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The 2nd week of testimony is about to begin in Trump's N.Y. hush money trial

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The second week of testimony in the criminal trial of former President Donald Trump resumes today in New York. Prosecutors are laying out evidence that the former president conspired to alter the outcome of the 2016 election by paying hush money to burying negative stories. Then they allege he covered it up by falsifying business records. NPR's Andrea Bernstein has been covering the trial and joins me now. Good morning, Andrea.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So remind us where we left off.

BERNSTEIN: We spent most of last week hearing testimony from David Pecker. He is the former National inquirer publisher who testified that early on he, Donald Trump and Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen entered into an agreement. Prosecutors say, this is the conspiracy that underlies the cover up, that to allegedly illegally help the Trump campaign, Pecker would use his network of sources to learn of women who are selling stories about Trump, and he'd pass that information back to Trump. So the stories could be purchased to, quote, "take them off the marketplace."

FADEL: Now, Pecker testified in a lot of detail. You shared some of them there. What stood out to you?

BERNSTEIN: Last week, prosecutors introduced a photograph of Pecker and Trump at the White House taken in July of 2017 at what Pecker said Trump called a thank-you dinner, about six months into Trump's presidency. It's the two of them heads together walking in that outdoor columned passageway next to the rose garden. Pecker said Trump was thanking him in large part for paying off former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who said she had an affair with Trump. According to Pecker, Trump was asking him at the moment the photo was taken, how's Karen?

FADEL: Now, this is a big witness for the prosecution. Defense lawyers, I'm sure, tried to shake him. How'd that go?

BERNSTEIN: Pecker has the disadvantage of having met with various different groups of law enforcement agents and prosecutors, and at times, the defense attorneys seemed to confuse him about what he told whom, when. For example, about that thank you dinner, the FBI's notes said Pecker had said Trump did not thank him, but Pecker said the notes were wrong.

FADEL: And what are you looking for this week?

BERNSTEIN: The overall defense strategy is that star witness Michael Cohen is a convicted liar. Prosecutors say they've got corroborating evidence for what Cohen will say. And last week after Pecker, they put on Trump's former executive assistant to attest to certain records she'd made, including entering a contact for Trump that said Stormy - that's Stormy Daniels. When we left off on Friday, a banker was testifying about the sketchy bank accounts that Michael Cohen had set up, including the one he used off to pay Stormy Daniels. We expect more of these kinds of witnesses, but we don't know exactly because the DA isn't saying in advance for fear Trump will disparage witnesses.

FADEL: And before I let you go, there was a hearing about whether Trump would have to pay a fine for violating a gag order, not to do that. So is that ruling expected?

BERNSTEIN: The DA raised four more instances on Thursday of last week, including one that very morning where Trump said before court, quote, "This is a message to Pecker. Be nice. It's a message to others. I have a platform, and I will talk about you and I can say things like this or things like what I said about Cohen." So we're now up to 10 alleged incidents, and the DA wants $1,000 for each. A ruling could come any time.

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

BERNSTEIN: Thank you. 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
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