Trump trial resumes after tearful testimony from Hope Hicks, former top White House aide

Former US President Donald Trump attends the first day of his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs, at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City on April 15, 2024.

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The New York criminal hush money trial of Donald Trump resumed Monday after a dramatic week bookended by testimony from a former top White House aide and a warning from the judge that Trump’s rhetoric could land him in jail.

On Friday, former longtime Trump aide Hope Hicks testified for the prosecution under subpoena. She provided an insider’s account of how Trump and his team reacted to damaging news about him on the 2016 presidential campaign trail. This included the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, in which Trump was caught on tape bragging about sexual misconduct.

“Everyone was just absorbing the shock of it,” Hicks said, describing the immediate aftermath of the tape’s release.

That tape renewed media interest in porn star Stormy Daniels’ little-known account of a sexual encounter she said she had with Trump in 2006. For much of the week, the jury heard from a lawyer who helped broker a $130,000 hush money payment for Daniels. That payment is at the center of the prosecution’s case.

Former White House communications director Hope Hicks leaves the hearing room during a break at a closed-door interview with the House Judiciary Committee June 19, 2019 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. 

Alex Wong | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records to hide a reimbursement to his lawyer for the payment to Daniels. The $130,000 was paid by Trump’s then-attorney Michael Cohen, less than two weeks before the 2016 election. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg accuses Trump of concealing records of the payment to further an illegal scheme to influence the election.

Hicks testified that while she was working in the Trump White House, Trump told her that Cohen had made the payment without Trump’s knowledge in order to protect him, and that he did it “out of the kindness of his own heart.”

Hicks said she thought acting out of pure kindness would be “out of character for Michael.”

She also suggested that Trump was pleased the Daniels story did not come out before the election. “I think Mr. Trump’s opinion was 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 testified.

Read more about Trump’s hush money trial

When Trump’s attorneys began their cross-examination, asking her basic questions about her time at the Trump Organization, Hicks quickly broke down in tears on the witness stand.

Earlier in the week, Judge Juan Merchan held Trump in criminal contempt of court for nine violations of a gag order barring him from speaking about witnesses, jurors and other parties involved in the trial.

Merchan gave Trump the maximum fine of $1,000 for each violation. The judge’s order acknowledged that that fine is hardly enough to be a deterrent to a defendant as wealthy as Trump. But Merchan said Trump could face jail time if he continues to violate court orders.

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