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Stormy Daniels lawyer texted on Donald Trump election win: ‘What have we done?’

WorldStormy Daniels lawyer texted on Donald Trump election win: ‘What have we done?’

“What have we done?” Davidson, a California lawyer, said to Howard in a text message displayed on screens for the jury in the criminal trial of Trump for allegedly falsifying business records. “Oh, my god,” Howard responded.

Lawyer Keith Davidson (right) is cross-examined in New York on Thursday. Courtroom sketch: Jane Rosenberg via Reuters

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass asked Davidson to explain for the jury what he meant in the text.

“There was an understanding that our efforts, our activities may have assisted the presidential campaign of Donald Trump,” said Davidson, who also represented Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who claimed to have an affair with Trump.

Trump, who is campaigning to return to the White House in the November election, is on trial in Manhattan for allegedly falsifying dozens of business records to conceal the payment to Daniels, which was made by his then-lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen. Prosecutors say it was part of a broader conspiracy to identify negative stories about Trump and keep them from being published.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg argues the hush agreement with Daniels became crucial after the release of the so-called Access Hollywood tape, in which Trump made comments about assaulting women. Trump went on to win the election against Hillary Clinton.

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On cross-examination, Trump lawyer Emil Bove attempted to depict Davidson as a sleazy lawyer who had a history of extorting settlements from celebrities caught up in scandals.

Beyond Daniels and McDougal, Davidson represented clients in negotiations involving former professional wrestler Hulk Hogan and actors Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan, according to Bove.

Bove asked if Davidson had sought US$1 million from Hogan’s representatives to buy a videotape, which showed him having sex with a friend’s wife. Davidson said he made a “monetary demand”.

The tape was later published by the website Gawker. Hogan successfully sued Gawker for invasion of privacy. The jury awarded Hogan US$140 million, bankrupting both the site and its founder, Nick Denton.

Trump’s lawyer asked Davidson about the FBI secretly taping a meeting involving negotiations over those tapes. Davidson confirmed that the FBI made tapes, but he said he was never charged.

Bove also asked Davidson about having his law licence suspended for 90 days, without detailing the circumstances.

The exchange grew testy at times, after Davidson said several times he couldn’t recall specific cases. Bove said his memory seemed “a little fuzzy”.

Earlier on Thursday, before the jury entered the courtroom, lawyers for the district attorney urged Justice Juan Merchan, who is overseeing the trial, to hold Trump in contempt of court for a second time for violating a gag order with public statements about the jury and potential witnesses.

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Prosecutors said that Trump’s comments about Cohen, who made the payment to Daniels and is the government’s star witness, were particularly concerning.

But Trump lawyer Todd Blanche said the former US president’s comments about Cohen are fair game because he is just responding to Cohen’s insulting online comments.

Several of Cohen’s recent posts mocking Trump – including one depicting him wearing an orange prison jumpsuit – were displayed on screens during a hearing on Thursday morning.

“This is not a man that needs protection from the gag order,” Blanche said.

Former US president Donald Trump watches as his lawyer shows examples of social media during a gag order hearing in New York on Thursday. Courtroom sketch: Jane Rosenberg via Reuters

Merchan earlier this week held Trump in criminal contempt of court for violating the gag order, fined him US$9,000, and threatened to jail the former president over future violations. The brief hearing Thursday covered several additional statements, but prosecutors said they were still seeking fines, rather than incarceration.

Blanche argued that Cohen regularly attacks the presumptive Republican nominee and should not be covered by the gag order. The ruling is intended to protect the safety of witnesses, jurors and court staff.

Cohen is “literally making money” from the TikTok posts that repeatedly criticise Trump, Blanche said.

Trump’s use of social media, news interviews and campaign speeches has created a challenge for judges overseeing his many legal cases as they weigh the impact of his public comments against his free-speech rights. Trump’s remarks became an issue after individuals he attacked on social media were swamped with online threats by his supporters.

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The judge ended the hearing without issuing a ruling on whether the statements by Trump were in contempt of court.

But in the afternoon session, Trump lawyer Susan Necheles asked the judge to rule that Trump can post several articles by legal experts criticising the prosecution and the witnesses without violating the gag order.

The lawyer argued such preapproval was necessary because the gag order is too vague, drawing the wrath of Merchan.

“I am not going to give advance rulings. There is no ambiguity in the order,” Merchan said. “My advice to your client is steer clear.”

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