Stormy Daniels' credibility becomes a linchpin in the prosecution's hush money case

At this point, Stormy Daniels has told her story about Donald Trump in a lot of places — “60 Minutes,” the pages of In Touch magazine, her own book. But on Tuesday she told it in a place that may carry the most weight: the witness stand of a Manhattan criminal courtroom where Trump was on trial.

There is little doubt that she was paid $130,000 in the days before the 2016 presidential election to keep quiet. There are receipts — both the wire transfer sending her the money and the contract she signed promising not to tell anyone about her involvement with a married man, that man being Trump.

Trump has denied he ever had a sexual relationship with Daniels. He has attacked her repeatedly for the past six years, calling her names and suggesting she is trying to line her own pockets by pushing the sex story about him.

Trump attorney Susan Necheles tried during cross-examination to paint Daniels as a liar who is seeking more money and fame and who hates Trump.

And while Trump is on trial for charges related to falsifying business records, something Daniels would have had no involvement in, whether the jury believes her testimony is likely to prove one of the most critical aspects of the proceedings.

There were few details in the first day of her testimony that weren’t already public information — in fact, the prosecution began the day by assuring the judge it wouldn’t ask for intimate details that Daniels had made public in other forums, like describing Trump’s genitalia.

But even if every juror knew who she was before she took the stand, the courtroom offered a new arena to try to prove her credibility.

The prosecution has appeared to concede that without convincing a jury that Daniels is telling the truth, it would be difficult to convince it that Trump was willing to dish out thousands of dollars to keep her quiet about the story.

Daniels became a household name during Trump’s time in office. But unlike in the images of a glamorous actor and director that often accompanied stories about her, Daniels took the stand with a more muted appearance Tuesday.

She secured her two-tone hair on top of her head with a large clip. She was dressed in all black, including a hoodie. And when she spoke, her voice trembled.

She spoke at a hurried pace, with state Judge Juan Merchan repeatedly imploring her to slow down so the court reporters responsible for keeping a transcript might be able to record everything she had to say.

She gave answers that at times went beyond the level of detail the prosecution asked for, which sometimes became a point of contention between the prosecution and the defense. Merchan implored her to answer the question and not volunteer any more information.

The jury watched her tell of the sexual encounter with Trump with rapt attention. Will the jurors find her rushed cadence and occasional giggles to be humanizing, evidence that she is telling the truth and unscripted on the stand? Or will they find it to be irreverent, bolstering Trump’s argument that she is simply executing a personal vendetta?

Necheles sought to use the fact that prosecutors practiced questions with Daniels beforehand as proof that she wasn’t to be believed.

“I was asked questions as they’d perhaps be asked in court,” Daniels said. But that didn’t seem to leave her fully prepared, she added.

“I did not know what true court would be like.”

The intense level of detail she was able to provide — down to the flooring of the hotel suite where she said she had sex with Trump — was offered as evidence in itself that her story was fact, not fiction.

Trump’s lawyers have argued for months that Daniels wasn’t needed in the case and that her testimony would be so outside the scope of the crimes he is accused of that it bordered on prejudicial, meaning it would unfairly taint the views of the jurors to such an extent that it would deny him a fair trial.

That was an argument the lawyers lost in pretrial arguments and once again Tuesday after they moved for a mistrial.

“There’s no way to unring the bell, in our view,” Trump’s lawyer Todd Blanche argued unsuccessfully. “The only reason the government asked these questions, aside from pure embarrassment, is to inflame this jury.”

As defense lawyers tried to use her old interviews — including ones that never aired — as evidence she wasn’t telling the truth, Daniels tried to turn it around on them.

“A story about President Trump that doesn’t include sex will make you no money, right?” Necheles asked on cross-examination.

“It taught me that I should tell the truth,” Daniels responded.

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