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Donald Trump and Stormy Daniels face off on tense day in court

Update : 08 May 2024, 16:22

For years, Stormy Daniels and Donald Trump have been locked in a public battle over an alleged sexual encounter, a hush-money deal paid by the former president's fixer, and their respective efforts to own the very public narrative.

Those tensions - and the salacious details that surround them - spilled out in court on Tuesday when Ms Daniels took the stand in Mr Trump's criminal trial to face him in court for the first time.

The former adult-film star, wearing loose-fitting black clothes and her hair pinned back, did not look at the former president for most of the day, except when she noted his dark blue suit after she was asked to point him out.

She spent much of her time on the stand recounting the sexual encounter that she claims to have had with the defendant - an act that sparked the allegations at the heart of the case - and pushing back at his legal team's scathing questions.

Mr Trump, meanwhile, spent parts of her evidence cursing and shaking his head. That prompted a warning from the judge, according to court transcripts published at the end of the day.

The former president faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. The charges stem from an alleged attempt to conceal a $130,000 payment to Ms Daniels aimed to keep her quiet about the purported tryst.

He has pleaded not guilty and denies any sexual encounter with her, though he has acknowledged that his ex-lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid her a sum to keep quiet about her claims.

As the woman who received the money, Ms Daniels was expected to appear in court at some point. But her testimony on Tuesday brought the most dramatic day of the trial yet.

She provided such lurid details about her encounter with Mr Trump that the former president's lawyers called for a mistrial. Justice Juan Merchan acknowledged "there were some things that would have been better left unsaid" and warned prosecutors not to ask for specifics of such a personal nature.

The details, which she has previously shared, included her claim that they did not use a condom, that she spanked Mr Trump with a magazine, and the answers she allegedly elicited from the former president about his wife.

The trial has already dredged up an underworld of tabloid publishers and Hollywood lawyers, one of whom was employed by Ms Daniels to broker the hush payment. Her testimony on Tuesday appeared to be a step too far for the judge as well as Mr Trump's defence team, however.

Trump listens as Daniels shares her story

Early in the day, Mr Trump's lawyers sought to have Justice Merchan limit what prosecutors could ask Ms Daniels about their alleged sexual encounter in 2006, and the pair's two subsequent meetings.

The prosecution argued they needed to ask Ms Daniels about it to establish intent for the pay-out. Despite tighter parameters, Ms Daniels' scandalous details still spilled out in unusually long answers.

This is not the first time Ms Daniels has shared the details of her alleged sexual encounter with Mr Trump. Since the deal came to light, she has told her story on national television, in a self-titled documentary, to America's most famous broadcast journalist and in her book, Full Disclosure.

In the morning session, the witness appeared nervous, speaking at such a brisk pace that both the prosecutor, Susan Hoffinger, and Justice Merchan asked her to slow down. At times, it also appeared that her evidence got away from prosecutor Ms Hoffinger, who received a stern warning from the judge to better control her witness.

The adult-film star kept her eyes on the jury while taking the court back to 2006, when she first encountered Mr Trump decked out in golf attire at a celebrity tournament. He asked her to join him for a meal, she recalled.

Ms Daniels told the court that she initially did not want to have dinner with Mr Trump, but her publicist encouraged her, saying "'What could possibly go wrong?'" The line drew laughs from some in the courtroom.  

She then described arriving at Mr Trump's suite later for dinner, where she said he met her at the door wearing silk pyjamas.

Ms Daniels told the court that she later went to the bathroom and, after coming back out, found Mr Trump lying in bed wearing only boxer shorts and a t-shirt.

They had sex, she said, and maintained that there was consent. Still, she told the court, the encounter had left her disoriented.

Trump's defence team grows heated
Mr Trump's lawyers objected multiple times to prosecutors' line of questioning before they cross-examined Ms Daniels.

Prosecutors had ensured that guardrails the court had imposed on Ms Daniels' testimony had flown off, attorney Todd Blanche said. Her details about Mr Trump were "unduly prejudicial" to the point that they did not believe they could be fixed during cross examination.

"This is the kind of testimony that makes it impossible to come back from," Mr Blanche said.

While Justice Merchan did not grant a mistrial, he largely agreed that the "witness was a little difficult to control", and said Ms Hoffinger would talk to Ms Daniels about keeping her answers concise.

"The degree of detail that we're going into is just unnecessary," he said.

Mr Trump's lawyer Susan Necheles led a tough cross-examination aimed at undermining Ms Daniels' motives and recollections. The two women were nearly yelling at each other at times.

The exchanges grew deeply tense, as Ms Necheles brought up Ms Daniels' statements about Mr Trump, questioned her parenting, and implied she had fabricated some of her recollections.

"You're making this up as you sit there, right?" Ms Necheles said.

After court, Mr Trump told reporters that he thought the proceedings were "going well". Listening to every word were the jury members who will ultimately weigh the merits of Ms Daniels' evidence.

It was hard to tell what those 12 New Yorkers made of the day. They remained stoic, showing no emotion as the heated back-and-forth played out before them.

As court adjourned, Justice Merchan issued his usual instruction to the jurors once more: Please remember to keep an open mind. 

But this was the first time she shared it while the man she claims to have had sex with sat just a few feet away.

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