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Trump trial highlights: Longtime Trump Org. employees testify against their boss in hush money trial

At the beginning of the day, Judge Merchan again warned Trump that he could face jail time for failing to comply with the gag order.

The latest in Trump's hush money trial:

  • Former President Donald Trump is on trial over alleged falsification of business records, which the district attorney says he did to cover up hush money payments to adult film actress Stormy Daniels in the days before the 2016 election. He has pleaded not guilty and denied Daniels' allegation that they had an affair. The prosecution has presented nine witnesses over two weeks of testimony.
  • Judge Juan Merchan today again found that Trump violated his gag order and said he could face jail time if he continues to ignore it.
  • What you missed from Day 11 of the trial.

Trump suggests he'll keep speaking out despite gag order warning

In remarks outside the courtroom, Trump indicated that he would continue to speak out despite Judge Merchan's warning today about the gag order.

"Frankly, our Constitution is far more important than jail. ... I’ll do that choice any day," Trump said.

Prosecutor estimates DA's office has about 2 weeks left for its side

Adam Reiss

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

Adam Reiss and Rebecca Shabad

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass estimated that the DA's office needs about two more weeks for its side of the trial.

That would mean the prosecution would conclude on May 21. The court is not planning to meet on the 22nd or 24th — raising the potential that the trial stretches beyond the Memorial Day weekend.

Lawyers argue over whether DA's office has made all evidence available to the defense

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass said that Trump's defense team has said several times that the DA's office hasn't handed over all of the evidence. Steinglass indicated that they have presented the evidence to them for seven months and handed all of it over by March 18.

“These exhibits have been designated for a very long time …” he said. “I don’t like the impression being left that we are somehow sandbagging the defense.”

Trial wrapping up early today

After Deborah Tarasoff's testimony concluded, the trial is wrapping up a little early today instead of starting a new witness. The jury has been dismissed and lawyers remain in the courtroom.

Trump lawyer focuses cross-examinaton on how far removed Tarasoff was from Trump

During brief cross-examination, Trump lawyer Todd Blanche is exposing the limits of Deborah Tarasoff’s knowledge, getting her to admit she not only doesn’t know the process by which Trump signed the checks, but also didn't interact with Trump.

She also admitted that she was never present for any conversations between Trump or Allen Weisselberg and never received permission to issue checks by Trump himself. Instead, she got directions from Jeffrey McConney and Weisselberg and followed them.

Prosecution is deep in the weeds for testimony today

This afternoon’s testimony has been a slog. But it has been absolutely necessary.

The 34 counts of the indictment allege three variants of false business records: invoices, checks and check stubs, and specific entries in the Detail General Ledger for each of the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust and Trump’s personal bank account.

McConney authenticated the invoices and read through what was allegedly false about each of them — that they were pursuant to a retainer agreement and were for legal services; similarly, Tarasoff is authenticating each check and check stub, which she issued, and each detail general ledger entry, which she made, and linking those documents to the corresponding invoices.

Prosecutor shows checks from reimbursement to Michael Cohen

Adam Reiss

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

Adam Reiss and Rebecca Shabad

Prosecutor Christopher Conroy is showing the jury one of the check stubs and checks that Michael Cohen was given from the monthly $35,000 payments he received.

It's the first time a check from this part of the alleged scheme has been shown during the trial. The check is in the amount of $70,000 for Cohen for the months of January and February 2017 — $35,000 for each month.

The signatures on the check are Eric Trump, on top, and Allen Weisselberg on the bottom. The descriptions for the payments say they were retainers.

Could Trump really go to jail for gag order violations?

If Trump keeps trying the patience of the judge presiding over his hush money trial, the former president could wind up back in his home New York City borough of Queens — specifically the prison on Rikers Island, experts said today.

Judge Juan Merchan, who found today that Trump once again violated a gag order that bars him from disparaging witnesses or the jury, warned the ex-president could face jail “if necessary” for further violations.

Merchan did not specify which jail. But when asked what would happen if the judge sent Trump to Rikers, Frank Dwyer, the jail’s top spokesperson, said, “The department would find appropriate housing.”

Courtroom sketch of Jude Juan Merchan and Donald Trump
Judge Juan Merchan and Trump today.Jane Rosenberg / Reuters

Read the full story here.

If Trump didn't want to approve a check, he would write 'VOID' and send it back

Deborah Tarasoff said that Allen Weisselberg, Jeffrey McConney, Trump and the legal department were authorized to approve expenses.

But above a certain monetary threshold, she said Weisselberg could not approve an invoice. If it was more than $10,000, it had to be approved by Trump, Don Jr. or Eric Trump, she said. 

This matters because each payment installment to Cohen was far in excess of $10,000; each was $35,000.

Tarasoff agreed that the signing of a check was the ultimate approval of an invoice. In other words, if Trump did not want to sign a check, he didn’t have to — and in those situations, Trump would write "VOID" in a black Sharpie and send it back.

DA's office calls Deborah Tarasoff as the next witness

Adam Reiss

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

Adam Reiss and Rebecca Shabad

Prosecutor Christopher Conroy called Deborah Tarasoff as the next witness. She is the accounts payable supervisor who worked with Jeffrey McConney at the Trump Organization. She remains a Trump Org. employee, she testified.

According to Just Security, Tarasoff "allegedly prepared the checks used to reimburse Cohen and falsely recorded those checks as 'legal expenses' in the organization’s bookkeeping."

She testified that she started at the Trump Organization in 2000 and has worked there for 24 years. She works on the 26th floor of Trump Tower.

Court breaks for lunch after controller finishes testifying

McConney, the former controller, has finished testifying, and the court is now taking a lunch break.

Courtroom sketch of former Trump organization employee Jeffrey McConney
Former Trump Organization employee Jeffrey McConney testifies today.Jane Rosenberg / Reuters

Trump lawyer asks McConney whether retainer agreements have to be written

Trump lawyer Emil Bove asked McConney, similar to what he asked former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, to confirm that legal retainer agreements do not have to be written.

The defense of Trump’s legal team, at least in part, appears to be that Cohen was actually receiving financial compensation for legal services.

Bove is also using the IRS 1099 forms sent to Cohen to suggest that Cohen was in fact paid for legal services. This is another consistent defense theme.

Trump team pushed McConney to testify on Cohen's legal work

Kyla Guilfoil

Lisa Rubin and Kyla Guilfoil

Trump's lawyer Emil Bove is cross-examining McConney, pushing him to testify on the actual legal work that Cohen had done at the Trump Organization.

Bove asked, "Cohen was a lawyer during that time frame, right?” to which McConney, who seems to harbor bad feeling toward Cohen, said, “OK.”

Bove acknowledged an email that is a part of Exhibit 37c that discusses an open Foundation matter, which Bove used to suggest meant Cohen still had open legal work.

Through this cross-examination, Bove is using McConney to present the jury with a counternarrative: Business at the Trump Org. had changed “drastically” after Trump became president, and everyone was still adjusting to that in 2017.

Former controller reviews tax forms sent to Cohen

McConney is now reviewing a 1099 federal tax form sent to Cohen for the $105,000 he received from the trust for “non-employee compensation” and a second 1099 form for the $315,000 Cohen received from Trump personally for “non-employee compensation.”

Both were issued by the Trump Org. to Cohen to reflect the $420K Cohen received in 2017.

Ex-Trump Org. controller details total payments to Cohen

McConney testified about a report, called a "query voucher summary," breaking down the total payments to Cohen, including handwritten notes from the accounts payable supervisor, Tarasoff. The report, run on Jan. 5, 2018, reflects all payments to Cohen between Jan. 1, 2017, and the date of the report.

Trump's revocable trust paid $105,000 and Trump’s personal account paid $315,000, for a total amount of $420,000.

McConney says a check had to be reissued after getting lost between the White House and the Trump Org

Adam Reiss

Kyla Guilfoil

Adam Reiss and Kyla Guilfoil

McConney said that one of the checks had gotten lost while being sent between the Trump Organization in New York and the White House for Trump's signature.

By this point, checks had to be sent from the company to the White House for Trump to sign each of them before they were issued, McConney testified.

McConney said that the organization had to place a "stop" on the April 2017 check because it couldn't be found. It was then reissued, he said.

Former controller says invoice for Cohen payment wasn't sent to legal department for approval

Although it was typical practice for the legal department to review invoices for legal services, McConney said he did not send the invoice of the payment to Cohen to the legal department.

Upon approval from Weisselberg, McConney instead sent the invoices to Tarasoff, the accounts payable supervisor, for payment from the company rather than from Trump’s personal account.

Prosecutor emphasizes how notable it was that Cohen received $360K back on a $180K expense

Colangelo asked if the notes show that Cohen was receiving $360,000 back on a $180,000 expense.

McConney said that was accurate. Asked if he is aware of another instance in which an expense reimbursement was doubled to account for taxes, he said he isn't.

McConney recalls plan to pay Cohen after he left the Trump organization in 2017

Kyla Guilfoil

Lisa Rubin and Kyla Guilfoil

McConney testified that sometime in January 2017, he first became aware of the need to reimburse Cohen.

Weisselberg had told McConney first that Cohen’s last day would be Jan. 27 and also mentioned that Cohen was unsatisfied with his prior year’s bonus and that it would need to be addressed.

At a later time, Weisselberg gave McConney notes written on Essential Consultants’ bank statement to “put in the files.” McConney says he recognizes the handwriting on the left-hand side of the page as Weisselberg’s because of their 35-year working history.

McConney said in his testimony that $130,000 was designed to be reimbursement for the Daniels payment and $50,000 was a reimbursement for a payment to Red Finch for tech services; Weisselberg then wrote down that Cohen should be “grossed up” to cover his state, federal, and city taxes for NYC residents

Weisselberg also wrote over $60,000 in additional bonuses, which McConney understood was to “make up for what [Cohen] thought he was owed.”

As of that time, the plan, McConney said, was to wire $35,000 to Cohen every month starting February 2017.

Former controller deadpans when asked about Cohen's role at company

The first chuckle of the day inside the courtroom came when McConney was asked what Cohen's position was in the Trump Organization, and he dryly replied: "He said he was a lawyer."

Only Trump, Weisselberg and Calamari could approve invoices

Former Trump Organization controller McConney was not authorized to approve invoices. Only Trump and executives Weisselberg and Matthew Calamari could do that. Signature authority on the trust accounts for checks over $10K had to have been signed by two signatories.

McConney recalled that Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Weisselberg had that authority.

McConney said Trump nearly fired him for paying bills too quickly

Kyla Guilfoil

Lisa Rubin and Kyla Guilfoil

McConney recalled when Trump almost fired him early on into their working relationship because he was paying Trump's bills without negotiating them.

McConney said that Trump's cash balance had declined from one week to the next, prompting Trump to instruct him to not simply pay bills blindly but to negotiate them at all times. It was, McConney said, "a teaching moment."

While McConney was telling this story on the stand, Trump appeared to be laughing.

McConney's recollection was significant testimony because the DA's office is trying to show that Cohen's invoices were not paid reflexively; rather, all payments had to be supported by an invoice and negotiation was expected, not an exception to the rule.

Former Trump employee confirms accounting tracked Trump's personal finances

Adam Reiss

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

Adam Reiss and Rebecca Shabad

Colangelo asked McConney if the accounting department at the Trump Organization maintains the general ledger for Trump's personal finances.

"Yes," McConney said.

Prosecutor appears to lay groundwork to bring in witnesses who worked with Trump Org. controller

Prosecutor Matthew Colangelo appears to be laying the groundwork to bring in two people who worked with McConney.

He said, for example, that Deb Tarasoff, as the accounts payable supervisor, reported to him, as did Rebecca Manochio, who was an administrative assistant who moved up to the accounts receivable department.

A note on today's gag order ruling

In contrast to the first contempt ruling, in which Merchan found nine of 10 statements were indeed willful violations of the gag order, in today’s ruling, Merchan held that only one of the four alleged statements -- the one about the jury — is violative.

But he refused to find that the two statements about Cohen and the one about former National Enquirer publisher Pecker were reflective of criminal contempt.

In particular, Merchan wrote that he was not convinced that the statements about Cohen were not political speech as opposed to attempts to intimidate a witness. In other words, Todd Blanche’s presentation of Cohen’s April 2024 tweets seem to have persuaded Merchan that it was at least possible that Trump was, in fact, defending himself against Cohen’s near-constant attacks.

Judge Juan Merchan speaks to Donald Trump
Merchan speaks to Trump regarding his contempt ruling today.Elizabeth Williams / AP

Jeff McConney is the next witness

McConney was sworn in and has taken the stand as the next witness. McConney was the longtime controller of the Trump Organization and worked directly under Weisselberg.

McConney previously testified in both the Trump Corporation/Trump payroll trial in 2022 and the civil fraud trial against the former president at the end of last year.

He left the Trump Organization and was given a payout, saying he made the decision to leave the position because he was “worn out” from the legal problems the company is facing. He testified that Trump Org. is paying for his lawyer with him today.

Trump Organization senior vice president and controller Jeffrey McConney
Jeffrey McConney walks into court in New York on Nov. 1, 2022.Seth Wenig / AP

Judge says Trump violated gag order for a 10th time

Merchan said that Trump is in criminal contempt, again, for violating his gag order for a 10th time and fined him an additional $1,000.

He warned Trump that “his continued willful violations of this Court’s orders threaten the administration of justice and constitute a direct attack on the rule of law. I cannot allow that to continue.” 

Merchan said he will, if necessary, impose a jail sentence.

Judge to Trump: Will impose jail 'if necessary' for further gag order violations

Adam Reiss

Merchan had blistering words for Trump when he handed down a decision on further gag order violations.

"It appears that the $1,000 fines are not serving as a deterrent," Merchan said.

"The last thing I want to do is to put you in jail. You are the former president of the United States, and possibly the next president as well. There are many reasons why incarceration is truly a last resort for you.” 

“So as much as I do not want to propose a jail sanction,” he continued, "that I will, if necessary."

Trump rails against judge before heading into courtroom

Moments before heading into the courtroom, Trump accused Merchan of being “conflicted” and complained about the judge’s gag order against him.

“It’s a ridiculous case, I did nothing wrong ... and yet the judge gags me and I’m not allowed to talk about, I guess, his total conflict,” he said. “The judge has totally conflict — is totally conflicted.”

Merchan had expanded a partial gag order after Trump issued attacks against his daughter, who has worked at a digital fundraising and advertising firm that often collaborates with Democratic lawmakers. Merchan previously fined Trump $9,000 over previous violations of the order, which Trump paid off last week.

Trump also again slammed pro-Palestinian protesters at Columbia University, saying he saw that its commencement ceremony was canceled in the wake of the protests and claimed without evidence that many of the protesters are backed by President Joe Biden’s donors.

Court is in session

Adam Reiss

Merchan just took the bench.

Trump enters with larger entourage than usual

Trump has walked in with a larger-than-usual entourage, including Alina Habba, Eric Trump and Alan Garten. Walking in a few beats later is longtime aide Boris Epshteyn.

Prosecutor Josh Steinglass could call the first witness of the day

The prosecution team is now setting up; Josh Steinglass came in lugging both a bankers box and a massive binder, which he appears to be flipping through. That suggests to me that the next witness could be his.

Hicks, a longtime Trump aide, became emotional Friday during her testimony, crying on the witness stand and prompting a short break.

With key investigator in court, a big witness could be on tap

Peter Pope, a former senior leader in the DA’s office who oversaw much of the investigation through Alvin Bragg’s decision to charge, is back in the courtroom. That he is here again suggests to me we’re in for a bigger witness today than previously thought.

Here's who might testify in the upcoming phase of the trial

Today, I expect we’ll move on from the alleged underlying conspiracy to the alleged falsification of business records.

While trial participants have been tight-lipped about who and what might come next, I am anticipating testimony that shows how the repayment scheme was developed, agreed to and, most importantly, papered, from the White House to the Trump Organization over Trump’s first year in office.

And, of course, the evidence that will matter most — whether testimonial or documentary — will attempt to show Trump knew about and intended to conceal the true manner of the payment to Daniels.

So who are the people we might see?

Count on some combination of former Trump controller and frequent trial witness Jeffrey McConney; company accounts payable supervisor Deborah Tarasoff; and potentially even former Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg’s then-executive assistant Rebecca Manochio.

Also possible? Trump Organization chief legal officer Alan Garten, whose June 2023 testimony about the nature of Cohen’s alleged “legal services” inadvertently helped the district attorney show Trump was not entitled to remove this case to federal court.

But perhaps the most important witness in this phase of the case? Madeleine Westerhout, Trump’s former executive assistant in the Oval Office, who apparently ensured that Trump signed the checks to Cohen and sent them back to the Trump Organization with the help of one Rhona Graff.

What else did Westerhout hear or observe on the White House side of the repayment loop? That remains to be seen — but remember, Westerhout abruptly left the White House in 2019 after talking to reporters about Trump’s relationships with his children.

The bottom line? The testimony in this section of the case might not be as sexy as the celebrity gossip-filled transcripts of weeks past, but expect some serious — and admissible — tea to be spilled nonetheless.

The workings of Trump Org.'s finance department likely to be today's focus

Testimony today in the hush money trial will likely focus on the functions of the Trump Organization's finance department and the way the company paid its employees. The trial is moving quickly, and we could see more key players, including Daniels, this week. 

We are waiting for Merchan’s ruling on whether Trump violated his gag order in four additional instances. Merchan has already fined the former president $9,000 for previous violations, which Trump paid last week with two separate checks. 

When we left off Friday, Hicks, Trump’s close confidant and campaign and White House spokesperson, testified that once the "Access Hollywood" tape came out, the campaign was in a panic and her first instinct in response to press inquiries was to “deny, deny, deny."

Hicks ended her testimony Friday by acknowledging that Trump’s opinion in 2018 was that “it was better to be dealing with it now, and it would have been bad to have that story come out before the election.”  

On cross-examination, defense attorney Emil Bove got Hicks to admit that Cohen would often go “rogue” and “wasn’t part of the campaign."

Trump departs for court

The former president has left Trump Tower and is headed to the courthouse for the third week of testimony.

Trump trial resumes after tense week of testimony

Testimony will resume this morning in Trump‘s hush money trial, following sometimes heated and sometimes emotional testimony from major witnesses last week.

It wasn’t immediately clear whom Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office plans to call today as its 10th witness. The DA’s office has been keeping that information close to the vest, telling Merchan it has concerns that Trump might post about the witnesses on social media.

Merchan found Trump in criminal contempt last week for violating a gag order barring him from making “public statements about known or reasonably foreseeable witnesses concerning their potential participation in the investigation or in this criminal proceeding.” The violations included posts about two likely witnesses, Trump’s former attorney Cohen and adult film star Daniels, both of whom are at the heart of the DA’s case.

Read the full story here.

At a private donor event, Trump likens the Biden admin to the Gestapo


Abigail BrooksAbigail Brooks is a producer for NBC News.

Olympia Sonnier

Amanda TerkelPolitics Managing Editor

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Trump compared President Joe Biden’s administration to the secret police force of Nazi Germany in remarks at a private, closed-door donor retreat Saturday afternoon.

The former president’s comments came as he was talking about his legal troubles, attacking the prosecutors in the cases and bemoaning the recent indictments in Arizona of several of his former top aides, along with 11 so-called fake electors from the 2020 election.

“These people are running a Gestapo administration,” Trump said, according to audio of the luncheon provided to NBC News. “And it’s the only thing they have. And it’s the only way they’re going to win in their opinion.”

“Once I got indicted, I said, well, now the gloves have to come off,” Trump added, saying Biden is “the worst president in the history of our country. He’s grossly incompetent. He’s crooked as hell. He’s the Manchurian candidate.”

Read the full story here.

Court awaits gag order decision from judge

Prosecutors argued last week that Merchan should again find Trump in violation of the gag order, which prevents the former president from criticizing witnesses and jurors.

During the hearing, prosecutors pointed to Trump's comments about his former lawyer-turned-critic Cohen, whom Trump painted as "a convicted liar." Cohen is expected to be a major witness for the prosecution.

Trump also complained that jurors were mostly Democrats, a claim that NBC News cannot verify.

Prosecutors' arguments came after Merchan held Trump in contempt last Tuesday for nine violations of a gag order. Trump was fined $9,000 for the violations, and Merchan warned him that future gag order violations could land him in jail.

During the hush money trial in New York, Hicks, a former top aide to Trump, testified about how she learned of the “Access Hollywood” tape during the 2016 presidential campaign and how Trump’s team responded to its release.

What to expect this week

More witnesses are expected to testify this week, though it is unclear who will take the stand next.

Last week, Hicks testified as the ninth witness in the trial. Previous witnesses included David Pecker, former publisher of the National Enquirer, and Keith Davidson, former lawyer for the two women who alleged affairs with Trump.

Here's what you missed Friday

Former Trump aide Hope Hicks took the stand with dramatic testimony Friday, detailing how the former president's campaign viewed previous scandals, including the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape.

Hicks described how the campaign tried to handle the bombshell tape and testified that Trump was "very involved" in his campaign's media strategy.

At one point, Hicks began to cry when a Trump attorney started asking her questions about her history of working for Trump.

She also described former Trump attorney Michael Cohen in a negative light, saying that "he liked to call himself a ‘fixer’ or ‘Mr. Fix-it,’ but it was only because he had broken it in the first place."