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Defense attacks Stormy Daniels’ credibility as she returns to the stand in Trump’s hush money trial

NEW YORK — Stormy Daniels will return to the witness stand Thursday in Donald Trump‘s hush money trial as the defense tries to undermine the credibility of the porn actor’s salacious testimony about their alleged sexual encounter and the money she was paid to keep quiet.

The trial against the former president kicks back off with defense lawyers questioning Daniels, whose account is key to the prosecutors’ case accusing Trump of scheming to illegally influence the 2016 presidential campaign by suppressing unflattering stories about him.

Trump looked on in the courtroom as Daniels for hours on Tuesday described an unexpected sexual encounter she says they had in 2006. Trump denies they ever had sex. Still, a decade later, Trump’s then-lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid her to stay silent in the final weeks of the presidential campaign.

Daniels’ testimony was an extraordinary moment in what could be the only criminal case against the presumptive Republican presidential nominee to go to trial before voters decide in November whether to send him back to the White House. Trump has pleaded not guilty, denies any wrongdoing and has cast himself as the victim of a politically tainted justice system working to deny him another term.

Trump’s lawyers have sought to paint Daniels as a liar and extortionist who’s trying to take down the former president after drawing money and fame from her story about him. Daniels dug in at times in the face of pointed questions, forcefully denying the idea that she had tried to extort Trump.

“Am I correct that you hate President Trump?” defense lawyer Susan Necheles asked Daniels.

“Yes,” she acknowledged.

Trump scowled and shook his head through much of Daniels’ description of their alleged sexual encounter after she met Trump at a 2006 Lake Tahoe celebrity golf outing where sponsors included the adult film studio where she worked. At one point, the judge told defense lawyers during a sidebar conversation — out of earshot of the jury and the public — that he could hear Trump “cursing audibly.”

“I am speaking to you here at the bench because I don’t want to embarrass him,” Judge Juan M. Merchan told Trump’s lawyers, according to a transcript of the proceedings.

For the first time in the trial, the defense pushed for a mistrial Tuesday over Daniels’ detailed testimony, calling it “extremely prejudicial.” The judge denied the request, partly blaming the defense for not objecting more vigorously when she was testifying to stop her from giving more detail than she should have.

Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying internal Trump Organization business records. The charges stem from things like invoices and checks that were deemed legal expenses in Trump Organization records, when prosecutors say the payments largely were reimbursements to Cohen for the $130,000 hush money payment to Daniels.

Testimony so far has made clear that at the time of the payment to Daniels, Trump and his campaign were reeling from the October 2016 publication of the never-before-seen 2005 “Access Hollywood” footage in which he boasted about grabbing women’s genitals without their permission.

Prosecutors have argued that the political firestorm over the “Access Hollywood” tape hastened Cohen to pay Daniels to keep her from going public with her claims that could further hurt Trump in the eyes of female voters.

Trump’s lawyers have sought to show that Trump was trying to protect his reputation and family — not his campaign — by shielding them from embarrassing stories about his personal life.

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