Stormy Daniels’s testimony in the Trump hush money case, explained

What we learned from Daniels’s testimony.

A blonde woman in black walking between parked SUVs with two men in suits.

Stormy Daniels leaves Manhattan Criminal Court on May 9, 2024, in New York City. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

A New York case against former President Donald Trump, once considered the least important of the four criminal suits he faces, could now be the only one to have a direct impact ahead of the election.

This case, which centers on whether Trump falsified business records in order to hide hush money payments to adult actress Stormy Daniels, is currently on trial. (Two cases involving Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election, as well as a third involving his mishandling of classified documents, are stalled and may not be heard in court until after November.)

And boy what a trial it is — cutting memes, potential betrayals, and more.

Despite the significance of the New York trial, it hasn’t necessarily broken through to most US voters: As of late April, just 45 percent of people have been following its developments, according to a PBS/NPR/Marist poll. Because Trump has faced so many legal cases, including another civil suit related to business fraud, many people have grappled with fatigue as these cases have blurred together.

Enter: Daniels’s testimony this week.

Given her prominent platform, the ongoing interest in her relationship with Trump, and her willingness to speak out about the intimidation she’s faced in the past, Daniels’s appearance seemed to raise the case’s profile. It’s not likely, however, that it will shift much of Trump’s core support just yet.

What Daniels said

Daniels’s testimony, which spanned multiple days this week, featured intimate details about her 2006 encounter with Trump and marked the first time the two had come face to face in years.

By divulging this information, Daniels helped prosecutors establish that she and Trump had had a sexual relationship, something he has denied. Providing evidence of that relationship enables prosecutors to make the case that he had reason to pay money to cover it up.


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The defense team, meanwhile, sought to undermine Daniels’s credibility by asking about her animus toward Trump and her financial incentives for coming forward about the relationship with him.

While Daniels’s testimony may not be as key as that of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer who allegedly helped facilitate the hush money payments and who is expected to take the stand to testify against him, it does provide “the critical motive for Trump to be frantic about her revelations weeks before the election and try to buy her silence,” Pace University law professor Bennett Gershman told Vox.

Below are some excerpts of what Daniels said on the witness stand.

  • She described in detail her sexual encounter with Trump. Daniels recounted the 2006 relationship, noting that her “own insecurities, in that moment, kept [her] from saying no,” and that she felt there was a “power imbalance.” She also included specifics, stating that Trump was initially wearing silk or satin pajamas, that he did not wear a condom, and that he asked about her career. After the encounter, she says he told her, “Let’s get together again, honey bunch.” Following this testimony on Tuesday, the defense called for a mistrial, arguing that Daniels’s statements would prejudice the jury against Trump. The judge denied this request.
  • She denied that her decision to speak out about Trump was motivated by money. Daniels was questioned multiple times by the defense about whether she was motivated to come forward because of financial gain. Daniels said that she had profited from the story but emphasized that she was looking for accountability. “I have been making money by telling my story,” she said, while also adding, “It has also cost me a lot of money.” Daniels also said that it had been a net “negative” for her life to come forward about the encounter.
  • She pushed back on claims that she fabricated her story. Daniels repeatedly rebutted assertions from the defense suggesting that she had made up the encounter. “If that story was untrue,” she said, “I would’ve written it to be a lot better.”
  • She made clear she dislikes Trump. The defense pressed Daniels on her stance toward the former President in an attempt to undermine her reliability. “Am I correct that you hate President Trump?” defense attorney Susan Necheles asked. “Yes,” Daniels responded.
  • She confirmed she received the hush money payment but did not confirm Trump’s involvement. Daniels testified that she received $130,000 in exchange for signing a nondisclosure agreement. She also stated that her attorney had negotiated the payment with Cohen and that she did not have knowledge of Trump’s involvement with it.

Will it break through?

Notably, there’s been less enthusiasm about this election so far relative to past ones. In April, an NBC News poll found that the proportion of voters who have high interest in the presidential contest has hit a 20-year low.

As one Democrat put it in a New York Times story about the general burnout members of the “resistance” have experienced this year, “It’s crisis fatigue, for sure.”

Daniels’s testimony has certainly generated more attention this week, though experts note that it alone might not be enough to hurt Trump’s base. “​​Stormy Daniels has always been clickbait. Thus, more people are likely to tune in to hear about her testimony than the testimony of the Trump Org’s controller,” said Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, a law professor at Stetson University.

This is also one of the cases against Trump that’s on shakier legal ground, some experts say, and Trump’s core backers in particular already view this trial as a political attack. That’s unlikely to change, says Republican pollster Whit Ayres. “If I were designing a legal case that would be easy for Republicans to dismiss as a partisan witch hunt, I would design exactly the case that’s being brought in New York,” Ayres told Vox.

Ultimately, it could well come down to a conviction to determine whether there’s an impact on the 2024 election at all. An April AP poll found that 47 percent of independents, some of whom could be swing voters, would not consider Trump to be fit to be president if he is convicted.

This story originally appeared in Today, Explained, Vox’s flagship daily newsletter. Sign up here for future editions.


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