Here's what legal experts say Stormy Daniels' testimony could mean for Trump

"All it does, in my opinion, is show the jury how weak the case is."

May 9, 2024, 8:53 AM

Stormy Daniels' testimony at former president Donald Trump's hush money trial on Tuesday was salacious. The adult film star's allegations -- that she had sex with Trump, and he paid $130,000 to keep her quiet -- are central to prosecutors' claims that he falsified business records to protect his 2016 presidential campaign.

Trump has denied the financial charges in this case and has denied Daniels' claims of a sexual encounter.

The alleged details Daniels shared from the stand were lurid, touching upon everything from the position she said they had sex in, to the underwear she said he wore.

Merchan warned prosecutors and Daniels about going too far in the descriptions of the alleged encounter. "I do think the court instructed the prosecution that there were certain details they couldn't get into," he said.

Aside from a rogue raised eyebrow, jurors mostly kept straight faces through it all. Trump, on the other hand, was heard "cursing audibly" at one point during testimony, Judge Juan Merchan said during a sidebar, and the defense was denied a motion for a mistrial based on Daniels' testimony.

It's hard to predict what effect Daniels' testimony could have on the case's outcome, and legal experts are divided. Though some think the more prurient details hurt Trump's chances or prevailing, some believe it could have the opposite effect.

Daniels' description of her night with Trump served a crucial purpose for prosecutors, said Chris Timmons, a former prosecutor and ABC News legal contributor.

PHOTO: Former President Donald Trump appears at court in New York
Stormy Daniels is questioned by prosecutor Susan Hoffinger before Justice Juan Merchan during former President Donald Trump's criminal trial on charges that he falsified business records to conceal money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016, in Manhattan state court in New York City, May 7, 2024 in this courtroom sketch.
Jane Rosenberg/Reuters

"Unless jurors can visualize something happening, they're not going to believe or take somebody's word that it actually happened," Timmons said. "Your goal when you try a case is to get the jurors to see a movie of the case in their heads -- it's just ironic, given that [it involves] a porn star."

It wasn't just the alleged intimate details that stand to impact the case -- Daniels' testimony about her conversations with Trump, including him allegedly telling her not to worry about his wife, Melania Trump – could help build the prosecution's case that the hush money payment was made to protect not his family, but his campaign.

"It makes it seem like he wasn't gutted about the way this will affect his marriage or his family -- he doesn't seem like an ordinary, everyday guy hiding an affair," University of Michigan law professor Ekow Yankah told ABC News. "Rather, it seems like they were focused on political damage."

Still, some legal experts think the testimony -- though embarrassing -- could actually help Trump's case. While establishing that a sexual encounter occurred is critical to demonstrating why the alleged hush money payment was made, getting too dirty with the details could serve to alienate jurors and possibly even garner sympathy for Trump.

"It could hurt [Daniels'] credibility if she offends jurors or they think she's gone too far," Kate Levine, a professor at the Cardozo School of Law, told ABC News. "Another possibility is that the embarrassing nature of the testimony might make the jury feel bad for Trump, in that he has to sit there and have this be splashed around the courtroom, especially if it's clear to the jury this testimony wasn't necessary."

"I probably wouldn't have wanted to elicit so much salacious information from the witness at this moment because I wouldn't want to either damage her credibility or make him seem more sympathetic," Levine added.

Randy Zelin, a professor at Cornell Law School, said it could make prosecutors look like they are "desperate" to "humiliate" Trump.

"All it does, in my opinion, is show the jury how weak the case is," Zelin said.

Merchan has repeatedly admonished prosecutors for eliciting too much detail about the alleged sexual encounter.

In the end, it's only the jurors who can determine what Daniels' testimony will mean for Trump.

"Reading a jury is a really hard thing to do," Yankah said. "I think the DA has to be careful that it doesn't look like they are indulging in some kind of prurient interest -- if the prosecution comes off as sort of just wanting to humiliate him, a jury can be turned off by that."

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