NY Jurors Can Hear of 2015 Trump Tower Meeting

  • Trump’s first of four felony criminal trials is on track to start in mid-April.
  • In a loss for Trump, the judge ruled Monday that jurors can hear about a 2015 Trump Tower meeting.
  • At the meeting, Trump huddled about hush money with Michael Cohen and a National Enquirer executive.

In a blow to former President Donald Trump’s prospects in his upcoming Manhattan felony trial, the judge ruled Monday that jurors can hear about a Trump Tower meeting where prosecutors say Trump was physically present as hush money was discussed.

News of the August 2015 meeting and Trump’s involvement was first revealed in November 2018 by The Wall Street Journal.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan alleged the meeting was evidence of a criminal end-run around campaign finance regulations, CNN reported.

Trump’s side had fought to exclude any mention of the hush-money huddle from the trial, which is on track to start in mid-April.

In still more bad news for Trump, the judge also ruled Monday that two women who alleged they had sexual encounters with Trump — adult film actor Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal — can testify at the trial.

So can Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, who in 2018 pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations for making the Daniels hush-money payment — on Trump’s behalf, he alleged.

Trump’s lawyers had fought to exclude all three from the trial.

Trump has denied having a sexual relationship with either Daniels or McDougal.

The Trump Tower meeting was attended by Trump, Cohen, and David Pecker, then chairman of American Media Inc., the parent company of the National Enquirer, according to Monday’s ruling by state Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan, the judge who will preside over the trial.

State prosecutors allege Trump falsified business records to hide an illegal $130,000 payment that silenced Daniels just 11 days before he won the presidency. The Trump Tower meeting is key to understanding that allegation, Merchan wrote.

The meeting is “inextricably woven with the narrative of events, that is, the steps that eventually led to the purchasing of information from, among others, Daniels,” the judge wrote.

Merchan’s decision is significant. Testimony and evidence linking the former president directly to strategy sessions over hush money payments to Daniels and other Trump accusers will make it harder for the defense to minimize his involvement in the payments.

Trump’s lawyers have said he relied on legal advice and had no intention of violating campaign finance laws, as prosecutors allege.

The ruling is also significant in that it expands the boundaries of testimony for Cohen and Pecker, two former Trump confidantes who are now poised to do serious damage as prosecution witnesses.

Under Monday’s ruling, both may now debut on the witness stand their firsthand accounts of how the National Enquirer attempted to place its thumb on the scales to help Trump in the 2016 election.

Prosecutors allege the 2015 Trump Tower meeting involved discussions of how the supermarket tabloid could publish flattering stories about Trump and negative stories about his opponents, the judge wrote.

“The Court grants the People’s motion with respect to the introduction of evidence surrounding the Trump Tower Meeting,” he wrote.

“The highly probative value of this evidence is not outweighed by any potential undue prejudice to the Defendant,” the judge continued.

“As such, the evidence the People seek to introduce regarding this meeting is admissible provided a proper foundation is laid and it meets evidentiary standards.”

The judge wrote that he was reserving a decision on “the aspect of the Trump Tower meeting that involves the allegations that AMI sought to publish flattering stories about the Defendant while seeking to publish denigrating stories about his opponents.”

Prosecutors will have to show that such “flattering stories” evidence has a probative value that outweighs its prejudicial effect, the judge wrote.

Also, in Monday’s ruling, the judge rejected Trump’s request that prosecutors make no mention of Trump’s role in influencing the 2016 election or of the National Enquirer’s “catch and kill” practices.

Jurors will not see the “Access Hollywood” tape, but prosecutors can make reference to the tape and its alleged role in motivating Trump to purchase Daniels’ silence, the judge also ruled.

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