Secret recording and the 'body man' photo: Seven things that nailed Trump

By John Mercury May 31, 2024

Donald Trump has become the first former US president to be criminally convicted.

A New York jury found him guilty of falsifying business records in order to commit election fraud.

Trump was at the centre of a “hush money” scheme to buy the silence of a porn star in the days before the 2016 election.

Here are seven factors that helped convict the man who – in six months – could be president again.

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Trump with his lawyer Todd Blanche. Pic: Reuters
Image:
Donald Trump pictured with his lawyer Todd Blanche. Pic: Reuters

1. The secret recording

“So, what do we got to pay for this? 150?” Donald Trump is heard to say in a conversation with his lawyer Michael Cohen, which he didn’t know was being recorded.

He was referring to the $150,000 (£117,000) hush money paid to Playboy model Karen McDougal, who claimed she had a 10-month affair with Trump – which he denied.

The payment, and Trump’s discussion of it, helped establish the hush money scheme and Trump’s involvement.

2. The president and the porn star

Stormy Daniels‘ detailed evidence – at times excruciating – demonstrated to the jury why Donald Trump would have wanted to silence her story.

They met at a 2006 celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, and had a photo taken together. He invited her to his hotel suite where they had sex, although Trump denies it.

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Donald Trump and Stormy Daniels
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Donald Trump and Stormy Daniels

Stormy Daniels (pictured in 2018) said she had sex with Trump in Nevada. Pic: Reuters
Image:
Stormy Daniels (pictured in 2018) said she had sex with Trump in Nevada. Pic: Reuters

She spanked him “on the butt” with a rolled-up magazine and they had sex after she came out of the bathroom to find him stripped to his boxer shorts and a T-shirt.

When they parted, he said to her: “It was great. Let’s get together again, honey bunch.”

3. David Pecker

The former publisher of the National Enquirer magazine spoke of the “catch and kill” scheme he operated to buy negative stories about Donald Trump and bury them.

David Pecker said he would stop negative stories about Trump being published. Pic: Reuters
Image:
David Pecker said he would stop negative stories about Trump. Pic: Reuters

He told Trump in a 2015 meeting that he’d be his “eyes and ears” and he put his money where his mouth was, buying McDougal’s silence for $150,000.

Mr Packer’s testimony spoke to Trump’s direct knowledge of, and involvement in, a hush money scheme.

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4. ‘Just Do It’ and ‘Push it out past the election’

Michael Cohen testified that Donald Trump told him to “just do it” when it came to paying Stormy Daniels’ hush money.

In late October 2016, she had grown frustrated by a delay in the payment and threatened to take her story to a newspaper.

Cohen said that Trump told him: “There’s no reason to keep this thing out there. Just do it.” It reinforced evidence of Trump’s direction of the hush money scheme.

He said Trump told him of the Stormy Daniels story. “Push it out past the election, because if I win, it has no relevance and if I lose I don’t really care.”

It was a killer line that demonstrated the intent to commit election fraud and, so, elevated the crime to a felony.

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5. The ‘smoking gun’ bank statement

Handwritten notes of Allen Weisselberg, Trump’s chief financial officer, show the sums adding up Michael Cohen’s reimbursement.

It was the $130,000 hush money plus add-ons, all multiplied by two to cover tax liability as Cohen was in the 50% tax bracket.

It showed $420,000 (£328,000) to be paid in multiple cheques of $35,000 each.

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Weisselberg’s handwritten note
Image:
Weisselberg’s handwritten note

Michael Cohen (right) leaves his apartment building in New York on Tuesday. Pic: AP
Image:
Michael Cohen (right) was Trump’s lawyer and ‘fixer’. Pic: AP

The figures are written on Cohen’s First Republic bank statement, the very one that showed his $130,000 wire transfer to Stormy Daniels’ attorney.

Cohen testified that he saw Mr Weisselberg write on the document and that Trump approved the reimbursement plan.

6. The ‘body man’ photo

The defence pounced on a phone call on 24 October 2016, in which Michael Cohen said he’d discussed the Stormy Daniels hush money with Donald Trump.

They pointed out the call was to the phone of Trump’s aide, Keith Schiller, after Cohen had been texting him about harassment phone calls and that his claim to have spoken to Trump in a 96-second phone call was “a lie”.

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Schiller Trump pic
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The trial shown a video grab of Trump with Schiller around the exact time of the call

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However, the prosecution found a photograph of Schiller and Trump together, around the exact time of the call.

It undermined what the defence clearly saw as a ‘gotcha’ moment in their bid to discredit Cohen.

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7. The trusted aide

Hope Hicks was campaign press secretary to Donald Trump in 2016.

She testified that he told her Michael Cohen had paid off Stormy Daniels to “protect him [Trump] from a false allegation” out of the “kindness of his own heart”.

Pic: AP
Image:
Hope Hicks was Trump’s press secretary. Pic: AP

Ms Hicks told the court she thought that would have been out of character for Cohen.

“I didn’t know Michael to be an especially charitable person or selfless person,” she said.

From a trusted aide, her cutting assessment of Cohen challenged the word of her former boss and weakened Trump’s defence.

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