Stormy Daniels, Michael Cohen permitted to testify on Donald Trump hush money, judge rules

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Adult film actress Stormy Daniels and former lawyer Michael Cohen, two potential star witnesses in former President Donald Trump's upcoming New York criminal hush money trial, will be allowed to testify, a judge ruled Monday.

The ruling rebuffed a call by Trump's legal team to exclude the pair's testimony. Both Daniels and Cohen have claimed that Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, was paid ahead of the 2016 presidential election to keep quiet about a sexual encounter she had with Trump.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg charged Trump with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records to cover up his reimbursing Cohen for the $130,000 hush money payment. Trump repaid Cohen in 2017 through monthly checks that were disguised as payments for legal services and falsely documented at the Trump Organization, according to prosecutors.

Former President Donald Trump, disbarred  attorney Michael Cohen and adult film actress Stormy Daniels.
Former President Donald Trump, disbarred attorney Michael Cohen and adult film actress Stormy Daniels.

Judge Juan Merchan's ruling on the testimony maps out the potential contours of the trial, which was previously slated to begin March 25 but has been delayed until at least mid-April after Trump's legal team asked for more time to review new documents.

Merchan will instead hold a hearing March 25 to deal with what happened with the new documents and potentially set a new trial date. The trial is expected to last several weeks.

Why Trump said Cohen should be kept out

"Michael Cohen is a liar," Trump's legal team wrote in their request to exclude Cohen's testimony. They said Cohen has a history of lying that ranged from minimizing his own criminal conduct to distorting his background.

The Trump team pointed specifically to Cohen's statement at Trump's New York civil fraud trial that he had previously lied to a federal judge when he pleaded guilty to tax evasion. Cohen said at the civil fraud trial that he engaged in "tax omission," not tax evasion.

"The People's desire to rush ahead with these proceedings rather than look into the ongoing criminal conduct of their star witness is troubling and violates the People's ethical and constitutional obligations," Trump's team argued, referring to the DA's office.

However, Merchan said he wasn't aware of any perjured testimony from Cohen in the hush money case.

"Defendant provides examples of situations where Cohen's credibility has been called into question. However, he offers no proof of perjury in the case at bar," Merchan wrote.

Merchan said he wasn't able to find any applicable law or court holding that blocked a prosecution witness because the witness's credibility was previously called into question.

Trump was found liable for fraud in that case and ordered to pay more than $450 million. He has appealed that ruling.

The 2024 Republican presumptive nominee's hush money case will mark the first-ever criminal trial of a former president.

Why Trump said Daniels should be kept out

In trying to get Daniels' testimony blocked, Trump's legal team described her stories as "contrived" and "inflammatory," and quoted her as having said, in the context of testifying, she has "been asked to kind of behave."

Prosecutors "appear to have recognized the risks of presenting this irrelevant and untrue testimony by warning their witness," Trump's team said in their request to exclude her testimony.

In allowing Daniels' testimony, Merchan said its value is "evident."

"Locating and purchasing the information from Daniels not only completes the narrative of events that precipitated the falsification of business records but is also probative of the Defendant's intent," he wrote.

Merchan did grant Trump's request to block the jury from hearing about the results of any polygraph test Daniels took.

Testimony but not video on Access Hollywood tape allowed

In a separate ruling Monday, Merchan also made several determinations about the government's requests around evidence, including about the infamous Access Hollywood tape, in which Trump stated that he kisses women without consent.

"You know, I'm automatically attracted to beautiful (women) — I just start kissing them," Trump said. "It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait." He added, "And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything ... Grab them by the p----y. You can do anything."

Merchan said the tape "is relevant to the critical issues in this case," noting the government's argument that Trump and his campaign team were worried after the tape was released that it would hurt his candidacy.

"Thus, the tape helps establish Defendant's intent and motive for making the payment to Daniels and then" trying to hide it, Merchan wrote.

Merchan said, however, that there should be a compromise to avoid undue prejudice against Trump.

"This Court rules that the proper balance lies in allowing the People to elicit testimony about a videotaped interview which surfaced on October 7, 2016, that contained comments of a sexual nature which Defendant feared could hurt his presidential aspirations," Merchan wrote.

"However, it is not necessary that the tape itself be introduced into evidence or that it be played for the jury," Merchan added.

Merchan said he may reconsider his ruling on the tape if Trump opens the door to more evidence about it at trial.

Merchan also said Trump won't be allowed to offer any evidence that the Justice Department chose not to prosecute him for potential campaign finance law violations. The department's decision didn't prove anything for purposes of the hush money case, Merchan said.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump's NY hush money trial: Stormy Daniels, Cohen allowed to testify