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Stormy Daniels to continue testifying at Trump N.Y. trial when it resumes Thursday

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Stormy Daniels has begun her testimony at former President Donald Trump's New York hush money trial.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

She told her story of a sexual encounter with the former president, an affair he has denied, and she stuck to that story under a rain of questions and objections from the defense.

FADEL: NPR's Andrea Bernstein was there, and she joins us now. Good morning, Andrea.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So, how important is Stormy Daniels' testimony to the prosecution's case?

BERNSTEIN: That was an issue even before she started testifying. The defense didn't want her to talk at all about sex, arguing this is a case about books and records. The prosecutors insisted that her story completes the narrative and that suppressing it led to the chain of events - the agreement she would stay silent, the $130,000 payment, the reimbursement to Cohen, and those allegedly false Trump business records that called it a legal retainer. Certainly, as of yesterday, Stormy Daniels was silent no more.

FADEL: Right. So after all this build-up over many years about Stormy Daniels and her story, what did she say?

BERNSTEIN: When she told the story of the sexual encounter at a celebrity golf tournament in 2006 and a series of subsequent contacts and meetings with Trump, there were many ways her testimony lined up with what jurors have heard in this courtroom. So she testified that she was approached first by Keith Schiller - that's Trump's former bodyguard - about meeting Trump for dinner, and she put Schiller's number in her phone. And we've heard from other witnesses that Trump often communicated through Schiller. Stormy Daniels talked about being instructed by Trump to call his executive assistant, Rhona Graff, when she wanted to find him. And we know from Graff, who testified earlier and was a longtime Trump employee, that she put Stormy's contact into Trump's contact and saw Daniels in Trump Tower. And Daniels said Trump called her honeybunch. There was actually tape of Trump played in court where Trump called an unknown caller honey.

FADEL: And so how did the defense treat her?

BERNSTEIN: She's said so many contradictory things about what happened. For example, in 2011, she flirted with going public by agreeing to an interview with In Touch magazine for $15,000. But at the same time, was trying to get a story pulled from a website called thedirty.com because it talked about her and Trump and sex. She said she and her baby were threatened in 2011 in a parking garage if she ever went public and was scared and went silent, but never told anyone. Despite all that, she said coming clean in 2016 was the best course of action, but then agreed to stay silent for a fee. So she clearly had contradictory and competing opinions about the best course of action, and the defense just leaned into all of that. In fact, the defense even called for a mistrial based in part on the fact that she testified about feeling a power imbalance when they had sex. The judge denied this motion.

FADEL: Now, you spoke with a few people who are familiar with the New York criminal courts after yesterday's testimony. How does it appear Stormy Daniels came across?

BERNSTEIN: So, they told me it's possible the jury could reject everything she says because of her past contradictions, but they did point out that the defense has yet to undermine the essential elements of her story - that she had an encounter, that she agreed to keep quiet in 2016 for money. She felt the value of her silence was linked to the timing of the election. She said she feared if the election came and went, she would never be paid, and that is central to the prosecution's case. We'll see how far the defense goes in undermining those elements. And if the prosecution can address that when Daniels is expected to continue her testimony when the trial resumes tomorrow.

FADEL: That's NPR's Andrea Bernstein. Thank you, Andrea.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you.

FADEL: Trump faces criminal indictments in three other cases, none of which have trial dates. Yesterday, Judge Aileen Cannon postponed the classified documents trial that have been scheduled for later this month and has not set a new date. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Andrea Bernstein
[Copyright 2024 NPR]