Inside Trump's Criminal Hush Money Trial | Crooked Media
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April 22, 2024
What A Day
Inside Trump's Criminal Hush Money Trial

In This Episode

  • The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and attorneys for Donald Trump gave their opening statements on Monday in the former president’s criminal hush-money trial. Prosecutors also called their first witness to the stand: former ‘National Enquirer’ publisher David Pecker. Washington Post federal courts and law enforcement reporter Shayna Jacobs was in the courtroom and details what happened.
  • Pennsylvania holds its primary election today, and there’s plenty to watch for as returns come in. Pro-Palestinian organizers want Democrats to write in ‘uncommitted’ instead of voting for President Joe Biden. First-term Democratic Congresswoman Summer Lee is also looking to fend off a more moderate challenger and hold onto her seat.
  • And in headlines: The Supreme Court appeared divided in a case over whether cities can criminalize homelessness, the White House and the Department of Homeland Security are reportedly looking into granting protections for hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants, and a new report says Israel hasn’t offered any proof to back up claims that a significant number of workers with the U.N. Relief and Works Agency are tied to terrorist organizations.


Show Notes:



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Josie Duffy Rice: It’s Tuesday, April 23rd. I’m Josie Duffy Rice.


Juanita Tolliver: And I’m Juanita Tolliver. And this is What a Day where we’re disappointed to share the news that shopping mall staple Express has filed for bankruptcy and plans to close nearly 100 stores. But there’s hope, a group of investors is trying to acquire the brand. 


Josie Duffy Rice: If you weren’t going out 20 years ago, now is your chance to uh [laughter] know how we dressed. You got to get an Express going out top. 


Juanita Tolliver: I know exactly what you’re talking about. [music break]


Josie Duffy Rice: On today’s show, we look at the Pennsylvania primary election happening today. Plus, Columbia University suspends in-person classes as protests against the war in Gaza continue. 


Juanita Tolliver: But first, on Monday, the Manhattan DA’s office and attorneys for Donald Trump gave opening statements in the former president’s criminal hush money trial. This is the beginning of each side laying out their case before the jury. Remember, despite this being an historic trial, there are no cameras or recordings allowed in the courtroom. So we decided to catch up with someone who was in the room where it all went down. Shayna Jacobs is a federal courts and law enforcement reporter on the national security team at the Washington Post. She started by describing the mood in the courtroom after Trump’s lawyer said, quote, “there’s nothing wrong with trying to influence the election.”


Shayna Jacobs: I didn’t notice any dramatic reaction or any look of shock or anything like that. The jury is clearly taking it very seriously. They’re paying close attention to everyone who’s speaking, whether it was the judge giving them instructions or the prosecutors or Todd Blanche, Trump’s attorney. So my take away from what that meant was that it’s the job of a candidate to try to sway the electorate, and that’s going to be an issue, I guess, whether what Trump did amounted to anything that needed to be reported on campaign disclosure forms. 


Juanita Tolliver: So I know you said the jury was really paying attention, taking all of this very seriously. What was Trump’s behavior like in the courtroom? 


Shayna Jacobs: Trump sort of changed his behavior and his appearance based on what was happening. I specifically noticed that when the assistant District Attorney Matthew Colangelo, was delivering his opening remarks, Trump looked straight ahead instead of to the right, in the direction of the jury and also in the direction of the prosecutor. He was listening. He was awake, as far as I could tell. But he did not turn his head almost as if he were symbolically or with body language, shunning what was happening to his right. When his own attorney, Todd Blanche, got up to give his opening remarks, he had turned his head. He positioned himself to look at Blanche and again toward the jury. But, you know, Trump does not look happy to be there. He hasn’t looked happy to be at this case or any of the other cases uh he’s appeared in where I’ve been present. So this is all in his assessment, one big Democratic conspiracy against him. Uh. Instead of, you know, multiple cases relating to very distinctly different allegations of wrongdoing. Uh. And pretty much his overall look is one of just absolute disgust and just angry that he even has to be there, I think. 


Juanita Tolliver: And on the prosecution side, they were painting a broader picture of Trump’s criminal scheme in this case. What were some of the key themes that you heard from the prosecution? 


Shayna Jacobs: So the takeaway is that they say that Trump, Michael Cohen, David Pecker, there was this conspiracy that the three of them had engaged in to sort of shut down negative stories about Trump in the later phases of the 2016 election so it is a circumstantial case in a lot of ways. Michael Cohen is going to come in and say that he was directed by Trump to take care of the Stormy Daniels problem by giving her $130,000, that it was an order from the boss. But for anyone on that jury who might not believe Michael Cohen because of his credibility issues, his perjury conviction, prosecutors wanted the jury to know that there’s all this other circumstantial evidence surrounding the theory, and that’s going to be discussions with David Pecker, in particular, the former National Enquirer publisher. There were discussions about how to catch and kill negative stories and how Pecker was going to sort of use his platform in the National Enquirer to promote negative stories about Trump’s political rivals. So there was a pattern, according to the prosecution of this kind of thing happening. So then they’re asking the jury to use their common sense and evaluate whether the payment to Stormy Daniels and Trump’s reimbursements to Michael Cohen fit into that pattern. 


Juanita Tolliver: So with that in mind, how much weight do you think the prosecution is hinging on Michael Cohen’s testimony, especially what the credibility challenges that you already flagged? 


Shayna Jacobs: It does seem like they are putting a fair amount on Cohen in terms of helping them to prove intent to commit another crime, and in this case, that other crime is campaign finance fraud, essentially. And Cohen is going to be key to that, because he’s the one who’s going to say why. Why in his experience as like a number one person in Trump’s circle at that time, why Trump wanted the story shut down. And then prosecutors, I mean, even said today they’re going to ask jurors to use their common sense about whether what Michael Cohen is saying sounds plausible. 


Juanita Tolliver: Now, thinking about day one of this trial as a whole, was there anything that didn’t come up that you were expecting to see on day one? 


Shayna Jacobs: Overall, no, not really. This is a story that’s been public for years at this point. Really what this case is about is whether or not those allegations amount to criminal activity. While it probably would be a fairly easy case for the prosecutors to prove what would have been a misdemeanor, just falsifying records, they’ve elevated this to a felony by incorporating an underlying theory that Trump attempted to cover up another crime, which, of course, in this case is a campaign finance violation. 


Juanita Tolliver: And looking ahead, Trump’s gag order hearing is scheduled for today. We know he’s been pushing the limits on that court issue gag order already, but what should we expect from today’s hearing? 


Shayna Jacobs: Prosecutors are going to say that some of these Truth Social posts that Trump has put out there since before the trial even started are clearly violating Judge Merchan’s gag order, which strictly instructed him not to discuss witnesses, not to discuss court employees, not to discuss members of the prosecution team or their families or their relatives. That order was then expanded to include the judge’s own relatives and DA Alvin Bragg’s family. Trump has been posting things that seem to allude to specific witnesses, like Michael Cohen or Stormy Daniels. Also, he has been posting things that have to do with the judge’s own daughter, who’s professionally connected to Democratic candidates. But Judge Merchan has affirmatively said that doesn’t affect his ability to be fair. He’s still impartial. He still feels comfortable presiding over the case. So Trump is sort of dancing a line of what he may or may not end up getting away with. So it is coming at a strange time. This hearing is coming at a strange time, a week after jury selection, a day after opening statements. But what happens could have a very strong effect on what he’s able to do for the rest of the trial, and he could be looking at more serious consequences if he keeps pushing it. Depending on where Judge Merchan draws the line. 


Juanita Tolliver: Josie, the prosecution called one witness to the stand yesterday. And of course, we expect to see others throughout this week. That was Shayna Jacobs from the Washington Post. We’ll link to her reporting in the show notes. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Thanks for that Juanita. Today is the Pennsylvania primary, and even though the presidential candidates have been decided, there are still big races with implications far beyond the state line. First, there’s the push for Democratic voters to vote uncommitted in the upcoming election rather than cast a ballot for President Joe Biden. We’ve seen this push to vote uncommitted in other primary elections already, from Wisconsin to Michigan to Georgia. It’s an effort to pressure Biden to end American support for Israel and its war in Gaza. Unlike some other states, voting uncommitted directly is not an option in Pennsylvania, so organizers are pressuring voters to write in uncommitted instead. 


Juanita Tolliver: I feel like the uncommitted national movement has refined their organizing abilities to the point where I think they’re going to hit their goal of 40,000 votes in Pennsylvania pretty quickly. I mean, this is especially important because in Pennsylvania, like Michigan, Biden won by a pretty slim margin, and it’s a crucial swing state in the general election. We know Pennsylvania is part of that crumbling blue wall that Democrats rely on, so whoever wins Pennsylvania will have a major advantage. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, and Biden only won the state by around 80,000 votes. And keep in mind, he was born in Pennsylvania in Scranton. So on top of the fact that he really needs every vote he can get in the election already, Pennsylvania is also very personal for him, and the uncommitted voters are basically trying to signal that in order to secure their votes in the general, he would need to stop funding Israel’s military actions in Gaza. 


Juanita Tolliver: Speaking of which, another crucial campaign to watch is Summer Lee’s campaign. Lee is a first term Democratic House representative. She’s also the first Black woman elected to Congress from Pennsylvania. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yes, and while she’s been a prominent voice on the left in Congress, her Democratic primary challenger, Bhavini Patel, is more moderate, and Lee has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s actions in Gaza over the last few months. Over the weekend, she was one of dozens of House Democrats who voted against a bill to send more military funding to Israel. This issue is particularly complicated in her district in Pittsburgh, where a gunman killed 11 members of the Tree of Life synagogue in 2018. It’s believed to be the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history. And Lee forcefully condemned Hamas and the group’s attack on Israel on October 7th. But her support for a cease fire in Gaza and her willingness to criticize Israel’s military actions have led to tension with some in her district for sure. 


Juanita Tolliver: Tension in her district. Tension among funders, too.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. Though Lee has raised more money than Patel and has the backing of many of her congressional colleagues. Lee’s ability to keep her seat is definitely not guaranteed. Patel has also received at least $800,000 in funding from a Republican backer. So this election is a pretty important litmus test for Democrats running right now. According to the Associated Press, if she loses, she is going to be the first Democratic incumbent to lose this election season. And that kind of loss would likely influence other candidate’s approaches to the issue, as well as the administration’s approach to Israel’s war in Gaza. 


Juanita Tolliver: And Lee is not the only Progressive Democrat being targeted because of this. We know Jamaal Bowman in New York is being targeted. Cori Bush of Missouri as well. So we have a number of races to keep an eye on in this explicit context. And another thing to look out for in the outcome in Pennsylvania is the process. Republicans have filed lawsuit after lawsuit across the country to limit voters ability to cast a ballot, and Pennsylvania is not an exception. 


Josie Duffy Rice: So last month, a federal appeals court sided with Republicans in a lawsuit about absentee ballots that were received without a handwritten date on the envelope. This is a requirement under Pennsylvania law. While a lower court had ruled that the ballots could still be counted if they were received in time. The appeals court said nope. The ballots without the handwritten date could be excluded. So tomorrow will give a clear view on how that new restriction could impact the general election. 


Juanita Tolliver: I’m confused about how a handwritten date outweighs a stamp by the post office. Like what? 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, this doesn’t really make any sense. You could theoretically write any date on it anyway, so it’s illogical. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yes it is. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Anyway, that is the latest for now. We will be back after some ads. [music break]




Josie Duffy Rice: Let’s get to some headlines. 


[sung] Headlines. 


Josie Duffy Rice: The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Grants Pass, Oregon versus Johnson on Monday, and the court appeared pretty divided. At least some of the conservative justices appeared to align more with the city of Grant Pass’ claim that municipalities do have the right to criminalize people for sleeping outside or in their car, even when there aren’t sufficient shelter beds for them to sleep in. On the other hand, the more liberal justices pushed back on that idea with both practical and legal concerns. Here’s a back and forth between the lawyer for Grants Pass and Justice Sotomayor. 


[clip of unnamed lawyer for Grants Pass, Oregon] So we think that it is harmful for people to be living in public spaces, on streets and in parks, whatever bedding materials, when humans are living in those conditions we think that that’s not compassionate and that there’s no digity in that [?– 


[clip of Justice Sonia Sotomayor] Oh it’s not, but neither is neither is providing them with nothing. 


[clip of unnamed lawyer for Grants Pass, Oregon] It is and–


[clip of Justice Sonia Sotomayor] Where do we put them if every city, every village, every town lacks compassion and–


[clip of unnamed lawyer for Grants Pass, Oregon] We–


[clip of Justice Sonia Sotomayor] –passes a law identical to this? Where are they supposed to sleep? Are they supposed to kill themselves not sleeping? 


Juanita Tolliver: What a question. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. 


What a response. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, and I have to say, the lawyer did not have good answers to those questions. We will likely see a decision in this case in June. 


Juanita Tolliver: The White House and the Department of Homeland Security have allegedly been looking into granting protections for hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants. According to reporting from the Wall Street Journal on Monday, Biden officials are specifically interested in supporting families with mixed immigration statuses. For example, if one spouse is a citizen and the other is undocumented, then the undocumented spouse would receive some form of protection and relief. The proposed protections are still being decided and could vary from work permits to deportation relief. And while officials told the Journal that there isn’t an announcement on the books, there’s certainly growing pressure for Biden to make a positive move on immigration before November. 


Josie Duffy Rice: And according to a new report, Israel has no proof that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency employs members of terrorist organizations. The Israel Defense Forces, or IDF, accused 12 UNWRA employees of participating in Hamas’s attack on October 7th earlier this year. The allegations prompted several organizations to stop funding UNWRA, reducing the aid available in Gaza. U.N. officials urge organizations to resume funding amid the worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Israeli officials are not satisfied with the report and called it, quote, “insufficient.” Meanwhile, the IDF’s chief of military intelligence said that he plans to step down from his post for failing to stop Hamas’s attack. This comes after The New York Times reported in December that Israel knew of an imminent attack from Hamas more than a year in advance, but ultimately ignored the warning. And since then, intelligence officials have faced heavy backlash for not preventing that attack. 


Juanita Tolliver: The unrest on college campuses over the crisis in Gaza continues. Minouche Shafik, the president of Columbia University, announced that classes would be held virtually on Monday to, quote, “de-escalate the rancor” amid a wave of pro-Palestinian protests. Members of Congress visited the campus on Monday out of what they said was a concern for the safety of Jewish faculty and students. Hundreds of Columbia faculty members walked off the job Monday to show solidarity with dozens of students who were suspended by the school for their involvement in the protest. As well as the arrest of more than 100 demonstrators by New York City police. This is not unique to the Manhattan campus. In Connecticut, more than 60 people were arrested on Yale’s campus on Monday for participating in pro-Palestinian protests. Students set up an encampment and called for the university to disclose whether or not it invests in military weapon manufacturing. Yale released a statement saying that administrators tried to get the protesters to leave by offering them a meeting with the school’s trustees, but ultimately no agreement was reached and the encampment was cleared following yesterday’s arrests. 


Josie Duffy Rice: I’m a Columbia alumni, so I’ve been watching this really closely, and it’s been pretty intense to see what’s been going down there in the past few weeks. 


Juanita Tolliver: I think that intensity is only going to continue to increase because I don’t see these protests stopping. I also don’t see the engagement from Congress to be anything that helps the situation at all. So. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. 


Juanita Tolliver: Lots to watch out for in terms of red flags. 


Josie Duffy Rice: And those are the headlines. 




Josie Duffy Rice: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review. Pull out your skinny jeans and tell your friends to listen. 


Juanita Tolliver: And if you’re into reading and not just Pennsylvania election laws like me, What a Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Juanita Tolliver.


Josie Duffy Rice: I’m Josie Duffy Rice. 


[spoken together] And save Express. 


Juanita Tolliver: I feel like everybody needs to experience going in there at least once, at least once. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, that’s what will bring America together. 


Juanita Tolliver: Oh! [laugh]


Josie Duffy Rice: Everybody going to Express one time 


Juanita Tolliver: Going out tops and skinny jeans at Express. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Going out tops. We’re all the same. We all have a going out top from Express. [music break] What a dDay is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Our associate producers are Raven Yamamoto and Natalie Bettendorf. We had production help today from Leo Duran, Greg Walters and Julia Claire. Our showrunner is Erica Morrison and our executive producer is Adriene Hill. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.