 a.m. ET: David Pecker appearing weary in his 4th day on witness stand

In his fourth day on the witness stand, Pecker appeared wearier than usual.

He interrupts his answers at times with long pauses and is speaking in a strained voice that can be difficult to hear.

In addition to the long hours of testimony, the nature of cross-examination may have also contributed to Pecker’s apparent fatigue, as defense attorneys rattle off questions with "yes" or "no" answers meant to poke holes in his earlier testimony.

10 a.m. ET: Judge issues jury instructions, questioning resumes 

The jury’s day in Trump's hush money trial began Friday with an instruction from the judge that it’s OK for prosecutors or defense lawyers to meet with witnesses ahead of a trial to help them prepare to testify.

That pertains to testimony that came out toward the end of Thursday, when Trump lawyer Emil Bove was cross-examining former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker.

Bove resumed questioning Pecker as the fourth day of testimony began in a Manhattan courtroom.

9:30 a.m. ET: Trump wishes Melania a happy birthday

Trump entered court Friday in his hush money trial in Manhattan carrying a thick stack of bound papers, which he said was a report put out by the U.S. House Judiciary Committee about the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

The former president said he had not read the report, "but it could be interesting."

Trump told reporters that he wanted to wish his wife, former first lady Melania Trump, a happy birthday, saying, "It would be nice to be with her, but I’m in a courthouse."

He said he planned to fly home to Florida, where she is, Friday evening after court wraps for the week.

9 a.m. ET: Gag order violations hearing rescheduled due to campaign events

A change in the court schedule means Trump won’t be forced off the campaign trail next week to attend a hearing in his hush money criminal trial in New York.

Judge Juan M. Merchan moved a hearing on the former president’s alleged gag order violations to next Thursday, avoiding a conflict with his scheduled campaign events next Wednesday.

Merchan had initially set the hearing for next Wednesday, the trial’s regular day off. Trump is scheduled to hold campaign events that day in Michigan and Wisconsin. His lawyers have urged the judge not to hold any proceedings on Wednesdays, so he can campaign.

The hearing — now set for 9:30 a.m. next Thursday, May 2 — pertains to a prosecution request that Trump be penalized for violating his gag order this week on four separate occasions.

The order bars Trump from making comments about witnesses and others connected to the case. Merchan is already mulling holding Trump in contempt of court and fining him up to $10,000 for other alleged gag order violations.

8:15 a.m. ET: David Pecker's testimony offers astonishing insight into National Enquirer 

Even by National Enquirer standards, testimony by its former publisher David Pecker at Trump’s hush money trial this week has revealed an astonishing level of corruption at America’s best-known tabloid and may one day be seen as the moment it effectively died.

"It just has zero credibility," Lachlan Cartwright, executive editor of the Enquirer from 2014 to 2017, told the Associated Press. "Whatever sort of credibility it had was totally damaged by what happened in court this week."

On Thursday, Pecker was back on the witness stand to tell more about the arrangement he made to boost Trump’s presidential candidacy in 2016, tear down his rivals and silence any revelations that may have damaged him.

Trump's hush money case

The indictment against Trump centers on payoffs allegedly made to two women, porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal. 

Trump’s former lawyer and "fixer," Michael Cohen, paid Daniels $130,000 and arranged for the publisher of the National Enquirer supermarket tabloid to pay McDougal $150,000. 

Trump's company, the Trump Organization, then reimbursed Cohen and paid him bonuses and extra payments – all of which, prosecutors say, were falsely logged as legal expenses in company records. Over several months, Cohen said the company paid him $420,000.

Payments were also allegedly made to a Trump Tower doorman who claimed to have a story about a child he alleged Trump had out of wedlock.

The indictment, brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, made Trump the first ex-president ever to face criminal charges. 

Trump has denied the accusations.

Who is appearing in court?

Witnesses in the trial include Pecker, Cohen, Daniels, and McDougal. 

Hope Hicks, Trump’s former White House communications director, is also appearing.

Who are the jurors?

After being forced to release a seated juror, the judge on Thursday ordered the media not to report on where potential jurors have worked – even when stated in open court – and to be careful about revealing information about those who will sit in judgment of the former president. Here's what we can report.

Juror 1 and foreperson: A man who lives in New York City and has no children. Loves the outdoors and gets his news from The New York Times, Daily Mail, Fox News and MSNBC. 

When asked by Trump defense attorney Todd Blanche if he was aware Trump is charged in other cases and jurisdictions, and how that affects him, the man said, "I don’t have an opinion." 

Juror 2: A man who said he follows Trump’s former lawyer, Cohen, on "X," formerly known as Twitter. He also revealed he follows other right-wing accounts including Trump’s former adviser, Kellyanne Conway. 

He has said he would unfollow Cohen as he may be a witness in the trial. 

Juror 3: A middle-aged man who lives in Manhattan. He grew up in Oregon. He gets his news from The New York Times and Google. 

Juror 4: A man who lived in New York City for 15 years. He is originally from California. He is married with three children and a wife who is a teacher. He has served on a jury before – both on a grand jury and a jury in a criminal trial. 

The juror said he gets his news from "a smattering" of sources and does not use social media. 

Juror 5: A young woman who is a New York native. 

She gets most of her news from Google and Tiktok. 

Juror 6: A young woman who lives in Manhattan and likes to dance. 

Juror 7: A man who is married with two children. 

He gets most of his news from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the New York Post and The Washington Post. The man has said he is aware there are other lawsuits but said, "I’m not sure that I know anyone’s character." 

Juror 8: No information has been released about this juror. 

Juror 9: A woman who lives in Manhattan. She is not married and has no children. 

She has never served on a jury before and does not watch the news. However, she said she does have email subscriptions to CNN and The New York Times. She follows social media accounts and listens to podcasts. She also enjoys watching reality TV. 

Juror 10: A man who lives in Manhattan. He is not married and has no children. He does have a roommate who works in accounting. He rarely follows the news but he does listen to podcasts on behavioral psychology. 

Juror 11: No information has been released about this juror. 

Juror 12: No information has been released about this juror. 

How long will the trial last? 

The trial is expected to last anywhere from six to eight weeks. Trump is expected to attend court each day.

How can I watch the Trump trial?

The trial is not being televised. Instead, news reporters and producers will have the ability to sit inside the courtroom and deliver information to the public.

How many court cases is Trump involved in?

As of this report, Trump is currently involved in four criminal cases, which includes the hush money case. 

A second case out of Fulton County, Georgia, has charged Trump, as well as 18 others, with participating in a scheme to illegally attempt to overturn the former president’s loss to President Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. 

Trump is also involved in a third criminal case out of Washington, D.C., which charged him with allegedly conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in the run-up to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol. 

And his fourth case involves classified documents that Trump illegally retained at his Mar-a-Lago estate after he left the White House. 

RELATED: A guide to Trump’s court cases

The Associated Press, FOX News, FOX 5 NY and Catherine Stoddard contributed to this report.