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Former President Trump's hush money court case is in recess until Thursday

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The New York jury weighing criminal charges against Donald Trump has now heard from the trial's first witness.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're talking about David Pecker. He is the former CEO of American Media, which published the National Enquirer tabloid, and Mr. Pecker is still on the stand after two days. Meanwhile, the former president, who has been in the courtroom every day, is waiting to hear a ruling on whether he violated a gag order.

FADEL: NPR political reporter Ximena Bustillo has been in the courthouse. Good morning.

XIMENA BUSTILLO, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So the first witness is this former publishing executive, David Pecker, someone Trump's known for decades, right? So what did his testimony reveal so far?

BUSTILLO: Well, Pecker testified to being called into a meeting with Trump and Michael Cohen, who's Trump's former fixer, in August of 2015. He said that he was asked how he could help the Trump campaign, and he said that he agreed to use his magazine to do three things - first, publish positive stories about Trump, as he's running for president for the first time; second, publish negative stories about Trump's opponents; and third, he said that he could, quote, "be the eyes and ears." This means that if he heard that there could be negative stories about Trump, he would notify Michael Cohen, especially stories coming from women.

FADEL: And so the implication here being that these would be stories that could damage Trump's 2016 campaign for president.

BUSTILLO: Yes. And Pecker testified to learning about several stories, including allegations of affairs from Playboy model Karen McDougal and unsubstantiated allegations from a doorman that Trump had fathered an illegitimate child. And he testified to reporting these stories to Cohen. During yesterday's testimony, we also saw emails and documents arranging payment for buying these stories from the sources. This is what the prosecution has referred to as catch and kill, as in they would pay to catch the stories and then proceed to kill them so they'd never run.

FADEL: Now, Pecker is saying all this stuff, testifying, with Trump in the courtroom. How's Trump been reacting?

BUSTILLO: Well, Trump was pretty attentive during testimony. He watched Pecker as he testified and gave details of private conversations the two of them allegedly had. At the very start of testimony yesterday, Pecker was asked to identify and describe what Trump was wearing in the crowd, and Trump seemed to lift his head up and smile. But overall, he isn't having a good time. To reporters, he keeps complaining about the cold temperatures of the courtroom and keeps lamenting that he can't be out on the road.

FADEL: Now, there's also this gag order that was imposed by Judge Juan Merchan to protect people involved in this trial from verbal attacks. And prosecutors accused Trump of violating it?

BUSTILLO: Yeah. They brought up 10 posts across Truth Social, which is Trump's social media platform, and also the Trump campaign website. These were posts that, in some instances, reposted articles discrediting Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels, who are potential witnesses. Another was a post that referenced a quote from a Fox News host that accused potential jurors of being, quote, "undercover liberal activists." Trump was not happy about this. Here he is speaking to reporters outside the courtroom at the end of the day.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: I'm not allowed to talk, but people are allowed to talk about me. So they can talk about me, they can say whatever they want, they can lie, but I'm not allowed to say anything.

BUSTILLO: Now, Trump's lawyer Todd Blanche also argues that Trump was simply defending himself.

FADEL: Now, Trump has been fined thousands of dollars for breaking gag orders in other trials. What's the penalty here?

BUSTILLO: Prosecutors asked Merchan to impose a $10,000 penalty, asked for the post to be removed and warned Trump that incarceration is an option for violating the order.

FADEL: And court is not in session today. The trial will pick back up again tomorrow, and we'll hear from you more. NPR's Ximena Bustillo in New York. Thank you, Ximena.

BUSTILLO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Ximena Bustillo
Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.