Prosecution calls first witness in Trump's trial

 April 22, 2024

The prosecution in Donald Trump's "hush money" trial called the first witness on Monday, former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker.

In opening statements, prosecutors for Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg painted Pecker as part of a criminal "conspiracy" to bury negative news stories about Trump ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

Pecker took the stand for less than half an hour before court was adjourned.

First Trump witness testifies

He spoke briefly about the way business was run at the Enquirer, telling the jury his staff could not spend more than $10,000 on a story without his approval.

The criminal case centers on Trump's efforts to "catch and kill" a story about an alleged affair with porn star Stormy Daniels. Trump has long denied having the affair.

He is charged with "falsifying business records" for allegedly hiding reimbursement checks to former lawyer Michael Cohen, the star witness in Bragg's case, who paid $130,000 to Daniels. In opening statements Monday, the prosecution and the defense laid out their dueling narratives of the "hush money" payment.

Bragg's prosecutors described Trump's efforts to avoid bad publicity as a form of election interference, with Pecker as the "eyes and ears."

“This was a planned, long-running conspiracy to influence the 2016 election, to help Donald Trump get elected through illegal expenditures to silence people who had something bad to say about his behavior,” prosecutor Matthew Colangelo said.

“It was election fraud, pure and simple.”

"Not a crime"

Trump defense lawyer Todd Blanche told the jury that Trump is innocent and that he had personal reasons, unrelated to politics, to stop Daniels' "sinister" story from spreading.

“President Trump fought back, like he always does, and like he’s entitled to do, to protect his family, his reputation and his brand, and that is not a crime,” Blanche said.

Blanche also ripped the credibility of Cohen, an admitted perjurer, whom Blanche described as "obsessed" with damaging Trump. Trump, the presumptive Republican candidate for president, has dismissed the entire case as a political witch hunt that is designed to sabotage his presidential campaign.

The trial is expected to last six weeks, keeping Trump away from the campaign trail as he seeks to unseat Democratic rival Joe Biden.

Pecker is due back in court on Tuesday.

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