'Deny, Deny, Deny' Is No Longer Working So Well For Donald Trump

'Deny, Deny, Deny' Is No Longer Working So Well For Donald Trump

Stormy Daniels in New York State Supreme Court on May 9, 2024

Illustration by Jane Rosenberg via REUTERS

What was adult film star Stormy Daniels doing on the stand for a second day in a criminal trial about Donald Trump falsifying New York state business records? She may have been called by the prosecution, but it was Trump’s lawyers who put her there, Judge Juan Merchan said.

The exchange came in a hearing after testimony on Friday when Merchan denied a second motion for a mistrial by the defense based on prejudicial testimony by Stormy Daniels. Merchan took time to tell Trump’s lawyers that he went back over Stormy’s testimony on Tuesday, as well as their opening statement. “You denied that there was ever a sexual encounter between Stormy Daniels and the defendant,” Merchan told Todd Blanche, Trump’s lead attorney, so it was the defense that opened the door to her testimony and the “messy details” they object to, such as her statement that Trump refused to wear a condom during sex.

Additionally, Merchan found that the defense did not object to the “messy details” when they were revealed in direct testimony during questioning by the prosecution, so the testimony they failed to object to cannot now be used as grounds for a mistrial. Judge Merchan even said he could not figure “why on earth” Trump’s lawyer, Susan Necheles, had not objected to the question that elicited the “messy detail” about the missing condom.

Friday’s testimony by Stormy Daniels did not go well for the defense. Trump lawyer Necheles spent nearly an hour comparing and contrasting Daniels’ testimony on Tuesday with interviews she had given previously, like the one she gave to gossip magazine In Touch in 2010. She accused Daniels of making up the story about sex with Trump in the Lake Tahoe hotel in 2006. Daniels replied that if she had made it up, “I would have written it to be a lot better.” In another exchange, Necheles challenged Daniels about her account of the sex with Trump saying that as a porn actress, “You have a lot of experience in making phony stories about sex appear to be real.”

Daniels responded that “the sex in the films is very much real, just like what happened to me in that room.” That ended that line of questioning.

Another line of questioning that went flat was when Necheles challenged Daniels about how she had monetized her relationship with Trump by writing a book and selling a votive candle with an illustration of herself depicted as a saint. Daniels responded that her attempts to make money with branded products and her strip club tour were “not unlike Mr. Trump,” bringing that line of questioning to a quick close. The prosecution later called two publishing executives to read into the record from Trump’s books his claims of how much money he made monetizing the Trump brand and how he vowed to always exact revenge on anyone who “betrayed” him, clearly implying that Daniels was Trump’s victim, not the other way around.

The unasked question that hung over the courtroom throughout the testimony of Stormy Daniels and during Judge Merchan’s denial of Trump’s motion for a mistrial was, if Trump didn’t have sex with Stormy Daniels in 2006 in a Lake Tahoe hotel room, why did he have his lawyer pay her $130,000 and have her sign a non-disclosure agreement about what happened between them?

Until the trial for the lawsuit filed by E. Jean Carroll in which the judge found that under common definitions of the term, Donald Trump had raped her, and this trial, when Stormy Daniels has been able to get her story about her sexual encounter with Trump on the permanent record, Trump has gotten away with his practice of “deny, deny, deny.”

This time, by causing his lawyers to “deny, deny, deny” that he had a sexual encounter with Stormy Daniels, he exposed the truth not only to the world, but to a Manhattan jury that will now have to decide who to believe: Donald Trump, who has relied on his lawyers to deny the story, or a very smart and credible witness who parried every attempt by those same lawyers to poke holes in her story.

The prosecution is nearing the end of its case. They will call a few more witnesses to establish the facts of how Trump falsified his business records, and then they will call his former lawyer, Michael Cohen. Jurors have already heard an audio tape of Trump and Cohen discussing making a payoff to Playboy model Karen McDougal, and Cohen is sure to be a deadly witness who will provide more details of the payoff to Stormy Daniels.

Maybe Michael Cohen will answer the question about why Trump found it necessary to pay off Stormy Daniels to buy her silence, because it’s a sure thing that a stone-faced and silent Donald Trump won’t take the stand to do it.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

Please consider subscribing to Lucian Truscott Newsletter, from which this is reprinted with permission.

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