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Former tabloid publisher testifies at Trump corruption trial

Former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker took the stand Monday at Donald Trump’s criminal trial to testify about his role in what prosecutors say was a scheme to suppress negative information about Trump ahead of the 2016 election.

On the first day of the trial, Pecker, 72, explained the basics of tabloid journalism and said his company often paid for the stories. He did not discuss his interactions with Trump, but is expected to return Tuesday for further questioning.

Pecker is the first witness in the first trial of a former president of the United States. New York prosecutors say Trump broke the law and corrupted the election by falsifying corporate records to cover a payment to porn star Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet.

Trump has pleaded not guilty and his lawyers say he committed no crime.

“There’s nothing wrong with trying to influence an election. It’s called democracy. They put something sinister in that idea, as if it were a crime,” Trump lawyer Todd Blanche said.

Blanche spoke shortly after prosecutors told jurors that Trump broke the law by deceiving voters.

“This case is about a conspiracy and a cover-up, an illegal conspiracy to undermine the integrity of the presidential election and then the steps that Donald Trump took to hide this illegal voter fraud,” said U.S. Attorney Matthew Colangelo.

Colangelo told jurors they would listen to Trump elaborate on the details of the plan in recorded conversations.

Both sides gave their opening statements in what could be the only one of Trump’s four criminal cases to go to trial before his Nov. 5 election rematch against Democratic President Joe Biden.

Colangelo told jurors that Trump was engaged in a conspiracy with Pecker and his former lawyer Michael Cohen to help him defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

That included payments to women who said they had sexual encounters with Trump, including a $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels, at a time when he was facing other revelations of sexual misconduct, he said.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records. Prosecutors say he forged checks and invoices to disguise $420,000 in payments to Cohen as legal services when in reality they were supposed to reimburse him for paying Daniels. Trump denies having a meeting with Daniels.

Wearing a blue tie and navy suit, the Republican presidential candidate watched Pecker testify and occasionally spoke with his lawyer. A Secret Service agent, wearing a headset, sat directly behind him.

The case is seen by many legal experts as the least important of the legal proceedings against Trump. A guilty verdict would not prevent him from taking office if he wins the election, but it could damage his candidacy.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll shows half of independent voters and one in four Republicans say they would not vote for Trump if he were convicted of a crime.

“EYES AND EARS”

According to prosecutors, during an August 2015 meeting with Trump and Cohen, Pecker agreed to serve as the campaign’s “eyes and ears,” looking for negative stories about Trump.

“Pecker wasn’t acting like a publisher, he was acting like a co-conspirator,” Colangelo said.

American Media, which published the National Enquirer, admitted in 2018 that it paid former Playboy magazine model Karen McDougal $150,000 for the rights to her story about a months-long affair with Trump in 2006 and 2007. American Media has claimed it ran “in conjunction” with Trump’s campaign and never published a story.

The tabloid made a similar deal to pay $30,000 to a doorman who was trying to sell a story that Trump had fathered a child out of wedlock, which turned out to be false, according to prosecutors.

Trump said the payments were personal and did not violate election law. He also denied having an affair with McDougal.

At the New York trial, Trump is accused of falsely recording his 2017 reimbursement to Cohen for the payment to Daniels as legal fees on his real estate company’s books. Prosecutors say he did so to hide the fact that Cohen’s payment exceeded the $2,700 limit for individual campaign contributions at the time.

Testimony about such payments could help prosecutors establish that Cohen’s payment to Daniels was part of a larger scheme.

According to Trump’s defense team, prosecutors plan to call at least 20 witnesses in total. The process could take six to eight weeks.

Judge Juan Merchan ruled that prosecutors will be able to ask Trump, if he testifies, about other court cases that concluded he engaged in business fraud and defamed writer E. Jean Carroll after accusing him of rape.

Trump faces three more criminal charges stemming from his efforts to overturn his 2020 election defeat and his handling of classified documents after leaving the White House in 2021.

Trump has pleaded not guilty in those cases, and describes them all as a broad attempt by Biden’s Democratic allies to damage his campaign.

((Editorial translation by Sao Paulo)) REUTERS AC

Source: Terra

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