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Takeaways from Day 11 of the Donald Trump hush money trial as Hope Hicks testifies


By Jeremy Herb, Kara Scannell and Lauren del Valle, CNN

(CNN) — Donald Trump’s former campaign press secretary and White House communications director Hope Hicks took the stand Friday, sitting feet away from her former boss as she described the fallout from the “Access Hollywood” tape and the Trump White House response to stories about hush money payments.

Hicks was visibly nervous, and she mostly avoided eye contact with Trump while answering questions from prosecutors for more than two hours. When prosecutors finished with their questions and Trump’s attorney took the podium, Hicks began crying and appeared to become overwhelmed; she finished her testimony after a brief break.

Through Hicks’ testimony, prosecutors showed jurors the transcript of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape that upended Trump’s campaign – and, according to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, fueled Trump’s concern about keeping Stormy Daniels quiet in the days before the November 2016 election.

A new witness will take the stand when court resumes on Monday – with Trump White House aides, Trump Organization employees, Daniels and Michael Cohen all still on deck for prosecutors to call.

Here are the takeaways from day 11 of the Trump hush money trial:

Hicks describes the tape ‘crisis’ and denying Daniels’ allegations

After sitting in the witness box, Hicks looked visibly uncomfortable and quickly acknowledged as much when she began answering questions.

“I’m really nervous,” she said, adjusting herself and the microphone in front of her.

Trump often had a scowl on his face, occasionally looking at Hicks and frequently passing notes with his attorneys while watching the proceedings play out on the television above him. Hicks, for her part, looked nearly always at assistant district attorney Matthew Colangelo and the jury, not at the defendant’s table.

Much of Hicks’ testimony focused on her role on the Trump campaign in October 2016, just before Election Day. Prosecutors asked what happened when the “Access Hollywood” tape came out.

“The tape was damaging. This was a crisis,” Hicks said.

The aftermath of the tape then informed how the campaign responded when the Wall Street Journal reported on Karen McDougal’s deal with American Media, Inc. not to speak about an alleged affair as part of a $150,000 agreement

In the report, which also mentioned Daniels, Hicks, then a Trump campaign spokesperson, denied that Trump had had affairs with either woman.

Hicks was asked about her conversations with Trump as well as Michael Cohen when reporters came to her for comment.

“What I told to the Wall Street Journal is what was told to me,” Hicks said of the denial she gave about the Daniels allegations.

When cross-examining Hicks, Trump attorney Emil Bove elicited testimony that Trump was also concerned about what his wife would think. Trump asked for the newspapers not to be delivered to his residence the day the story published, Hicks testified.

“I don’t think he wanted anyone in his family to be hurt or embarrassed by anything that was happening on the campaign trial. He wanted them to be proud of him,” Hicks said.

Jurors hear how Trump responded to ‘Access Hollywood’ tape

Jurors saw a full transcript of the “Access Hollywood” tape on Friday, including Trump’s infamous “grab ‘em by the p*ssy” comment, as well as other vulgar language the campaign tried to dismiss as “locker room talk.”

(They did not, however, hear Trump on the tape, as the judge ruled the video would be prejudicial to the jury.)

Hicks took the jury inside the chaos within Trump’s campaign scrambling in response to the Washington Post story on October 7, 2016. Hicks first learned about the tape when the reporter emailed her for comment for his story that day.

“I was concerned,” Hicks testified about her thinking. “I was concerned about the contents of the email. I was concerned about the lack of time to respond. I was concerned we had a transcript without a tape. There was a lot at play.”

Hicks forwarded the email that included a transcript of the audio to several Trump campaign staffers including Kellyanne Conway.

“FLAGGING,” Hicks wrote in the email, with two notes: “1) Need to hear the tape, to be sure. 2) Deny, deny, deny.”

“Strategy number two was going to be a little more difficult,” Hicks said, chuckling on the stand.

Hicks recalled telling Trump about the tape with several other senior staffers like Steve Bannon, Conway, Jared Kushner and Jason Miller at Trump Tower when the story first broke.

“He said that didn’t sound like something he would say,” Hicks testified, noting Trump asked to see the actual tape. Once Trump saw the tape, however, he was upset.

Hicks said that “in that moment” she was not concerned about the impact this would have on female voters, but said it crossed her mind maybe a few hours later or the next day.

“He didn’t want to offend anybody,” Hicks said of Trump. “I think he felt like it was pretty standard stuff for two guys chatting with each other.”

Prosecutors are getting closer to the crime

For two weeks, prosecutors have delved deeply into the negotiations that led to hush money payments made to McDougal and Daniels before the 2016 election.

But those payments are not illegal on their own. Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records stemming from how he allegedly hid the way Cohen was reimbursed for paying $130,000 to Daniels in order to keep her quiet before the 2016 election.

With Hicks’ testimony, prosecutors nudged closer to the repayment and the alleged charges.

Hicks was asked about the response inside the White House when stories about Cohen’s payment to Daniels emerged in 2018 – and Cohen initially claimed he had made the payment without Trump’s knowledge.

Hicks testified that Trump told her about the hush money payment after Cohen gave a statement to The New York Times, saying that Cohen paid the money to Daniels of his own volition.

Colangelo sarcastically asked Hicks if it seemed like Cohen’s character to just pay Daniels for Trump “out of the kindness of his heart.”

“I’d say that would be out of character for Michael,” Hicks responded. “I didn’t know Michael to be an especially charitable person or selfless person.”

Hicks also said that Trump told her it was better for the story to come out at that point, in 2018, rather than before the 2020 election. “It was Mr. Trump’s opinion that it was better to be dealing with it now and that it would have been bad to have that story come out before the election,” she said.

Hicks said she did not have direct knowledge of the payments or repayments for the hush money. But she set the scene for future witnesses to come who will begin to detail that part of the story to jurors.

Attacks continue against ‘Mr. Fix it,’ Michael Cohen

Trump’s legal team continued its trial-long assault on Cohen’s credibility Friday, going after everything from the way he handled his cell phones to how he would go “rogue” during 2016 campaign.

During cross-examination, Trump’s attorneys asked Hicks to confirm that Cohen was not looped in on campaign strategy and did things that were not authorized by the campaign.

“He liked to call himself a fixer, or ‘Mr. Fix it’ – and it was only because he first broke it that he was able to then fix it,” Hicks said, laughing.

Trump’s team also used its cross-examination of the digital forensics expert, Douglas Daus, who examined Cohen’s cell phones to cast doubt on the credibility of Trump’s former lawyer.

Before the trial began, Trump’s team tried to subpoena the Manhattan district attorney’s employee who was responsible for the phones during the four-day lapse between when the phones were obtained to when it was brought to Daus’ department.

Trump’s lawyers indicated in the letter they wanted to “challenge the integrity of evidence DANY (District Attorney of New York) will seek to offer from Cohen’s phones, for use in cross-examination of Cohen” and “regarding the bias and hostility toward President Trump to attack the lack of integrity of DANY’s investigation.”

Daus, who introduced a key September 2016 recording of Trump and Cohen that was on Cohen’s phone, agreed that he did not know what Cohen had done with his phone when it had been synced with a laptop in 2017 and turned on and used in 2020.

Prosecutors sought to push back on this angle from the defense in court.

“Did you see any evidence of tampering or manipulation on any of the data that you pulled related to the recording that’s in evidence?” prosecutor Chris Conroy asked.

“I did not,” Daus testified.

Judge reminds Trump the gag order doesn’t mean he can’t testify

Trump continues to rail against the gag order issued by Judge Juan Merchan that blocks the defendant from speaking out about potential witnesses and most people in or associated with the court or the New York district attorney’s office. (The judge himself and Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg are not covered.)

Trump has repeatedly made the gag order sound far broader than it is, CNN fact checker Daniel Dale wrote. For instance, Trump claimed at a Wednesday campaign rally in Michigan that “I’m not even supposed to be, I would say, talking to you, because he gagged me” – though the gag order actually says nothing to prevent him from making a campaign speech.

He’s also said previously it would prevent him from taking the stand. But while Trump acknowledged to reporters Friday morning that the gag order doesn’t impact his ability to testify if he chose to do so, the judge made clear there was no doubt.

“The order restricting extrajudicial statements does not prevent you from testifying in any way,” Merchan said in court Friday. “It does not prohibit you from taking the stand and it does not limit or minimize what you can say.”

Trump has paid the $9,000 fine he was assessed for previously breaking the gag order, using two cashier’s checks.

Merchan did not, however, rule on the additional alleged gag order violations brought against Trump.

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