5 takeaways from Week 2 of testimony in People v. Trump

It was another historic week in the first criminal trial against a former U.S. president. New York state prosecutors built their case, and the judge fined the defendant for violating a court order nine times. Here are five top takeaways from the second week of testimony in People v. Donald Trump:

1. Presumptive nominee held in criminal contempt

One of the biggest takeaways this week was something that happened without a witness on the stand. Judge Juan Merchan ruled Tuesday that the former president violated a gag order nine times. Merchan only imposed fines rather than jail, but the judge threatened the latter punishment for future violations. The judge also held yet another hearing Thursday on potential additional violations. No matter the outcome of this trial, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee serially skirting a court order in his case merits emphasis.

2. Prosecutors build their case

In his opening statement last week, prosecutor Matthew Colangelo told the jury that the case is about Trump trying to corrupt the 2016 presidential election and then covering it up by lying in his New York business records “over and over and over again.” Among the witnesses the state used to build on that theory this week were Keith Davidson, a lawyer who represented alleged hush-money recipients Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels, and former Trump aide Hope Hicks. Davidson’s testimony gave an inside look at how the purported payoff scheme came together ahead of the election, while Hicks’ gave jurors an inside view from the Trump camp. (Trump has pleaded not guilty and denied having sex with the former Playboy model McDougal and adult film actress Daniels.)

3. The ‘Access Hollywood’ tape is crucial

The infamous tape released a month ahead of the 2016 election continues to dominate throughout the trial. Both Davidson and Hicks testified to the impact of the recording that contained Trump bragging about being able to grab women by their genitals. “It wasn’t until ‘Access Hollywood’ that interest sort of reached a crescendo,” Davidson testified Tuesday, explaining how the deal went down to secure Daniels’ silence as Trump successfully sought the White House. Hicks said Friday that it was a “damaging development” for the campaign.

4. Not every witness is ‘big,’ but they matter

Most people following the case are familiar with Hicks and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Davidson. But jurors also heard from lower-profile witnesses who are nonetheless important to proving the state’s case. For example, the jury has now heard from Gary Farro, the banker Cohen dealt with to carry out the alleged hush money payoff. Prosecutors also called more technical witnesses to the stand, such as a forensic analyst to bring out evidence from Michael Cohen’s phones.

5. Introducing Michael Cohen

Cohen himself still hasn’t testified, but he certainly has come up — and not in a flattering way. The lawyer Davidson and the banker Farro both made clear how Cohen was difficult to deal with and even deceptive. At first glance, one might think prosecutors wouldn’t like that unceremonious airing of a potentially important witness yet to come. But it may benefit them because when Cohen takes the stand, his unscrupulous character won’t be a revelation to the jury. Indeed, Manhattan jurors may feel like they already know him by then.

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