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Who is Keith Davidson, the lawyer who negotiated hush money payments from Trump?

Lawyer Keith Davidson, who represented former Playboy model Karen McDougal, testifies Tuesday in Manhattan state court during Donald Trump's criminal trial on charges that he falsified business records.
Jane Rosenberg/Reuters
Lawyer Keith Davidson, who represented former Playboy model Karen McDougal, testifies Tuesday in Manhattan state court during Donald Trump's criminal trial on charges that he falsified business records.

Updated May 02, 2024 at 18:40 PM ET

NEW YORK — Keith Davidson is on the stand to continue testifying against former President Donald Trump in a New York criminal trial.

Davidson, who had represented the two women at the center of the trial, began testifying Tuesday afternoon and resumed Thursday morning.

He is the sixth witness to testify against the former president in this case. Trump faces 34 felony counts alleging that he falsified New York business records in order to conceal damaging information to influence the 2016 presidential election. Trump claims the trial itself is "election interference" because of how it is disrupting his 2024 bid for president.

Who is Keith Davidson and how does he fit in the prosecution's case?

Davidson testified that he was at one point the lawyer for both Karen McDougal, a Playboy model, and Stormy Daniels, an adult film star. Both women alleged that they had affairs with Trump, stories that the prosecution argues Trump wanted to quash as he was running in the 2016 presidential election.

He testified to negotiating the payments McDougal and Daniels received in exchange for selling their stories to the National Enquirer tabloid. Leadership at the National Enquirer promised Trump they'd help his campaign by finding stories that could be harmful and paying for the rights of the stories but never running them.

Those payments constitute the 34 "falsified" business records the prosecution alleged Trump made. In opening statements, prosecutors argued that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen submitted 11 "phony invoices" paid for by checks with "false entries" signed by Trump himself. Trump has pleaded not guilty and argues that all he did was pay his lawyer.

On Thursday, Davidson verified the contracts and emails that showed an agreement Cohen to pay $130,000 to Stormy Daniels in exchange for the rights to her story. On the stand, Davidson detailed that for weeks Cohen blew past deadlines to pay the money; eventually, he said, the money was paid.

On election night Davidson sent National Enquirer editor Dylan Howard a text that said: "What have we done?"

Testifying Davidson said, "There was an understanding that our activities may have in some way assisted the presidential activity of Donald Trump."

Earlier in the week, jurors saw text exchanges between Davidson and Howard that showed Davidson negotiating dollar amounts for McDougal and Daniels. He also testified to knowing that the tabloid would not publish the stories. He said he was looking to get the biggest payout for his clients, and he knew this would benefit Trump's election efforts, even though he did not know about the specific deal made between Trump and tabloid leadership.

What did Trump's lawyers ask him about?

Trump's lawyer, Emil Bove, sought to discredit Davidson, noting that he'd crafted several similar deals in the past for other celebrity clients without it veering into extortion.

The jury also heard recorded conversations between Davidson and Cohen where they discuss Daniels' payment. The defense questioned Davidson whether he had used the election as a way to get leverage on Trump to pay out. In redirect, Davidson said he was not using the election as leverage.

The defense really leaned into the fact that Davidson had never spoken to Trump or been in the same room as him before this Tuesday and that Trump himself never signed the agreement, which had code names: Peggy Peterson for Daniels and David Dennison for Trump. The line above the name David Dennison on the contract is blank.

Who else has the jury heard from?

After Davidson, jurors heard from Doug Daus, a supervising forensics analyst in the High Technology Analysis Unit of the Manhattan District Attorney's office. He testified to authenticating phone data; prosecutors played a recording of Cohen and Trump in which Cohen can be heard telling Trump, "I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend, David."

"David" could have referred to the Trump pseudonym, David Dennison, or David Pecker, one of the men who made a deal to stop bad press to help Trump's campaign.

Throughout the last two weeks, jurors have also heard testimony from:

  • Pecker, former CEO of American Media Inc. He testified about making a deal with Trump and Cohen in 2015 to help Trump's campaign by finding potentially damaging stories and helping to kill them.
  • Rhona Graff, a longtime executive assistant at the Trump Organization. She testified against her former boss about how she entered McDougal's and Daniels' contact information into the Trump Organization's directory. Her testimony verified Trump's contact lists.
  • Gary Farro, a former banker at First Republic Bank. He testified about opening accounts for Cohen that would eventually be used to pay Daniels. He said if he had known what the accounts would be used for they may not have ever been opened. 
  • Robert Browning, executive director for archives for C-SPAN. He verified two 2016 Trump campaign clips and one 2017 press conference clip where Trump called Cohen a talented lawyer and where Trump called allegations from women lies.
  • Phillip Thompson of Esquire Deposition Solutions. He verified video and transcript of a 2022 deposition Trump gave for his civil defamation lawsuit against writer E. Jean Carroll. In a video clip played from the deposition, Trump confirms his wife is Melania Trump and his Truth Social handle, among other things.

Daus resumes his testimony on Friday; still on the witness list are Cohen, Daniels and former White House aide Hope Hicks.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Ximena Bustillo
Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.