4 big takeaways from Day 12 of Trump's hush money trial

Two longtime Trump Organization employees took the stand on Monday.

After weeks of tabloid intrigue, sex scandals and celebrity gossip, Day 12 of Donald Trump's criminal hush money trial took a decidedly drier turn -- and while the testimony might not have been as riveting as days prior, it included perhaps the most consequential content to date.

Two longtime employees at the Trump Organization testified Monday about their role in executing a string of payments to Michael Cohen in 2017, and jurors for the first time saw the allegedly falsified business records associated with those transactions.

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.

Before testimony resumed Monday, Judge Juan Merchan found Trump in criminal contempt for a 10th violation of his limited gag order -- and leveled his most stirring threat to incarcerate the former president for future infractions.

Here are the top takeaways from Day 12 of the trial.

Trump again found in contempt, threatened with jail

Judge Juan Merchan found Trump in criminal contempt for yet again violating his limited gag order that prevents Trump from targeting witnesses, jurors and others involved in the case -- and the judge leveled his most stirring threat to throw the former president in jail if he continues to flout the court's rules.

"It appears that the $1,000 fines are not serving as a deterrent," Merchan said. "Going forward, this court will have to consider a jail sentence."

PHOTO: Former President Donald Trump and his attorney Todd Blanche (R) attend his trial at Manhattan Criminal Court on May 6, 2024 in New York City.
Former President Donald Trump and his attorney Todd Blanche (R) attend his trial at Manhattan Criminal Court on May 6, 2024 in New York City.
Win Mcnamee/Getty Images

"Mr. Trump, the last thing I want to do is put you in jail," Merchan said, directly addressing Trump. "You are the former president of the United States, and possibly the next president as well."

Merchan found that Trump violated the gag order when he made remarks about the case's jury on April 22 during an interview on Real America's Voice, after the trial had started.

The ruling comes after Merchan earlier found Trump in contempt for nine previous violations of the trial's limited gag order, for which Trump paid $1,000 for each violation.

Cohen payment paper trail comes into focus

Jurors for the first time had an opportunity to see and hear about all 34 business records that prosecutors claim were falsely filed -- the invoices, checks, and general ledger entries that cut to the core of the district attorney's case.

In painstaking detail, Jeffrey McConney, the Trump Organization's retired controller, and Deborah Tarasoff, the company's accounts payable supervisor, testified about their role in the issuing twelve payments to Michael Cohen in 2017 in repayment for Stormy Daniels' hush payment.

The process included internal correspondence about the transactions, paystubs, checks, invoices, and account details with each invoice marked as "legal expense" -- every piece of the paper trail for twelve transactions for $35,000 to Cohen, Trump's former fixer and attorney.

Donald Trump was in the White House by 2017, and Tarasoff testified about how they would send checks to Washington, D.C., by FedEx, for the president to sign.

"Even when he was in D.C., no one else had authority to sign the checks?" a prosecutor asked.

"That's right," Tarasoff said.

As part of this line of inquiry, the jury saw checks bearing Trump's familiar jagged signature.

Was Cohen payment a reimbursement or legal expense?

Prosecutors worked to show that the payments to Cohen were reimbursements for the $130,000 he transmitted to an attorney for Stormy Daniels to buy her silence ahead of the 2016 election.

Jurors saw an accounting document with longtime Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg's "chicken scratch notes," as McConney called them -- arithmetic for a payment the Trump Organization would make in 12 installments to Cohen, which including a reference to a "reimbursement."

But Emil Bove, an attorney for Trump, made a concise case for his client's innocence during his cross-examination of McConney: Cohen was a lawyer, and he was paid legal fees.

"Michael Cohen was a lawyer?" Bove asked.

"OK," McConney scoffed. "Sure, yes."

"And payments to lawyers by the Trump Organization are legal expenses, right?" Bove asked.

"Yes," McConney said.

Bove also sought to frame the use of the "legal expense" nomenclature as the result of the Trump Organization's "antiquated" internal payment system, akin to selecting a choice from a "drop down menu" of payment options.

Prosecutors say their case should take 2 more weeks

Before proceedings concluded Monday afternoon, Judge Merchan asked prosecutors how they were doing on scheduling.

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass said the state's case will likely take another two weeks, give or take.

That will be followed by the defense's case, and then the state's rebuttal.

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