Trump trial sees new witnesses on the stand to close out first week of testimony

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Prosecutors in former President Donald Trump's criminal trial in New York called two new witnesses to the stand on Friday, rounding out the first week of testimony in the historic proceedings.

Rhona Graff served as Trump's executive assistant and a senior executive at the Trump Organization for decades. Stationed outside Trump's office in Trump Tower, she handled his phone calls and schedule, engaging with those coming and going from meetings. 

Testifying for less than an hour, she told the court that she maintained a list of Trump's contacts, which included entries for Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels. Both women said they had sex with Trump and were paid for their silence before the 2016 election. Trump denies their allegations.

Graff also said she had a "vague recollection" of seeing Daniels "waiting in the reception area of the 26th floor" of Trump Tower.

After Graff's testimony, prosecutors called a bank executive named Gary Farro, who worked at First Republic Bank. He testified that Michael Cohen, Trump's former personal attorney, was his client when Cohen wired $130,000 in "hush money" to Daniels' attorney days before the election.

Their turns on the witness stand came after the conclusion of testimony by Donald Pecker, the former publisher of the National Enquirer. Over the course of four days, Pecker detailed his involvement in a "catch and kill" scheme to acquire the rights to damaging stories about Trump and keep them from public view, saying he did so to help Trump's campaign. 

Pecker testified about several meetings he said he had at Trump Tower, including a 2015 meeting where he said he agreed to be the "eyes and ears" of the Trump campaign. He said that arrangement led him to pay $150,000 to McDougal, a former model. He declined to put up the money to acquire Daniels' story weeks later.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. The charges relate to reimbursements to Cohen for the $130,000 payment.


Banker describes Cohen's "urgency" in opening new accounts

The jury was shown emails from Oct. 13, 2016. In one, Cohen wrote to Farro simply, "call me."

Farro then emailed a colleague, writing: "Need an account opened for Mike Cohen immediately. He wants no address on the checks. Calling you now to discuss."

Farro said funds were never put into the account, meaning it was technically never opened.

Thirteen days later, Oct. 26, Cohen told Farro he was "changing course and no longer wanted to open Resolution Consultants," Farro testified.

He wanted a new account opened for another corporation, registered in Delaware: Essential Consultants, LLC, which Cohen described as a real estate consulting company.

Farro was asked if the request seemed urgent.

"Every time Michael Cohen spoke to me he gave a sense of urgency," Farro said.

Court wrapped up for the day — and the week — soon after.

By Graham Kates

Witness says he was Cohen's banker at the time of the Daniels payment

Gary Farro is a type of witness described as a "custodian of records." He's on the stand to testify to the accuracy of a series of records related to Cohen's bank accounts and transactions with First Republic Bank.

Prosecutors have alleged Cohen used a shell corporation with a First Republic account, called Essential Consultants, to pay Daniels. On Friday, they also showed formation documents for a limited liability corporation created by Cohen called Resolution Consultants. That account was created for the payment to McDougal that was never posted.

Farro, who now works for a different company, was Cohen's banker. He said he was assigned to him after Cohen's previous private banker at the firm left in 2015.

"I was told that I was selected because of my knowledge and my ability to handle individuals that may be a little challenging," Farro said, adding later that, "frankly, I didn't find him that difficult."

Farro said Cohen called him "If it was something that was urgent," but mostly walked to a branch across the street from Trump Tower to conduct his own business. 

Farro said that Cohen told him he worked for Trump. Asked if he mentioned Trump frequently, Farro said, "Yes, he was very excited to work for him."

By Graham Kates

Bank executive Gary Farro called as third witness

Gary Farro, a former senior managing director at the now-defunct First Republic Bank, has been called as the next witness.

His testimony will likely be related to Cohen's payment to Daniels. He began by talking about his background. He said he worked at First Republic Bank for 15 years.

By Katrina Kaufman

Graff testifies that Trump had contact info for Daniels, McDougal

Rhona Graff testifies at former President Donald Trump's criminal trial in New York on Friday, April 26, 2024. Jane Rosenberg

Trump's longtime assistant testified that she compiled Trump's contacts in Microsoft Outlook. She was shown records showing that the contact list included Daniels and McDougal. The entry for Daniels included a phone number under the name "Stormy."

Graff also testified that she had "a vague recollection of her waiting in the reception area of the 26th floor."

Later, under cross-examination by Trump attorney Susan Necheles, Graff said she recalled Daniels being considered for "The Celebrity Apprentice."

"I vaguely recall hearing him say that she was one of the people that may be a good contestant on the show," said Graff.

Trump appeared to watch Graff's testimony closely, smiling when she fondly described her decades of work at the Trump Organization.

"I never had to do the same day twice in all that time. It was a very, very stimulating, exciting, fascinating place to be," Graff said.

She was dismissed from the stand after less than an hour of questioning by both sides.

By Graham Kates

Prosecutors call Rhona Graff, longtime Trump aide and executive, as second witness

Rhona Graff, who worked for decades as Trump's administrative aide and an executive at the Trump Organization, is now on the stand, called by prosecutors as their second witness. 

Graff was effectively Trump's gatekeeper from the late 1980s through his ascendance to the presidency in January 2017, first from a desk right outside Trump's personal office in Trump Tower and eventually from a nearby office of her own. Graff managed Trump's appointments and fielded his phone calls for years, including in 2015 and 2016, the time period under scrutiny at the trial.

Graff said she left the Trump Organization in 2021.

Prosecutors are expected to ask her to verify the authenticity of a variety of documents that will be entered as exhibits in the case.

By Graham Kates

Prosecutor shows FBI notes backing up Pecker's account of Trump meeting

Earlier in the day, Pecker appeared confused when Bove showed him a line from an FBI agent's notes about an interview with Pecker in 2018. Bove said the agent wrote that Trump "did not express any gratitude to AMI" at a 2017 meeting between Pecker and Trump.

Steinglass showed Pecker later notes from the FBI agent, in which he wrote: "In January 2017 Pecker visited Trump in Trump's office at Trump Tower, at that time Trump told Pecker in sum and substance that Trump wanted to thank Pecker for handling the McDougal and doorman stories."

Pecker said that aligned with his recollection, and that he's always been consistent that Trump had expressed gratitude that day.

Steinglass then highlighted testimony Pecker gave in 2018 to a federal grand jury that included similar information.

Pecker was soon dismissed from the stand.

By Graham Kates

Pecker testifies to killing "National Enquirer gold"

Questioning Pecker on redirect, Steinglass had Pecker explain a series of moments the defense highlighted to attack Pecker's credibility.

Pecker said his publication's contract with McDougal was designed to obscure his plan to suppress her story. The contract included an agreement to hire her as a columnist.

"It was included in the contract basically as a disguise of the actual purpose of it," Pecker said.

Steinglass soon turned to an agreement struck between AMI and the Federal Election Commission. Bove had implied Pecker and the company never admitted, in that investigation, to violating election law. Steinglass highlighted a passage from that agreement, in which AMI agreed that paying McDougal for the purposes of hiding her story "constituted a prohibited corporate in-kind contribution" that violated federal law.

Steinglass asked if Pecker only agreed to the deal with McDougal because he expected to be paid $125,000 from Michael Cohen for the rights to it. Pecker said yes.

"Is it standard procedure for AMI to correspond with a presidential candidate's fixer about a source agreement?" Steinglass asked.

Pecker said it wasn't.

Steinglass asked if publishing a former Playboy model's account of having a yearlong affair with a presidential candidate "would have been kind of like National Enquirer gold."

Pecker said, "yes."

"But you had no intention of publishing that story?" Steinglass asked.

"That's correct," Pecker said.

"You killed that story because it helped candidate Donald Trump?" Steinglass asked.

"Yes," Pecker said.

By Graham Kates

Defense wraps up cross-examination

Bove soon said the defense had no further questions for Pecker. Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass is now getting the opportunity to pose more questions in the redirect portion of Pecker's testimony.

Steinglass had Pecker reiterate that the purpose of the agreement with McDougal was meant to keep the story hidden, and that other provisions were meant to disguise the true nature of the contract.

By Stefan Becket

"Was that another mistake?": Trump defense seeks to cast doubt on Pecker's credibility

Defense attorney Emil Bove cross-examines David Pecker during former President Donald Trump's criminal trial in New York on Friday, April 26, 2024. Jane Rosenberg

Soon after questions about Pecker's FBI interview, Bove brought up an agreement AMI reached with the federal government in September 2018. The company admitted to paying McDougal to keep her story hidden before the election and agreed to cooperate with investigators. In exchange, the government agreed not to prosecute AMI.

Pecker testified Thursday that AMI admitted to a campaign finance violation.

"That was another mistake, correct?" Bove asked. He then had Pecker acknowledge that the agreement itself made no mention of campaign finance. 

Left unsaid, the agreement included a "Statement of Facts" that AMI acknowledged were true. That statement included the following:

"At all relevant times, AMI knew that corporations such as AMI are subject to federal campaign finance laws, and that expenditures by corporations, made for purposes of influencing an election and in coordination with or at the request of a candidate or campaign, are unlawful. At no time did AMI report to the Federal Election Commission that it had made the $150,000 payment to the model."

By Graham Kates

Trump lawyer insinuates Pecker contradicted FBI interview in earlier testimony

On Thursday, Pecker testified that in a January 2017 meeting at Trump Tower, President-elect Trump thanked him for "handling the McDougal situation" and the "doorman situation." On Friday, Bove asked if that testimony was a mistake.

Pecker looked confused. Trump turned, hunched forward and watched closely. The witness said he didn't understand the question.

Bove showed Pecker an exhibit with notes from an interview Pecker gave to the FBI in 2018, leading to a tense exchange.

Bove said the interviewer wrote, "Trump did not express any gratitude to AMI." Pecker stared at the exhibit, again appearing confused.

"These are the FBI notes?" he asked, adding that "what somebody's writing down could be wrong."

"I know what I said yesterday happened, so I can't reconcile with what the FBI interviewer said," Pecker said. "I'm not responsible for this report."

"Are you suggesting the FBI made a mistake here?" Bove asked.

"I know what the truth is, I can't state why this was written here," Pecker replied.

By Graham Kates

Lawyer, source, both? Trump attorney questions Pecker about attorney for Daniels and McDougal

Bove asked Pecker about his publication's relationship with Keith Davidson, a lawyer who represented Daniels and McDougal in 2016. Davidson reached out to Dylan Howard, the editor of the National Enquirer, offering to sell the rights to their stories.

"Was it normal for an attorney to be a source of information about their clients?" Bove asked.

"I would say that this was a unique situation," Pecker replied, saying that he could not recall other instances in which lawyers had been sources about their own clients.

Later, Pecker reiterated testimony from Thursday that, by the time Davison was trying to get Trump and Cohen to pay for Daniels' story in October 2016, he had instructed Howard to "stay out of it," as Bove put it.

By Graham Kates

Pecker describes arranging paparazzi to photograph Cohen with Mark Cuban

Under questioning by Bove, Pecker described two instances in which he said Cohen sought his help promoting himself. 

Pecker said Cohen inquired about a soon-to-be vacated chairman role of a payment processor Pecker was associated with. A hedge fund with a stake in the company wasn't interested in Cohen, Pecker testified.

Bove then asked Pecker if he recalled Cohen asking him to ensure that paparazzi could photograph a meeting between Cohen and billionaire Mark Cuban, the former principal owner of the Dallas Mavericks. Pecker said he recalled that. Cohen and Cuban were spotted leaving breakfast together in New York in November 2017.

Bove asked if Cohen was trying to put "a little pressure" on Trump. Pecker said he didn't recall Cohen saying that specifically, but that he understood that to be the case.

By Graham Kates

Trump attorney focuses on National Enquirer's business model

Bove, Trump's lawyer, ran through a series of now-familiar National Enquirer headlines focused on Trump's 2016 primary competitors, Ben Carson and Sen. Marco Rubio. Pecker acknowledged that the stories were not based on original reporting, but instead rehashed information previously reported in other outlets.

He acknowledged to Bove that it was a "cost-effective and efficient" method of producing content. Pecker said he would have published those stories regardless of his agreement with Trump.

Pecker also testified that he believed it was important to pay a former Trump Tower doorman for a story alleging Trump had fathered a child out of wedlock, just in case it was true. Pecker said it was important to prevent the story from being published elsewhere, since it could have sold millions of papers if verified. Pecker testified earlier that he ultimately determined the story was false.

By Graham Kates

Pecker back on the stand as Trump attorney resumes questioning

Pecker returned to the stand shortly after the trial resumed at about 9:30 a.m. Emil Bove, an attorney for the defense, is questioning him about his recollection of an August 2015 meeting at Trump Tower, where Pecker said he agreed to be Trump's "eyes and ears" during the presidential campaign.

By Katrina Kaufman

Trump arrives at court for Day 8 of trial

Trump spoke for a few minutes to reporters outside the courtroom, wearing a dark blue suit, pale blue shirt and french blue tie. He started off by wishing his wife Melania a happy birthday, saying he would be going to Florida this evening.

Trump called the case "horrible," and "unconstitutional." He opined that "the case is over."

Trump said he heard Thursday's arguments at the Supreme Court over his immunity claim were "brilliant," and said that he listened to them last night. 

He also complained about the temperature in the courtroom. "It shouldn't be that complicated," Trump said, mentioning he wanted it warmer. "That's fine, that's just fine."

He did not take questions.

By Jacob Rosen

What Pecker testified on Thursday

On the stand Thursday, Pecker said he remembered speaking to Cohen about Daniels, and refusing to buy her story. Pecker said he told Cohen, "I am not a bank," and suggested he buy Daniels' story himself. Pecker had already spent $180,000 on the prior two "catch and kill" stories.

Pecker said that after Trump won the election, the president-elect expressed gratitude for his work to secure the rights to those two "embarrassing" stories.

"I want to thank you for handling the McDougal situation" and the "doorman situation," Pecker recalled Trump saying.

Pecker ended the day under cross-examination by defense attorney Emil Bove, who asked if Pecker ever "caught" and "killed" stories about other famous people.

Pecker described instances in which he allegedly did so for actor and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, professional golfer Tiger Woods, actor Mark Wahlberg and Rahm Emanuel, President Barack Obama's first chief of staff and later the mayor of Chicago.

By Graham Kates

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