Stormy spoke. Trump fumed. Jurors were captivated — but also cringed.


NEW YORK — A riveting courtroom battle played out at Donald Trump’s hush money trial Tuesday over the motives, and morals, of one of the case’s main characters: porn star Stormy Daniels.

Prosecutors sought to portray her as an entrepreneurial, three-dimensional woman defying stereotypes of the adult film industry. Trump’s defense team presented a much less flattering picture of her as an extortionist and liar eager to cash in on an unlikely brush with fame.

Officially, the audience for the tense exchanges that sometimes approached shouting was the jury of seven men and five women seated in the shabby, 15th-floor courtroom in lower Manhattan. But the packed gallery, the intense security and the TV trucks outside were all reminders that Trump’s potential political liability in the case is at least as significant as his legal exposure.

For about three hours, prosecutor Susan Hoffinger sought to convince the jury — and the broader audience — that Daniels is far more than the image conjured by tabloid headlines.

Hoffinger met the formidable challenge of trying to render a porn star relatable by stressing her protectiveness of her daughter, her work on movies and music videos outside the pornography industry, the three books she has written and even a flirtation with a 2009 Senate candidacy in Louisiana.

Daniels bluntly described her entry into the adult entertainment industry as an exotic dancer at age 17 as a simple question of dollars and cents. “I could still make more in two nights than I did shoveling manure eight hours a day,” she said, a reference to how she toiled on a horse farm.

It took only about 15 minutes before Daniels was asked to address the elephant in the room: her encounter with Trump at a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe, where she claims she had sex with him in 2006. She said she knew little about him at the time, except that he had a TV show she had never seen.

Daniels said the celebrity golfers met her and several other porn stars from the same studio at a photo line at the event. Upon hearing that she’d directed some films, Trump was quick to comment on her intellect, she said.

“You direct, too? You must be the smart one,” Daniels recalled Trump saying at their first brief meeting. After another brief encounter where he again called her “smart,” Daniels said she heard from Trump’s then-bodyguard that the real estate mogul wanted to meet her for dinner.

With that, Hoffinger triggered one of the more dramatic moments of the day by asking Daniels: “Do you see Mr. Trump in the courtroom today?” Daniels, whose line of sight to Trump was blocked by the judge’s bench, craned her neck around it and pointed at the former president.

“Navy blue jacket at the table,” Daniels said.

Trump remained stone-faced and did not look in her direction.

Daniels went on to give a meticulously detailed account of how she wound up in Trump’s hotel suite that night, describing the “black-and-white tile floors” and a table decorated with flowers near the door. “This hotel room was three times the size of my apartment,” she declared, drawing a smile from one of the female jurors.

Daniels said she was expecting to go to a restaurant in the hotel, but got the sense Trump might have other intentions when he made his appearance wearing pajamas.

“I told him to go change. So, he obliged very politely,” Daniels said. Her account of the evening was buttressed by the fact that it was not entirely critical of Trump. While he spent a lot of time talking about himself and often interrupted her, she lauded him for asking about details of the adult film business beyond the on-screen sex, like labor unions, health insurance and screening for sexually transmitted infections.

“He was very interested in a lot of the business aspects of it, which I thought was very cool,” Daniels said, adding that Trump also raised with her the possibility of featuring her on his TV show, “The Apprentice.”

Daniels said at one point she inquired about his wife, Melania, to which Trump replied: “We actually don’t sleep in the same room.” Daniels mouthed the word “Wow” to the jury after relaying that alleged comment.

Daniels said that when he took out a magazine cover with his picture on it, she dressed him down. “Are you always this rude?” she said she told him, before whacking him with the magazine. “I took it from him and I swatted him with it … right on the butt,” she said.

As Daniels recounted that story, Trump appeared to mutter the word “bullshit” under his breath, while still not looking in Daniels’ direction, although her image was on TV screens in front of him. That earned Trump a warning from the judge during a sidebar with attorneys.

“I understand that your client is upset at this point, but he is cursing audibly, and he is shaking his head visually and that’s contemptuous. It has the potential to intimidate the witness and the jury can see that,” Merchan said, according to a transcript released later. “You need to speak to him. I won’t tolerate that.” Blanche said later he conveyed the message to the former president.

Trump and his attorneys appeared to grow particularly irritated as Daniels recounted the alleged sexual encounter itself, which she said occurred after she returned from a trip to the bathroom and found Trump sitting on a bed wearing just boxer shorts and a T-shirt.

“At first, I was just startled. I wasn’t expecting to see him there, especially minus a lot of clothes. I had that moment where I felt the room spun in slow motion. I felt the blood leave my hands and my feet like you do if you stand up too fast. I was just like, ‘What did I misread to get here?’” Daniels said.

Daniels said she tried to leave and the ensuing events were a blur but led to the two of them having sex on the bed.

“I never said I was drugged. I was not drunk,” Daniels said during an exchange that triggered a flurry of objections from Trump’s lawyers. “There was an imbalance of power, for sure. He was bigger and blocking the way, but I was not threatened either verbally or physically.”

“The next thing I know is I was on the bed,” Daniels said. “I had my clothes and my shoes off. I believe my bra was still on. We were in missionary position.”

That level of detail appeared to make some jurors uncomfortable, with one turning away and holding her head with her hand. Merchan also sustained an objection and asked that some of Daniels’ comments be stricken from the record.

The vivid testimony was a dramatic change in tone from the day before, when prosecutors spent most of the day meticulously showing jurors bank and accounting records.

Daniels said that after the encounter Trump suggested they meet up again soon and tried to kiss her, but she was deeply upset. “My hands were shaking so hard, I was having a hard time getting dressed,” she said.

After the lunch break and outside the earshot of the jury, Trump’s lead lawyer Todd Blanche asked for a mistrial, complaining that Daniels’ testimony ventured into details that the judge had deemed off limits and that she’d suggested the sex — which Trump denies ever happened — was coerced.

“The court set guardrails for this testimony and the guardrails for this witness … were just thrown by the side. That testimony that came in was just so unduly and improperly prejudicial to President Trump. … This is the kind of testimony that makes it impossible to come back from,” Blanche said, before making an aside that it was particularly “unfair” because Trump “is going to go out and campaign this afternoon.”

Blanche also said Daniels’ description of the alleged sexual encounter was irrelevant to the charges against Trump: 34 felony counts of falsifying business records that prosecutors say are connected to $130,000 in hush money that Daniels received in the final weeks of the 2016 presidential election.

“All of this has nothing to do with this case. … It’s still extraordinarily prejudicial to insert safety concerns into a trial about business records. … How can you unring the bell?” Blanche said.

Hoffinger insisted that prosecutors had been “extremely mindful” about not getting into too much detail about the alleged sex act, and she noted Daniels said “directly” that Trump didn’t threaten her or get violent. But the prosecutor said the porn star’s credibility is relevant.

“At the end of the day, this is what defendant was trying to hide,” Hoffinger said.

Merchan denied the mistrial motion, while saying: “I agree there were some things that would probably have been better left unsaid.” He called Daniels “a little difficult to control,” but also faulted Trump’s lawyers for not objecting more. “The defense has to take some responsibility for that,” the judge said.

Daniels returned to the stand looking a bit shaken from the morning testimony and relayed in detail to whom she’d disclosed the alleged encounter with Trump and how she interacted over the years with people who approached her to tell or sell her story.

One potentially damaging moment for Trump came as jurors heard Daniels read a Truth Social post from March 2023 in which he wrote: “I did NOTHING wrong in the ‘horseface’ case … She knows nothing about me. Never had an affair with her just another false accusation.”

For her part, Daniels seemed calm during most of the friendly questioning by the prosecution. She turned toward the jurors and delivered many of her answers directly to them. Her credibility seemed bolstered by the ample detail she offered about events nearly two decades ago.

During the several instances where Daniels walked in and out of the courtroom Tuesday, she folded her hands across her stomach. Clad in a black hooded sweater cape over a dark blouse and pants, she conveyed a somewhat studious appearance on the witness stand by lowering her eyeglasses from her head to her face each time she sat down.

At times, Daniels seemed to betray nervousness by speaking at such a rapid-fire pace that the court reporter and even the judge repeatedly implored her to slow down.

While Daniels seemed candid — perhaps to excess — as she was questioned by the prosecutor, on cross-examination by the defense she sometimes resorted to hair-splitting that seemed lawyerly. She acknowledged having sometimes issued false denials about her encounter with Trump, but at other times she insisted her attempts to throw cold water on the story were literally true.

As defense lawyer Susan Necheles unleashed a fusillade of questions, jurors who’d seemed bored with financial evidence on Monday watched intently. During the volleys, some whipped their heads back and forth like fans at a tennis match.

Early in the cross-examination, Daniels denied having engaged in “mock” questioning with prosecutors outside court, but later admitted she’d practiced so she “wouldn’t be too upset” on the stand.

While prosecutors generally avoided dwelling on Daniels’ main vocation, Necheles seemed to relish the word ‘pornography’ as she peppered her with questions about it.

“Do you recall testifying you started acting in pornography because you wanted to make more money?” Necheles said.

“Don’t we want to all make more money in our jobs?” Daniels countered.

Later, Daniels seemed evasive when she insisted she had not lost a libel suit against Trump that a judge dismissed. “He was prevailed, but I was not found to have lost,” Daniels declared.

Nearly shouting at Daniels, Necheles accused her of defying court orders to pay Trump hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and suggested that undercut her credibility.

“In fact, you have not taken one penny out of your pocket to pay these awards,” Necheles thundered. “That was you saying, ‘I don’t care about a federal court order,’ right?”

Necheles also sought to defuse the “horseface” insult by contending Daniels gave as good as she got.

“You call him names all the time, right? … You despise him,” the defense lawyer said, noting a Daniels tweet that called Trump an “orange turd.”

“He made fun of me first,” Daniels replied.

Daniels grew emotional and raised her voice as Necheles suggested that Daniels had made up a story about being threatened by a man in a Las Vegas parking lot in 2011 in what she viewed as a bid to keep her silent about Trump.

“This man never existed, did he?” Necheles said.

“He absolutely existed,” Daniels said.

But the defense’s main thrust was to portray Daniels as an unscrupulous profiteer. “You’re looking to get — extort money from President Trump, right?” Necheles said.

“False,” Daniels replied.

While Daniels’ credibility seemed to suffer somewhat from the exchanges with Necheles, her quick retorts to many of the defense lawyer’s barbs may have mitigated the damage.

“You’ve been making money by claiming that you had sex with Donald Trump for more than a decade. … That story has made you a lot of money, right?” Necheles ventured in one such volley.

“It has also cost me a lot of money,” Daniels replied sharply.

Necheles’ grilling of Daniels is expected to resume Thursday morning, after a previously-scheduled day off for the trial.

Ben Feuerherd contributed to this report.



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