Under Team Trump’s attack, Stormy Daniels proves tenacious

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Former U.S. President Donald Trump, along with attorney Todd Blanche, addresses the press during his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments related to extramarital affairs, at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City, on May 10, 2024. Trump is accused of falsifying business records in a scheme to cover up an alleged sexual encounter with adult film actress Stormy Daniels to protect his 2016 election campaign from negative publicity. | Photo credit: REUTERS

Donald Trump’s attorney and Stormy Daniels went head-to-head during cross-examination of the porn star’s blistering testimony on Thursday, with the line of questioning occasionally veering into the bizarre and even drawing criticism from the judge afterward.

In an investigation that often turned hostile, Ms. Daniels was quick on her feet and walked a fine line between tenacity and vulnerability as jurors watched the defense mock her career and attack her credibility.

She clapped back for hours during the most intense testimony yet in the criminal trial, which focuses on whether a $130,000 hush money payment to Ms. Daniels was fraudulently covered up with the intent to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Susan Necheles, repeatedly emphasized during her questioning that Ms. Daniels, 45, had fabricated her story about a one-time sexual encounter with Trump.

“You made this all up, right?” the counselor asked at one point, prompting Ms. Daniels to respond with an emphatic “No.”

At several moments, Ms. Daniels accused Ms. Necheles of putting words in her mouth: “You’re trying to get me to say it’s changed, but it hasn’t changed,” she said, referring to her account of events.

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Team Trump vied to portray Ms. Daniels as money-grubbing, sleazy and deceitful.

Ms. Necheles criticized Ms. Daniels over her decision to write a book containing images of the encounter, and her decision to promote branded products.

“Just like Mr. Trump,” Ms. Daniels joked back.

In one of the most unusual moments of the nearly eight hours of testimony, Ms. Necheles brought up Ms. Daniels’s interest in tarot cards and the paranormal, in an apparent attempt to portray her as unhinged.

She then portrayed Ms. Daniels as a fabulist, mocking her work as a screenwriter and director of pornographic films while claiming it would make her good at distorting the truth.

“So you have a lot of experience making fake sex stories look real?” said Mrs. Necheles.

“Wow, I wouldn’t put it that way,” Ms. Daniels said.

“The sex is real. The names of the characters may be different. But the sex is very real. That’s why it’s pornography,” the witness continued.

If the story with Mr. Trump wasn’t true, she said, “I would have written it a lot better.”

Mistrial was again denied

At the end of her marathon testimony, which lasted about eight hours over two days, the defense asked Ms. Daniels if she knew anything about Mr. Trump’s accounting — the real heart of the case.

She said she doesn’t.

But that wasn’t the point of calling Ms. Daniels to the stand, a prosecutor later said — she was there to explain why Mr. Trump had wanted to cover up her story at the end of his bid for the White House.

That reasoning emerged after jurors were dismissed for the day, during a motion hearing in which Team Trump again tried to obtain a mistrial.

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It was denied again, but not before Judge Juan Merchan ordered Trump’s lawyers before him.

“I don’t agree with your story that there is a new story here. I don’t agree that there is a changing story,” he said, audibly irritated.

In his extraordinary portrayal of the defense’s legal practice, Mr Merchan said the very fact that Ms Daniels had fabricated the meeting paved the way for the prosecution to introduce evidence – much of it salacious – to the contrary.

Ms. Necheles spent much of her cross-hammering on the details they raised as grounds for a mistrial, Mr. Merchan said, “and drilled it into the jury’s ears over and over again.”

“I don’t understand the reason for that,” he said during his dramatic critique, asking why the defense had not objected to the presentation of those details during direct questioning.

And that Mr. Trump’s team attacked Ms. Daniels from the very beginning, including during opening statements, “puts your client’s word against Ms. Daniels’ word,” Mr. Merchan said.

“That, in my opinion, allows The People to do what they can to rehabilitate her and corroborate her story,” he said, using a term for the accuser.

“Your request for a mistrial has been denied.”

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