“Devastating”: Legal experts say first Trump trial witness sitting on “dynamite evidence”

David Pecker, the former chairman of the National Enquirer’s parent company, is expected to be the first witness called at former President Donald Trump’s criminal hush-money trial, according to The New York Times and CNN.

Pecker played a key role in several “catch-and-kill” schemes to bury embarrassing stories about Trump and was a central player in the alleged scheme to cover up hush-money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 campaign.

Pecker contacted former Trump attorney Michael Cohen after being approached by an agent for Daniels in October 2016 about their alleged affair, which Trump has denied. Cohen then negotiated a deal to “purchase” her silence for $130,000, according to court filings.

Cohen is expected to be a key witness in the case but Trump’s team has attacked his credibility after he pleaded guilty in 2017 to making false statements while working for the former president. Pecker’s testimony could be critical to supporting some of Cohen’s testimony.

“Pecker can testify that Trump not only understood but heartily endorsed his publication’s offer to ‘catch and kill’ negative stories about him, especially as they pertained to Trump’s alleged extramarital affairs,” tweeted MSNBC legal analyst Lisa Rubin. “And given how few people outside Michael Cohen directly communicated with Trump about the scheme at issue, Pecker’s testimony could be critical in establishing Trump’s intent and knowledge.”

New York University Law Prof. Ryan Goodman predicted that Pecker “could be a key witness – in ways more devastating than Michael Cohen.”

Pecker’s testimony “should be strong proof of core allegation that the hush money scheme was geared toward influencing the outcome of the presidential election,” Goodman wrote, noting that Pecker met with Trump and Cohen at Trump Tower to set up the catch-and-kill election operation that “set the whole scheme in motion.”

Pecker will also likely testify in his involvement in a flurry of phone calls to buy and bury Daniels’ story a day after the “Access Hollywood” tape came out and subsequent conversations on the scheme to reimburse Cohen for the payments made to Daniels, Goodman wrote. He added that Pecker’s “likely dynamite evidence of nexus between hush money scheme and effort to influence election” included a visit to the White House in 2017 where Trump thanked the CEO for his “help during the campaign.”

Pecker is expected to testify after prosecutors present their opening arguments, which are set to begin on Monday morning.

“Smart move to start with him,” tweeted NYU Law Prof. Andrew Weissmann, a former federal prosecutor.

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