Former US President Donald Trump speaks to the press before his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs, at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City, on May 9, 2024. Image Credit: AFP

NEW YORK: Donald Trump’s lawyer accused porn star Stormy Daniels of profiting off her story they had sex in 2006, part of an effort to undermine her credibility as a witness in the first criminal trial of a sitting or former US president.

Daniels’ unflattering account of a sexual encounter with Trump in a Lake Tahoe hotel suite in 2006 riveted jurors on Tuesday, reminding US voters of the more lurid aspects of his 2017-2021 presidency as he campaigns to win back the White House this year.

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Trump, 77, is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records to cover up his former lawyer Michael Cohen’s $130,000 payment to Daniels, 45, for her silence ahead of the 2016 election about the alleged encounter.

Trump has pleaded not guilty and denies ever having sex with Daniels.

His lawyer Susan Necheles showed jurors Daniels’ social media posts advertising merchandise on her online store around the time Trump had been charged last year.

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The merchandise included a “Stormy Saint of Indictments” candle with her photo on it and a comic book titled, “Political Power: Stormy Daniels.”

A large part of your livelihood for a bunch of years now has been making money off the story that you had sex with President Trump and that you will help President Trump be convicted, right? Necheles asked.

Daniels said she needs money to foot her legal bills — she owes Trump more than $500,000 from a failed defamation lawsuit — and that selling merchandise was part of her job.

That is me doing my job” Daniels said in a confident tone, wearing a green shirt and a black coat.

A Republican seeking to take back the White House from Democratic President Joe Biden in a November 5 election, Trump argues the trial is a politically motivated attempt to interfere with his campaign.

Prosecutors say Trump’s efforts to obscure the paper trail corrupted the 2016 election by preventing voters from learning about a story that might have informed their vote.

Necheles sought to use Daniels’ work in the adult film industry to cast doubt on her account of sex with Trump.

Phony stories

“You have a lot of experience in making phony stories about sex appear to be real?” Necheles asked. "Wow” Daniels said, laughing. That’s not how I would put it. The sex in the films is very much real, just like what happened to me in that room.”

“If that story was untrue I would have written it to be a lot better,” she said.

Trump, wearing a blue tie, sat hunched forward at the defence table, frowning, as Daniels gave that testimony.

In one sense, Daniels’ testimony is peripheral to the case, and it may not matter much to voters who have already heard other stories of Trump’s alleged sexual misbehavior.

Trump’s lawyers argued as much on Tuesday when they unsuccessfully sought a mistrial, saying that she had “inflamed” the jury with unnecessary details like claiming that Trump did not use a condom.

Daniels’ testimony on Tuesday clearly frustrated Trump, who at one point appeared to call it “bullshit,” drawing a warning about witness intimidation from Justice Juan Merchan.

Merchan has fined Trump $10,000 for talking about jurors and witnesses in the trial and warned that further violations of a gag order that is in place could land him in jail.

The case is widely seen as the least consequential of the four criminal prosecutions Trump faces. But the chances of the other three - which stem from efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Biden and his handling of classified documents - going to trial before the election are growing more distant.

He has pleaded not guilty in all the cases.