Hush-money texts reveal tawdry bidding war over a porn star, a Playboy model, and their tales of Donald Trump

  • "I have a blockbuster Trump story," a lawyer for the ex-Playboy Bunny Karen McDougal teased in a text.

  • "I will get you more than ANYONE," the National Enquirer's editor answered, adding, "You know why."

  • Prosecutors say the ensuing text chain ensnares Donald Trump in a conspiracy to alter the 2016 election.

There were veiled threats, laughable delay tactics, and million-dollar demands.

And behind the scenes through it all, prosecutors allege, stood Donald Trump — a presidential candidate eager to quash the sordid tales of a porn star and a Playboy Bunny on the brink of the 2016 election but unwilling to part with a penny of his own to do so.

For nearly four hours on Tuesday, jurors in the Manhattan hush-money trial were led through long scrolls of text messages from the five months leading to Trump's election.

Their guide to these sometimes ribald texts was one of their authors, the key prosecution witness Keith Davidson, an LA lawyer who repped the ex-Bunny Karen McDougal and the porn star Stormy Daniels.

Both women say they had affairs with Trump during the early months of his marriage to Melania Trump.

As Trump listened from the defense table, Davidson described the frantic attempts to bury both women's stories by selling them to the National Enquirer.

Davidson said that Trump's then-attorney and "fixer," Michael Cohen, was the hyperactive front man for these two so-called "catch-and-kill" schemes.

But his testimony suggested Trump was calling the shots.

Talking out of two ears

"He was highly excitable — sort of a pants-on-fire kind of guy," Davidson said of Cohen.

Jurors smiled as the lawyer continued describing Cohen.

"Frequently, I'd be on the phone with him, and he'd take another call, and he'd be talking out of two ears," Davidson said on the witness stand.

"Sort of like that movie, 'Up,' where the dog says, 'Squirrel! Squirrel!'" he added to some laughter from the jury.

Davidson stressed on Tuesday that Cohen was a proxy for Trump, making an important point for the prosecution.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has alleged that Cohen opened his own wallet to pay the $130,000 hush-money payment that silenced Daniels 11 days before the 2016 election — but did so only for Trump's benefit.

Trump is charged with falsifying business documents to disguise as "legal fees" what were actually monthly reimbursement checks he paid Cohen throughout 2017, his first year in office.

"Every single time I talked to Michael Cohen, he leaned on his close affiliation with Donald Trump," Davidson testified.

"It was part of his identity," the lawyer told jurors of Cohen. "He let me know it at every opportunity he could that he was working for Donald Trump."

A series of texts between Davidson and the National Enquirer's editor in chief at the time, Dylan Howard, suggest Trump was so integral to the deals that his frugality nearly quashed the Daniels catch-and-kill effort.

The two men agreed in their texts that Trump was perilously "tight" when it came to paying hush money.

"I can't believe Cohen let this go," the Enquirer editor complained in a text from October 18, 2016, shown to jurors on overhead screens, adding that it was "going to be a shit show" if Daniels took her story elsewhere.

"I bet," Daniels' lawyer texted back in agreement.

"All because trump is tight," the Enquirer editor texted back.

When Daniels' lawyer responded, "Yup," the Enquirer editor said, "I reckon that trump impersonator I hired has more cash."

"Lol," Daniels' lawyer texted in response.

A composite image of Stormy Daniels and Michael Cohen.
Daniels and Michael Cohen.Ethan Miller/Getty Images // Raymond Hall/GC Images

The prosecutor Joshua Steinglass, who was conducting Davidson's direct examination, appeared eager to forge this link between Trump and the scheme to silence Daniels.

He asked his witness what he thought the Enquirer editor meant by calling Trump "tight."

"That Trump is frugal," Davidson answered.

"That they had this deal sort of on a silver platter," he continued. "And the only reason it didn't 'fund' is that he didn't want to spend money."

The lawyer also testified that Cohen's stall tactics on Trump's behalf were so obvious it was laughable.

At one point, Davidson testified, Cohen blamed Yom Kippur for the delay in getting the $130,000 together.

At another point, he told the jury, Cohen claimed the Trump Organization computer systems were, "quote, 'all fucked up.'"

"He stated, 'You can't believe what we're going through,'" Davidson said of Cohen.

Davidson also recalled Cohen stalling on the $130,000 by saying, "The Secret Service is here, and there are so many firewalls," as well as saying he never got Davidson's emails.

"I called him and said, 'Michael, this is a very bad situation,'" Davidson said.

He recalled Cohen telling him, "God damn it, what do you expect me to do?" and adding that Trump was "in "four, five different states'" campaigning.

"I thought he was trying to kick the can down the road until after the election," Davidson said.

Jurors were told just that two weeks ago in opening statements.

Steinglass said in openings that Trump had hoped to forestall paying Daniels until the election, after which it wouldn't matter if she told her story at all.

Trump has meanwhile fought the charges by distancing himself and his campaign from the payments to Cohen, which he's argued were actually monthly legal fees.

'A blockbuster Trump story'

Davidson on Tuesday led jurors through a half-year's worth of texts with the Enquirer editor.

"I have a blockbuster Trump story," he teased in a June 7, 2016, text to the editor — the first the jurors saw on Tuesday.

That was the story of his client Karen McDougal, the former Playboy Bunny — and 1998 Playmate of the year — who says she had a 10-month affair with Trump that began in 2006.

"I will get you more than ANYONE," the eager National Enquirer editor answered less than a minute later, adding, "You know why…"

The prosecution theory is that the "why" was Trump.

'Get me a price on McDougal'

At one point, the two texting men — the Enquirer editor, Howard, and the McDougal attorney, Davidson — bartered over the former Bunny's affair story.

"Get me a price on McDougal," the editor texted on July 23, 2016.

"How about 1m now," her lawyer responded, asking for $1 million for the story. "And 75k per year for the next 2 years as a fitness correspondent."

The Enquirer editor looked askance at that high a figure.

"I'll take it to them," he responded. "But thinking it's more hundreds than millions."

"800 now," the lawyer persisted. "And 100 per year for two years for a total of 1m."

Prosecutors say the Enquirer ultimately paid $150,000 to catch and kill McDougal's story.

Trump has consistently denied sexual encounters with Daniels and McDougal.

The GOP frontrunner has also denied that the money he paid Cohen throughout 2017 was for anything other than legitimate legal fees.

Davidson's testimony is scheduled to continue Thursday morning.

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