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  5. Hope Hicks broke down in tears on the witness stand during Trump-damaging testimony at hush-money trial

Hope Hicks broke down in tears on the witness stand during Trump-damaging testimony at hush-money trial

Laura Italiano,Jacob Shamsian,Natalie Musumeci   

Hope Hicks broke down in tears on the witness stand during Trump-damaging testimony at hush-money trial
  • Hope Hicks, a former longtime advisor to Donald Trump, took the witness stand in his hush-money trial Friday.
  • Just after Trump's lawyer began cross-examining her, she broke down in tears.

Hope Hicks, an ex-White House aide and longtime advisor to Donald Trump, broke down in tears while on the witness stand Friday in the former president's hush-money criminal trial.

Her voice cracked as she began answering questions in the afternoon from defense lawyer Emil Bove, who had asked her whether the Trump Organization created the position of communications director to persuade her to join the company in October 2014.

After answering "yes," Hicks grabbed a tissue and turned to her left while sitting on the witness stand. She turned her face and body away from the courtroom audience.

"Ms. Hicks, do you need a break?" the trial judge, Juan Merchan, asked.

"Yes, please," she responded in a cracked voice, while facing away from the judge.

After the judge announced a break just before 3 p.m., Hicks walked across the courtroom, passing by Trump without looking at him.

Hicks is a key witness in the trial, potentially linking Trump directly to what prosecutors call an election-influencing scheme to purchase a porn star's silence in the days before the 2016 presidential election.

On the stand in the chilly 15th-floor downtown Manhattan courtroom, she said she was testifying pursuant to a subpoena in the historic case.

Prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney's Office allege Trump falsified 34 business records in order to cover up an illegal $130,000 hush-money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels.

The payment, delivered by Trump's ex-personal attorney and former fixer Michael Cohen, was wired to Daniels 11 days before the 2016 presidential election to buy her silence over a 2006 sexual encounter with Trump, according to records shown as evidence in the trial.

Trump's lawyers have claimed the payment was not an illegal campaign contribution, and that it was made to avoid personal embarrassment.

But Hicks — Trump's 2016 campaign press secretary — testified about working with Trump and Cohen as the campaign responded to media inquiries about the scandal.

In their opening statements last week, prosecutors said the campaign was particularly vulnerable to the perceptions of female voters following the publication of the "Access Hollywood" tape. And so Trump sprung into action to block Daniels from going public about an affair she says she had with him, they said.

"I was definitely concerned this was going to be a massive story and make the news cycle for the next couple of days — at least," Hicks said on the witness stand earlier Friday, describing her reaction to learning of the tape.

In her testimony, Hicks hurt Trump by showing how deeply he — and the campaign — worried about infidelity stories going public in the weeks before the election.

Hicks became emotional as prosecutors wrapped up their direct examination of her.

Her final answer helped bolster the district attorney's case. She said Trump was happy that news of the hush-money arrangement with Daniels had become public in 2018.

"I think it was Mr. Trump's feeling that it was better to be dealing with it now," she said, "rather than just before the election."

Hicks took the witness stand again after a five-minute break, looking flushed but calmer.

On cross-examination, she helped the defense by distancing the campaign from Cohen and his hush-money machinations.

"He was not looped in on the day-to-day" of the campaign, though he appeared to want to be, Hicks told jurors.

"He went rogue at times, it was fair to say?" Bove asked her.

"Yes," Hicks answered, smiling. "I used to say that he likes to call himself a fixer or Mr. Fixit. But it was only because he first broke it that he was Mr. Fixit."

Also during cross-examination, Hicks described Trump as a loving husband who genuinely cared about protecting his family from stories of infidelity.

"I don't think he wanted anyone in his family to be hurt or embarrassed by anything that happened on the campaign," she said.

"He wanted them to be proud of him," she added of "Mrs. Trump" and the rest of Trump's family.

Speaking to reporters in the hallway after the court day, Trump declined to answer Business Insider's question about his reaction to Hicks's testimony, saying he was bound by the gag order that New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan imposed, preventing him from talking about witnesses.

He pivoted to attacking the Manhattan district attorney's office, which he said has "absolutely ruined and destroyed" the lives of "a lot of great people."

"They've destroyed people's lives. They've gone out, hired lawyers, they've been with lawyers for years. They suck dry," he said. "And it's a shame. It's a shame what they've done.

Hicks described the Trump campaign's frenzied reactions to the 'Access Hollywood' tape

Hicks was one of Trump's most trusted advisors in his 2016 climb to the presidency. Federal prosecutors have previously said in court papers from the 2019 prosecution of Michael Cohen that she could directly tie Trump to the so-called "catch-and-kill" scheme.

She formally joined the Trump Organization in October 2014 after working with the public relations firm Hiltzik Strategies. As Trump began running for president, in 2015, she switched to a campaign role and traveled with him across the country, she testified.

On October 7, 2016 — less than a month before the election — Hicks received an email from Washington Post reporter David Fareholdt, informing her he had obtained the video, sending a transcript of Trump's remarks about grabbing women "by the pussy," and requesting a response from Trump.

She forwarded it to other campaign leaders: Jason Miller, David Bossie, Kellyanne Conway, and Steve Bannon.

"Deny, deny, deny," Hicks wrote in an email, suggesting one possible response.

Hicks then went to the 25th floor of Trump Tower, she testified, where she said Trump was preparing for a presidential debate with Miller, Conway, Bannon, Jared Kushner, and Chris Christie.

"We weren't sure how to respond yet," she testified Friday. "We were trying to obtain the information and were processing the shock internally."

Trump responded "that that didn't sound like something he would say," Hicks said.

Hicks said she was "a little stunned" at the time and struggled to get her bearings.

"I was definitely concerned this was going to be a massive story and make the news cycle for the next couple of days, at least," she said.

"There was consensus amongst us all that the tape was damaging," she added. "This was a crisis."

After a while, Trump presented a more dismissive attitude, Hicks said.

"It was just two guys talking, locker room talk. It was something that we shouldn't get too concerned over," Hicks said, relaying Trump's attitude. "He didn't want to offend anybody but he felt it was pretty standard for two guys talking about somebody."

Hicks said media coverage of the "Access Hollywood" tape was so all-consuming that no one had paid attention to the Category 4 hurricane that was expected to hit the East Coast at the time.

"It dominated media coverage," she said. "I would say the 36 hours leading up to the debate."

Then came the Stormy

The Trump campaign realized it had a potential problem with female voters in the wake of the tape's release, Hicks said.

Prosecutors suggested that dynamic colored the reaction to another inquiry from a journalist — Michael Rothfeld at The Wall Street Journal — on November 4, just four days before the 2016 election.

The email came when Trump's private jet had landed in Ohio for a "hanger rally" with the plane in the background. Rothfeld had asked about a secret $150,000 arrangement between American Media Inc., the publisher of the National Enquirer, and Karen McDougal. In the agreement, AMI bought the exclusive rights to McDougal's story about an affair the former Playboy bunny said she had with Trump in 2006, when he was married to Melania Trump — but never published any articles about it.

Hicks had a phone call with Rothfeld, where he also mentioned Stormy Daniels, she testified.

Hicks tried to control the story, reaching out to Jared Kushner, who she said was friendly with the Journal's owner Rupert Murdoch.

"He had a very good relationship with Rupert Murdoch and I wanted to see if we could buy a little extra time to deal with this," she testified.

Kushner said he "wasn't going to be able to reach Rupert," she said.

Hicks also said she reached out to Michael Cohen, knowing he had a relationship with American Media Inc. owner David Pecker. And she reached out to Pecker's office as well.

Pecker "explained that Karen McDougal was paid for magazine covers and fitness columns, and it was all very legitimate," Hicks said. "And that was what the contract was for."

After relaying that to Trump, Hicks said that Trump wanted to speak to Pecker himself and "have an understanding of what was going on." On another phone call, with Trump, Pecker assured him the payment to McDougal was for fitness columns, Hicks testified.

Trump then personally crafted a campaign statement denying the accusations from McDougal, and any knowledge of the deal.

The published Journal article made mention of a possible affair and similar deal with Stormy Daniels, but focused on McDougal.

When the Journal published another article, in 2018, focused on the $130,000 Daniels, Hicks was at that point the White House communications director.

Trump told her Cohen had paid the $130,000 in hush-money "out of the kindness of his own heart" to protect him.

Hicks testified she found Trump's explanation hard to believe.

"I'd say that would be out of character for Michael," she said, to laughter in the court's overflow room. "I didn't know Michael to be an especially charitable person. Or selfless person. He's the kind of person who seeks credit."

This story has been updated with additional details.