5 takeaways from Day 10 of the Trump trial: ‘What have we done?’

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Former President Trump’s trial in New York entered its 10th day on Thursday, with Keith Davidson on the witness stand.

Davidson is a Los Angeles lawyer who represented adult film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, both of whom claim they had sexual encounters with Trump roughly a decade before he was elected president. 

Trump denies both women’s claims.

Trump, the first ex-president to face a criminal trial, is charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. 

The backstory centers on a $130,000 payment to Daniels in the closing days of the 2016 presidential campaign, intended to keep her from going public with her story.

The money was paid by the former president’s then-attorney and fixer Michael Cohen. He was then reimbursed in a series of payments from entities controlled by Trump.

The prosecution’s case is that these reimbursements were falsely classified as legal expenses to conceal their actual purpose — and that they amounted to election interference, since voters might have otherwise found out about the women’s allegations.

The Trump team, noting that hush-money payments are not illegal in themselves, argues the former president did nothing wrong.

The former president has repeatedly claimed that the prosecution — spearheaded by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D) — is a politicized effort intended to hobble his 2024 electoral hopes.

Here are the main takeaways from Thursday’s proceedings.

‘What have we done?’

One of the most vivid pieces of evidence Thursday was a 2016 text message sent by Davidson to Dylan Howard, who was then the top editor at the National Enquirer, the supermarket tabloid.

“What have we done?” Davidson asked Howard as the results came in on election night.

Howard’s reply was, “Oh my god.”

The two men had been in touch about possible deals for Daniels and McDougal.

In his Thursday testimony, Davidson referred to the Election Day exchange of texts as “gallows humor.”

“There was an understanding that our … activities may have assisted the presidential campaign of Donald Trump,” Davidson testified.

Legally, that’s important. The offense with which Trump is charged is usually classified as a misdemeanor unless it is committed in furtherance of another crime.

Davidson’s testimony helps the prosecution’s argument that the deals were done to help Trump in the 2016 election, not just to save him personal embarrassment.

A Trump tape

Trump has had to be uncharacteristically silent in the courtroom itself. But his voice was heard, in taped form, on Thursday.

The moment came when a recording covertly made by Cohen in September 2016 was played.

In it, the attorney is discussing with Trump the deal with McDougal. According to The New York Times, the tape also features a voice resembling that of Trump aide Hope Hicks in the background.

Trump is heard asking about how much the agreement is going to cost, asking “one-fifty?” —  apparently meaning $150,000.

There is also a brief exchange between Trump and Cohen over whether to pay by cash or check. Trump wants to pay cash but Cohen demurs.

Even though the details are brief, the power of hearing Trump discuss the deal could be significant for jurors.

Michael Cohen’s disappointment gets a closer look

Cohen is the most important figure in the case, after Trump and Daniels themselves.

He is expected to testify for the prosecution, and it seems all but certain he will speak in damning terms of Trump’s knowledge of the deals and their underlying purpose.

Trump’s team will seek to paint Cohen as an utterly unreliable witness, motivated by animus toward his former boss — for whom, in happier times, Cohen famously once said he would “take a bullet.”

The defense has plenty to work with.

In December 2018, Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison for eight criminal counts relating to tax evasion, making false statements to a federally insured bank, and violations of campaign finance law. The previous month, he had pleaded guilty to a separate charge of lying to Congress. 

After a prison stint and another spell under home confinement, he was freed in November 2021.

Before all that, when still working for Trump, Cohen was hoping for a plum job in his boss’s presidential administration.

It was not to be.

“Jesus Christ, can you believe I’m not going to Washington?” Cohen asked Davidson during a December 2016 phone call, according to the latter’s testimony.

Trump attorney Emil Bove suggested Cohen even entertained hopes of becoming attorney general — a fanciful thought from the perspective of 2024.

The details may be useful to Trump’s team in portraying Cohen as a liar out for revenge rather than a truth-telling whistleblower.

Former lawyer for Stormy Daniels comes under pressure

Davidson sought to present himself as an earnest-minded lawyer simply out to do the best for his clients.

But this noble self-image came under pressure from Trump’s team during cross-examination on Thursday. 

Bove implied that Davidson was only a few legal niceties away from committing outright extortion on behalf of his clients.

Davidson countered that he always acted within the law.

But some of the seamier elements of the celebrity world were laid out, with references to sex tapes involving, separately, wrestler Hulk Hogan and reality TV star Tila Tequila, as well as a Davidson client who apparently helped make public that actress Lindsay Lohan was in rehab.

Reporters in the courtroom said Davidson looked discomfited by the details.

A fresh batch of potential gag order violations

The trial has had a running sideshow, even in these relatively early stages, over alleged violations by Trump of the gag order Judge Juan Merchan has imposed upon him.

Last week, Merchan ruled that Trump had violated the order in nine of 10 examples brought forth by prosecutors. The judge fined Trump $1,000 for each instance and expressed regret he could not levy heavier fines.

Merchan heard arguments about another four alleged violations on Thursday morning, but he has not yet issued a ruling.

A Thursday afternoon fundraising email from the Trump 2024 campaign and the Republican National Committee bore the subject line, “They’d cut my tongue out if they could.”

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