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Hope Hicks says Trump ‘concerned’ by affair allegations during 2016 race

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Donald Trump tried to stop newspapers containing allegations of extramarital affairs from being delivered to his home for fear of angering his wife Melania, his former aide Hope Hicks testified at his Manhattan criminal trial on Friday.

Hicks, who worked for Trump’s 2016 campaign and followed him to the White House, described how she was ordered to keep copies of the Wall Street Journal, which contained a story about “hush money” payments to a Playboy model and porn actor, from her employer’s spouse.

“He was concerned about the story, he was concerned about how it would be viewed by his wife,” Hicks said of the revelations, published just days before the November 2016 election in which Trump beat Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. “He wanted to make sure that the newspapers weren’t delivered to his residence that morning.”

Trump also wanted to know how such stories were “playing”, she added.

A courtroom sketch of Hope Hicks testifying while Donald Trump looks on from the defence table © Reuters

The longtime Trump aide’s testimony came at the end of the third week of the trial in which the former president stands accused of covering up payments made to buy the silence of Stormy Daniels, a porn actor who alleged she had a brief extramarital affair with him in 2006.

Hicks earlier described the “crisis” unleashed by the release of the infamous Access Hollywood video, in which the then-candidate was heard to brag about grabbing women’s genitals.

She described the incident as a “damaging development” for the Republican nominee’s 2016 election bid, which was “going to be hard to overcome”.

Trump’s team believed “this was a crisis”, said Hicks, who previously worked for Rupert Murdoch’s Fox media group and is now a communications consultant.

However, Trump considered the recorded comments, published just days before the November 2016 vote, to be “pretty standard stuff”, she said.

“Mr Trump felt like this wasn’t good, but was also just two guys talking privately,” Hicks testified, while Trump looked on from the defence table. “He felt like this was pretty standard stuff for two guys chatting with each other.”

Hicks later broke down on the stand when asked by the defence to recount how she first came to enter the former president’s orbit. The judge ordered a brief recess before cross examination by Trump’s lawyers resumed.

The prosecution called Hicks in an attempt to prove its theory that Trump was desperate to prevent further bad publicity from emerging in the aftermath of the Access Hollywood tape when he agreed to pay Daniels $130,000 to stay quiet. The Manhattan district attorney’s office, which brought the case, claims these transactions therefore amounted to an attempt to “corrupt” the election.

The judge overseeing the case, Juan Merchan, had previously banned prosecutors from playing the tape to the jury, but allowed a transcript of Trump’s lewd comments to be read in court.

Before testimony was heard on Friday, Merchan directly addressed Trump to contradict comments from the presumptive 2024 Republican nominee claiming a court-imposed gag order would prevent him from taking the stand in his own defence.

“You have an absolute right to testify at trial, if that is what you decide to do,” Merchan said. “That is a constitutional right.”

Trump was fined $9,000 on Tuesday for repeatedly violating the gag order, which bars him from attacking witnesses or jurors in the case. Merchan warned he could jail Trump if he continued to flout the order.

On his way into the courtroom on Friday morning, Trump told reporters he would be “filing a lawsuit on the constitutionality of [the gag order]” but provided no further details.

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