Stormy Daniels spars with Trump defence lawyer over alleged sexual encounter

Donald Trump’s defence lawyer has accused Stormy Daniels of slowly altering the details of an alleged 2006 sexual encounter with Trump, trying to persuade jurors that a key prosecution witness in the former president’s hush money trial cannot be believed.

“The details of your story keep changing, right?” lawyer Susan Necheles asked at one point.

“No,” Ms Daniels said.

As the jury looked on, the two women traded barbs over what Ms Necheles said were inconsistencies in Ms Daniels’ description of the encounter with Trump in a hotel room. He denies the whole story.

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The defence has been cross-examining Stormy Daniels (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

“No,” Ms Daniels shot back.

But despite all the talk over what may have happened in that hotel room, despite the discomfiting testimony by the adult film actor that she consented to sex in part because of a “power imbalance”, the case against Trump does not rise or fall on whether her account is true or even believable.

It is a trial about money changing hands – business transactions – and whether those payments were made to illegally influence the 2016 election.

Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying internal Trump Organisation business records. The charges stem from paperwork such as invoices and cheques that were deemed legal expenses in company records. Prosecutors say those payments largely were reimbursements to Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who paid Daniels 130,000 dollars to keep quiet.

The testimony over the past three weeks has seesawed between bookkeepers and bankers relaying the nuts-and-bolts of cheque-paying procedures and wire transfers to unflattering, seamy stories about Trump and the tabloid world machinations meant to keep them secret.

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Trump has denied that he ever had sex with Stormy Daniels and has pleaded not guilty and denies any wrongdoing (Win McNamee/Pool Photo via AP)

Meanwhile, as the threat of jail looms over Trump following his repeated gag order violations, his lawyers are fighting Judge Juan M Merchan’s order and seeking a fast decision in an appeals court. If the court refuses to lift the gag order, Trump’s lawyers want permission to take their appeal to the state’s high court.

At the same time, they also asked Judge Merchan to modify the order so that Trump could publicly respond to Ms Daniels’ testimony. Judge Merchan denied the request, as well as two requests for a mistrial.

“My concern is not just with protecting Ms Daniels or a witness who has already testified. My concern is with protecting the integrity of these proceedings as a whole,” the judge said.

At the time of the payment to Ms Daniels, Trump and his campaign were reeling from the October 2016 publication of the never-before-seen 2005 Access Hollywood footage in which he boasted about grabbing women’s genitals without their permission.

Prosecutors have argued that the political firestorm over the Access Hollywood tape hastened Mr Cohen’s payment to keep Ms Daniels from going public with her claims that could further hurt Trump in the eyes of female voters.

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In court transcripts, Judge Juan Merchan told the defence that Trump could be heard ‘cursing audibly’ (Jane Rosenberg/Pool Photo via AP)

Trump scowled and shook his head through much of Ms Daniels’ description, including how she found him sitting on the hotel bed in his underwear after she returned from the bathroom and that he did not use a condom. At one point, the judge told defence lawyers during a sidebar conversation – out of earshot of the jury and the public – that he could hear Trump “cursing audibly.”

Trump’s lawyers have sought to paint Ms Daniels as a liar and extortionist who is trying to take down Trump after drawing money and fame from her story about him. And they say the hush money payments were an effort to protect his reputation and family – not his campaign – by shielding them from embarrassing stories about his personal life.

On Thursday, Ms Necheles grilled Daniels on her description of the encounter in which she described fear and discomfort even as she consented to sex. She testified earlier this week that while she was not physically menaced, she felt a “power imbalance” as Trump, in his hotel bedroom, stood between her and the door and propositioned her.

As for whether she felt compelled to have sex with him, she reiterated on Thursday that he did not drug her or physically threaten her. But, she said: “My own insecurities, in that moment, kept me from saying no.”

Ms Necheles suggested that her work in porn meant her story about being shocked and frightened by Trump’s alleged sexual advances was not believable.

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Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying internal Trump Organisation business records (Win McNamee/Pool Photo via AP)

Ms Necheles continued: “But according to you, seeing a man sitting on a bed in a T-shirt and boxers was so upsetting that you got lightheaded. The blood left your hands and feet, and you felt like you were going to faint.”

The experience with Trump was different from porn for a number of reasons, Ms Daniels explained, including the fact that Trump was more than twice her age, larger than her and that she was not expecting to find him undressed when she emerged from the bathroom.

“I came out of a bathroom seeing an older man that I wasn’t expecting to be there,” she said.

Ms Necheles pressed her on why she accepted the payout to keep quiet instead of going public.

“Why didn’t you do that?” she asked, wondering why Ms Daniels didn’t hold a news conference as she had planned.

“Because we were running out of time,” Ms Daniels said.

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Michael Cohen is expected to appear later in the trial (Yuki Iwamura/AP)

“To get the story out,” Ms Daniels countered. The negotiations were happening in the final weeks of the 2016 presidential campaign.

While she was in talks with Mr Cohen, Ms Daniels was also talking with other journalists as a “back-up” plan, she testified. Ms Necheles accused her of refusing to share the story with reporters because she would not be paid for it.

“The better alternative was for you to get money, right?” Ms Necheles said. Daniels said she was most interested in getting her story out and ensuring her family’s safety.

“The better alternative was to get my story protected with a paper trail so that my family didn’t get hurt,” Ms Daniels replied.

But she testified that she never spoke with Trump about payment, and said she had no knowledge of whether Trump was aware of or involved in the transaction.

“You have no personal knowledge about his involvement in that transaction or what he did or didn’t do,” Ms Necheles asked.

“Not directly, no,” Ms Daniels responded.

Prosecutor Susan Hoffinger later asked Ms Daniels: “Have you been telling lies about Mr Trump or the truth about Mr Trump?”

“The truth,” said Ms Daniels, who also said that although she has made money since her story emerged, she also has had to spend a lot to hire security, move homes and take other precautions.

“On balance, has publicly telling the truth about Mr Trump been a net positive or net negative in your life?” Ms Hoffinger asked.

“Negative,” Ms Daniels replied quietly.

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