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Stormy Daniels, Who Told of Sex With Trump, Returns to Stand on Thursday

Stormy Daniels, Who Told of Sex With Trump, Returns to Stand on Thursday

When Donald J. Trump met Stormy Daniels, their flirtation seemed fleeting: He was a 60-year-old married mogul at the peak of reality television fame, and she was 27, a Louisiana native raised in poverty and headed to porn-film stardom.

But that chance encounter in Lake Tahoe, Nev., some two decades ago is now at the center of the first criminal trial of an American president, an unprecedented case that could shape the 2024 presidential race.

This week, Ms. Daniels has been on the witness stand telling her side of the story, often in explicit detail. She has already faced five hours of questioning, and after the trial’s midweek hiatus, she is expected to return on Thursday to undergo additional cross-examination from Mr. Trump’s legal team.

The charges against Mr. Trump stem from her story of sex with him during that 2006 celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe, a story she was shopping a decade later, in the closing days of the presidential campaign. Mr. Trump’s longtime lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen, paid Ms. Daniels $130,000 in hush money before Election Day, and the former president is accused of falsifying business records to cover up reimbursements for Mr. Cohen.

On Tuesday, Ms. Daniels’s fast-paced testimony lasted nearly five hours, during which she described an encounter with Mr. Trump, now 77, that he has long denied. Tension gripped the courtroom, her voluble testimony filling a heavy silence. She made jokes; they did not land.

After about a half-hour on the stand, she began to unspool intimate details about Mr. Trump, so much so that the judge balked at some of the testimony. He implied it was gratuitously vulgar, and the defense sought a mistrial.

Ms. Daniels said the future president had invited her to dinner inside his palatial Lake Tahoe hotel suite. He answered the door wearing silk pajamas. When he was rude, she playfully spanked him with a rolled-up magazine. And when she asked about his wife, he told her not to worry, saying that they didn’t even sleep in the same room — prompting Mr. Trump to shake his head in disgust and mutter “bullshit” to his lawyers, loud enough that it drew a private rebuke from the judge, who called it “contemptuous.”

Ms. Daniels then recounted the sex itself in graphic detail. It happened, she said, after she returned from the bathroom and found Mr. Trump in his boxer shorts and T-shirt. She tried to leave and he blocked her path, though not, she said, in a threatening manner. The sex was brief, she said, and although she never said no, there was a “power imbalance.”

“I was staring up at the ceiling, wondering how I got there,” she told the jury, adding that Mr. Trump did not wear a condom.

The testimony was an astonishing moment in American political history and a crowning spectacle in a trial full of them: a porn star, across from a former and potentially future president, telling the world what she was once paid to keep quiet about.

Ms. Daniels, 45, has told her story widely — to prosecutors, reporters, her friends, in a book — but never to jurors, and not with Mr. Trump in the room. Her appearance on the stand appeared to unnerve Mr. Trump as she aired his dirty laundry, under oath, in mortifying detail.

But Ms. Daniels’s story is not just a sordid kiss-and-tell tale; it spotlights what prosecutors say was Mr. Trump’s criminality. He is accused of engineering the false business records scheme to cover up all traces of their tryst: the hush money, the repayment to Mr. Cohen and, yes, the sex.

While the defense cast the testimony as a smear, Ms. Daniels provided prosecutors with some useful details. She established the fundamental story of her encounter with Mr. Trump. And she testified that she would have told the same uncomfortable tale in 2016, had she not taken the hush money from Mr. Trump’s fixer.

But her testimony, at times, seemed problematic for the prosecutors who had called her. Ms. Daniels testified that money was not her motivation, and that she wanted to get her story out. That could draw skepticism from jurors, who have heard that she accepted the $130,000 and, in exchange, did not tell her story for more than a year.

“My motivation wasn’t money,” she said. “It was motivated out of fear, not money.”

The jury also saw the judge, Juan M. Merchan, scold Ms. Daniels at least twice, instructing her to stick to the questions asked of her. At one point, he even issued his own objection, interrupting her testimony as she began to describe the sexual position she and Mr. Trump assumed.

Justice Merchan, generally a stoic presence with a tight grip over his courtroom, showed rare exasperation as the testimony veered in a scurrilous direction and the trial took on a circuslike atmosphere.

He also asked Ms. Daniels to slow down. She was a rapid-fire talker, prone to laughter and lengthy asides.

Outside the jury’s presence, the judge said that “there were some things better left unsaid” in her testimony and suggested that Ms. Daniels might have “credibility issues.”

Yet he rejected the defense’s bid for a mistrial, instead inviting Mr. Trump’s lawyers to mount an aggressive questioning of Ms. Daniels.

“The more times this story has changed, the more fodder for cross-examination,” he said.

Susan Necheles, the Trump lawyer who led the cross-examination, heeded the judge’s advice.

She painted Ms. Daniels as a lying opportunist. She unearthed excerpts from Ms. Daniels’s book to suggest that her story had changed over time. And in a potentially troublesome moment for Ms. Daniels, Ms. Necheles implied that she had fabricated an account of a Trump supporter threatening her and her daughter in a Las Vegas parking lot, a story she did not share with her baby’s father.

“Your daughter’s life was in jeopardy, and you did not tell her father, right?” Ms. Necheles asked, the implication being that the story was phony.

Ms. Daniels was indignant. And during some cross-examination, she parried effectively, performing even better than she did with her answers to prosecutors.

Her testimony brought full circle one of the earliest scandals that loomed over Mr. Trump’s presidency. Ever since The Wall Street Journal broke the news six years ago that Mr. Cohen had paid her to keep quiet, her story has changed the course of American politics and laid the groundwork for the case.

Over the years, Ms. Daniels has leaned into her Trump-adjacent fame. She has sold merchandise, filmed a documentary, sat for high-profile interviews and written a book that was so tell-all it included detailed descriptions of the former president’s genitalia. Mr. Trump has also dished out insults that ridiculed her appearance, calling her “horseface.”

But at other times, Ms. Daniels appeared tortured, detailing the personal toll of outsize exposure. Suddenly, she was not just a porn star but a threat to a man who commands the most fervent political movement in modern American history. She told reporters she was inundated by threats from Trump supporters, many of which were graphic. She feared for her family and has divorced her third husband, the father of her daughter.

“I have been just tormented for the last five years or so,” she said in the opening scene of “Stormy,” a documentary about her life that was released on Peacock. “And here I am, I’m still here.”

Ms. Daniels joined the trial at a pivotal moment. On Monday, prosecutors had asked two veterans of the Trump Organization’s accounting department to show jurors the 34 records they say Mr. Trump falsified to conceal his reimbursement of Mr. Cohen for the hush money. Those include 11 invoices, 11 checks and 12 entries in Mr. Trump’s ledger that portrayed the payments as normal legal expenses.

In the weeks ahead, Mr. Cohen is expected to take the stand and connect the dots between the salacious details and the substantive documents. On Tuesday, Ms. Daniels’s testimony took jurors through the smuttier elements of the case.

She began by recounting a difficult childhood in Baton Rouge. Her parents split up when she was young, she said.

She wanted to be a veterinarian and was editor of her high school newspaper. Eventually, she began stripping, she says, because she earned more than she did shoveling manure at a horse stable.

By the time she met Mr. Trump at the golf tournament in 2006, she was a player in porn. She was an actress, and would ultimately find her footing as a director and producer.

Asked to identify Mr. Trump in the courtroom, she called him out as the man in a navy suit jacket. Ms. Daniels, dressed in all black and wearing glasses, reduced the singular former president to just another man in the courtroom.

She spent much of her testimony describing that first encounter in Lake Tahoe. When she met Mr. Trump, she knew he was a golfer and the host of the “The Apprentice,” the reality show that revived Mr. Trump’s celebrity for a new generation. In a memorable line, Ms. Daniels said she also knew that he was “as old or older than my father.”

Later that day, she said, Mr. Trump’s aide approached and invited her to dinner. She says he took her number, but that her initial reaction was “eff no,” abbreviating an expletive.

But her publicist encouraged her: “What could possibly go wrong?”

She then transported jurors inside his hotel room, painting the sprawling suite in minute detail, capturing every aspect down to the color of the tiles.

She said Mr. Trump had taken an interest in her business and asked about unions, residuals and health insurance, as well as about testing for sexually transmitted diseases. “He was very interested in how I segued from becoming just a porn star to writing and directing,” she said.

Ms. Daniels said Mr. Trump told her, “You remind me of my daughter. She is smart and blond and beautiful, and people underestimate her as well.”

She recalled going into the bathroom to do her lipstick, where, she said, she noticed gold tweezers and Old Spice.

Later, they stayed in touch, she said. In 2007, they met at Trump Tower in New York, at a Trump Vodka launch party in Los Angeles and at a Beverly Hills hotel — all interactions that appeared to undercut Mr. Trump’s claims that he barely knew her.

The jury was also shown contact logs from Ms. Daniels’s phone and from Mr. Trump’s assistant’s phone showing that they remained in touch. And when they did talk, she said, Mr. Trump had a nickname for her: “honeybunch.”

They have only spoken through lawyers since then, most notably during the hush-money negotiations. When Ms. Necheles accused Ms. Daniels of using that effort to “extort money from President Trump,” Ms. Daniels objected.

“False,” she said.

“That’s what you did, right?” Ms. Necheles persisted.

“False!” Ms. Daniels shouted.

Reporting was contributed by William K. Rashbaum, Kate Christobek, Jesse McKinley, Wesley Parnell and Matthew Haag.

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