‘Catch and kill’ to be described to jurors in Trump’s hush money trial

23 April 2024, 13:24

Donald Trump
Trump Hush Money. Picture: PA

Prosecutors are also expected to say that the former US president should be held in contempt over a series of posts on his Truth Social platform.

A longtime tabloid publisher was expected to tell jurors about his efforts to help Donald Trump stifle unflattering stories during the 2016 election campaign as testimony resumes in the historic hush money trial of the former president.

David Pecker, the former National Enquirer publisher who prosecutors say worked with Trump and Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen on a strategy called “catch and kill” to buy up and then spike negative stories, testified briefly on Monday and will be back on the stand on Tuesday in the Manhattan trial.

Also on Tuesday, prosecutors are expected to tell a judge that Trump should be held in contempt over a series of posts on his Truth Social platform that they say violated an earlier gag order barring him from attacking witnesses in the case. Trump’s lawyers deny that he broke the order.

Mr Pecker’s testimony followed opening statements in which prosecutors alleged that Trump had sought to illegally influence the 2016 race by preventing damaging stories about his personal life from becoming public, including by approving hush money payments to a porn actor who alleged an extramarital sexual encounter with Trump a decade earlier. Trump has denied this.

“This was a planned, long-running conspiracy to influence the 2016 election, to help Donald Trump get elected through illegal expenditures to silence people who had something bad to say about his behaviour,” prosecutor Matthew Colangelo said.

“It was election fraud, pure and simple.”

A defence lawyer countered by attacking the integrity of the one-time Trump confidant who is now the prosecutions’s star witness.

Donald Trump sits in the courtroom
Donald Trump sits in the courtroom (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

“President Trump is innocent. President Trump did not commit any crimes. The Manhattan district attorney’s office should not have brought this case,” lawyer Todd Blanche said.

The opening statements offered the 12-person jury and the voting public radically divergent roadmaps for a case that will unfold against the backdrop of a closely contested White House race in which Trump is not only the presumptive Republican nominee but also a criminal defendant facing the prospect of a conviction and prison.

The case is the first criminal trial of a former American president and the first of four prosecutions of Trump to reach a jury.

Prosecutors have sought from the outset to elevate the gravity of the case, which they said was chiefly about election interference as reflected by the hush money payments to a porn actor who said she had a sexual encounter with Trump.

Trump Hush Money Who’s Who
Adult film actor Stormy Daniels said she received hush money (Markus Schreiber/AP)

“The defendant, Donald Trump, orchestrated a criminal scheme to corrupt the 2016 presidential election. Then he covered up that criminal conspiracy by lying in his New York business records over and over and over again,” Mr Colangelo said.

Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records — a charge punishable by up to four years in prison — although it is not clear if the judge would seek to put him behind bars.

A conviction would not preclude Trump from becoming president again, but because it is a state case, he would not be able to pardon himself if found guilty. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

The case brought by Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg revisits a years-old chapter from Trump’s biography when his celebrity past collided with his political ambitions and, prosecutors say, he scrambled to stifle stories that he feared could torpedo his campaign.

The opening statements served as an introduction to the colourful cast of characters that feature prominently in this saga, including Stormy Daniels, the porn actor who says she received the hush money; Cohen, the lawyer who prosecutors say paid her; and Mr Pecker, who prosecutors say agreed to function as the campaign’s “eyes and ears”.

By Press Association

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