3 big takeaways from Day 15 of Trump's hush money trial

Win McNamee/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- After two days of dramatic testimony from Stormy Daniels, the hush money trial of Donald Trump finished up the week with a businesslike string of custodial witnesses.

Before that, Friday started with the conclusion of the cross-examination of former White House aide Madeline Westerhout, who spoke glowingly of the former president and said she felt he was hurt by hush money revelations due to concerns for his family.

Trump is on trial for allegedly falsifying business records to hide the reimbursement of a hush money payment his then-attorney Michael Cohen made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels in order to boost his electoral prospects in the 2016 presidential election. The former president has denied all wrongdoing.

The proceedings will resume Monday, when Cohen, the state's star witness, is expected to take the stand. He earned a rebuke from Judge Juan Merchan before proceedings ended on Friday for commenting about the case on social media.

Here are three big takeaways from Day 15 of the trial.

Ex-White House aide scores points for defense
During her morning testimony, Madeline Westerhout said Donald Trump "was very upset" with a 2018 Wall Street Journal story that reported on the hush-money payment to Daniels -- adding that "my understanding is he knew it would be hurtful to his family."

It was an important moment for Trump's defense counsel, who have repeatedly sought to frame Trump's motive in suppressing negative stories about him as a means to protect his family -- not his campaign.

In another moment of testimony favorable to Trump, Westerhout described him as someone who signed a "tremendous amount of documents" -- including "commissions, proclamations, executive orders, memos, letters" -- and often signed them while handling other tasks.

"Sometimes he would sign checks without reviewing them?" defense attorney Susan Necheles asked.

"Yes," Westerhout said, possibly undermining prosecutors' contention that Trump would have been keenly aware of signing the checks to Cohen reimbursing him for the hush payment to Daniels.

Custodial witnesses set the stage for Cohen's testimony
After Westerhout, a parade of custodial witnesses took short turns on the stand, introducing evidence to set the stage for Michael Cohen's testimony.

They included an AT&T employee, a Verizon employee, and two paralegals from the district attorney's office, who testified about phone logs and business records associated with the case.

Among them was paralegal Georgia Longstreet, who guided jurors through text messages between Stormy Daniels' former agent and an editor at American Media Inc. regarding the hush payment negotiations between Daniels' and Trump's representatives in the weeks before Election Day.

Cohen earns rebuke ahead of Monday appearance
Before court wrapped on Friday, Judge Merchan asked prosecutors to instruct Michael Cohen to cease making comments about Trump or the case on social media.

Trump attorney Todd Blanche argued that the judge should restrain Cohen "the same way President Trump is," referring to the limited gag order the prohibits Trump from speaking about witnesses and jurors in the case.

Instead, Merchan said, "I would direct the people to communicate to Mr. Cohen that the judge is asking him to refrain from making any more statements about this case."

"That comes from the bench," he added.

Cohen's name and voice have already come up repeatedly in the first three weeks of testimony -- but on Monday, jurors are expected to get a firsthand look at the man at the heart of the state's case.

Whether they find him credible could dictate the outcome of the trial.

Friday, May 10, 2024 at 4:02PM by Aaron Katersky, Lucien Bruggeman, Olivia Rubin, and Peter Charalambous, ABC News Permalink