Election 2024: Contempt, III

Yesterday Trump was once again held in contempt of court by Judge Merchan for violating the gag order, making 10 such violations. Merchan once again declined to play the jail card, but he more firmly put Trump on notice that further violations of the gag order may leave Merchan with little choice but to do that. Later in the day, in a sidebar conversation Merchan referred to Trump’s behavior during the testimony of the day’s main witness as “contemptuous.”

That main witness was Stormy Daniels (the stage name of Stephanie Clifford) herself, which made for a very interesting day of testimony.

It had been unclear whether the prosecution would call even Daniels as a witness, since the underlying allegation that she had a tryst with Trump — while the predicate that ultimately led to the alleged hush-money payment — isn’t directly pertinent to the charges of falsification of business records. I’d heard one pundit suggest that they may have put Daniels on the stand in order to make it less attractive for Trump to testify himself, because he wouldn’t want to be subject to cross-examination about Daniels’ testimony. Another suggestion is that they wanted Daniels to be able to testify that, at the time the alleged tryst occurred in 2006, Trump hadn’t suggested to her that things needed to be kept secret; that in turn strengthens the prosecution’s argument that the motive behind the alleged hush-money payment in 2016 was purely political, and not to prevent Trump’s family from embarrassment, as had been suggested in opening arguments.

I had not really previously paid any attention to the details of the alleged Trump-Daniels tryst, and as such I found much of what Daniels had to say in testimony really disturbing. Per Daniels, here is what happened: A 60-year-old celebrity, whose wife is at home with their 4-month-old son, meets a 27-year-old porn actress while playing at a celebrity golf tournament; he asks his bodyguard to ask her to have dinner with him; after she initially says no in emphatic terms, she changes her mind on the advice of her publicist; she arrives at his room for dinner to find him in silk pajamas, and asks him to get dressed; at dinner they discuss the potential that she could appear on his hit TV show; after dinner, she uses the bathroom and emerges to discover that he has stripped down to his underclothes; she acquiesces to his advances, in “lie back and think of England” fashion, and then leaves; and while they did encounter each other again, that was the extent of their alleged tryst.

This is not a good look for Trump. His lawyer requested a mistrial based on Daniels’ testimony having gone too far in terms of irrelevant detail, which was denied. Maybe there’s a potential issue here on appeal (see Weinstein, Harvey), and maybe not; but in the post-MeToo world, having these details come out under oath in court ought to be damaging to Trump with undecided voters, regardless of the outcome of the trial.

In other news, to nobody’s surprise Judge Cannon announced that the Mar-a-Lago documents trial will not in fact be starting May 20th, but it was mildly surprising that she put the trial on indefinite hold instead of announcing a new date. And, in news that broke as I was writing this post, the Georgia Court of Appeals announced that it will hear an interlocutory appeal of Judge McAfee’s March decision to allow D.A. Willis to remain on the case; this makes it unlikely the Georgia trial can commence before the election.