‘Tender Trump’ Puts on a Show for the Jury

Jeenah Moon/Pool via Reuters
Jeenah Moon/Pool via Reuters

Donald Trump knows how to play to an audience, whether it’s the deluded millions of his MAGA base or the jurors in the first criminal trial of a former president.

That was clear on Friday when Trump seized a moment in his criminal trial to seemingly comfort a witness—his still-loyal ex-assistant Rhona Graff.

The jury had just finished listening to supermarket tabloid sleaze David Pecker testify about what prosecutors say was a criminal conspiracy to influence the 2016 election by paying hush money to kill potentially damaging stories about Trump.

The prosecution then called Graff, who worked as Trump’s executive assistant for 34 years. She worked in an office next to his in Trump Tower and, among other things, maintained his contacts. One was Karen McDougal, to whom Pecker paid $120,000 in hush money. Another was listed only as “Stormy”—said to be porn star Stormy Daniels—whom Trump allegedly paid $130,000 to keep quiet about a sexual encounter. Graff told the jury she has a vague recollection of seeing Daniels in the waiting area outside Trump’s 26th floor office.

Graff also kept Trump’s appointment schedule, which included two entries for a “TelePrompTer Practice Session” in the lead-up to the 2017 inauguration. The prosecution was apparently using the entries to establish that Trump had been in New York on those particular days.

During cross examination, a defense attorney asked Graff, “How was it like working for President Trump?” She replied that it was “very stimulating, exciting” and described Trump’s ascent to becoming a celebrity with “rock star status.”

She added that Trump was a “fair” boss who treated her with respect. “I wouldn’t have been there for 34 years if he hadn’t,” she said.

She recalled that when she worked late, he would sometimes “stick his head in and say, ‘Go home to your family.’” She said she was only testifying because she had been subpoenaed and the Trump Organization is paying her legal bills.

Trump Lawyers Hammer Pecker During Cross-Examination

“You don’t want to be here, do you?” the defense attorney asked.

However despicable Trump had been to others, however much he has proven to be a bully and a liar, however dire a danger he poses to our democracy, Graff knew him as a boss who had been decent to her.

“Correct,” Graff said.

Graff seemed to be near tears as she stepped down from the witness stand. The judge chose this moment to summon the lawyers to the bench. Trump had always remained seated during the trial’s many previous sidebars, but he recognized a perfect opportunity as Graff neared him on her way out. He rose with the lawyers, stepped toward her, reached out and touched her hand and said something quietly reassuring.

And it was all right in front of the jury. He had presented them with Tender Trump, who surfaces when the moment serves him best.

The judge either did not see it or simply chose not to say anything. The sidebar continued and then a New Jersey banker named Gary Farro took the stand as the next witness. He began to describe his financial dealings with Michael Cohen, the former Trump fixer who set up the payments for Stormy Daniels.

Cohen ended up in federal prison for perjury, tax evasion, and campaign finance violations. He turned bitter when Trump stopped paying his legal bills, and has vowed to get even with a boss he once joined Graff in idolizing. He now says he wants to see Trump in an orange jumpsuit and cannot wait to take the witness stand in the days ahead.

The banker had not finished testifying when the judge called a recess late Friday afternoon. The jury filed out, the image of Tender Trump fresh in their memory. He only needs one of them to hold out against a guilty verdict and he will be declaring a great victory. A hung jury could put him in the White House.

We cannot expect to see much of Tender Trump if he returns to the White House. He has already pledged to exact vengeance on his many enemies.

A more recognizable Trump emerged after the last juror exited and it came time for him to depart with his Secret Service detail. He had an angry scowl as he strode past the rows of reporters who pack in every day to watch the big trial.

There is no court on Wednesday, and Trump plans to hold rallies in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and Freeland, Michigan. He will no doubt play to the audiences there, just as he did to the jury in a Manhattan courtroom.

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