Trump New York hush money trial

5:10 pm ET, May 6, 2024

Witnesses walk through how bills were paid at Trump Org. Here’s what happened in court and why it matters

From CNN’s Elise Hammond

Jeffrey McConney, right, testified on Monday. He was a longtime Trump Organization controller.

Jane Rosenberg

In the hush money trial against the former president, prosecutors called two witnesses Monday who worked in accounting in the Trump Organization: Jeffrey McConney, a former Trump Org. controller, and Deborah Tarasoff, an accounts payable supervisor.

McConney walked the jury through the paper trail that showed how executives organized and paid back Michael Cohen for the money he sent to Stormy Daniels’ attorney. This is important because at the heart of the trial — the falsification of business records — are the payments to Cohen, which were listed as retainer fees.

Tarasoff described in more detail how checks were paid at the organization and when Trump’s approval was needed for payments.

Here’s what happened in court today:

Jeffrey McConney

  • McConney testified that he had a conversation with Allen Weisselberg, former chief financial officer of the Trump Org., about a need to “reimburse” Cohen. McConney then showed jurors 12 checks, each for $35,000, that were paid to Cohen in 2017. Cohen sent invoices for those checks and asked that the payments be listed as part of a “retainer agreement.” As previous testimony in the trial revealed, there was no actual retainer for Cohen.
  • McConney also explained to the jury why Cohen was paid $420,000 in all and how each check was cut, first from Trump’s revocable trust and then from his personal account.
  • The jury also saw business records relating to the payment to Cohen that are tied to several of the 34 falsifying business records charges against Trump. The records show several rows and columns organized to record the payments.
  • On cross-examination, Trump attorney Emil Bove questioned McConney about his knowledge of Trump’s role in these payments. “President Trump did not ask you to do any of the things you described?” Bove asked. “He didn’t,” McConney said. He said he was told to do this work by Weisselberg. McConney also said he did not know if Cohen did legal work for Trump in 2017.

Deborah Tarasoff, who works in the Trump Organization accounting department, is questioned on Monday.

Jane Rosenberg

Deborah Tarasoff

  • As accounts payable supervisor, Tarasoff said she would get an approved invoice, enter it into the system, cut the check and get it signed. Tarasoff testified that Trump or his sons needed to approve invoices of more than $10,000 and Trump was the only person who authorized checks from his personal account, including during his presidency.
  • Tarasoff said Trump would sign the checks by hand. She said they were signed in black Sharpie. Tarasoff said Trump did not always sign the checks, even when Weisselberg approved them. He would “write ‘void’ and send it back,” she noted.
  • Before Trump was president, Tarasoff said that she “would cut the check, put it with the backup and bring it over to Rhona (Graff) who would bring it in to Mr. Trump to sign,” referring to Trump’s former longtime assistant. The invoices and the checks were stapled together, she said, with the check on top of the invoice. When Trump became president, Tarasoff said they would mail checks to the White House.
  • The jury was shown the voucher form that said “retainer” in the description line that Tarasoff said she obtained from the invoice. Tarasoff also confirmed each of the $35,000 checks with Trump’s signature were sent to Cohen.
  • On cross-examination, she acknowledged that she was not present for conversations between Trump and Weisselberg about the payments. She also said she worked with Trump’s children Eric, Don Jr. and Ivanka Trump, over the years. Tarasoff still works for Trump Org., which means she works for Eric Trump, who was also in the courtroom today.

What’s next: Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass estimated they still need about two weeks from tomorrow to make their case. He stresses that’s a very rough estimate. The defense will also get an opportunity to call its witnesses after that if they choose.

Judge Juan Merchan ruled that Trump again violated his gag order for his comments about the jury.

Jane Rosenberg

Gag order hearing: Judge Juan Merchan found Trump in contempt for violating the gag order again, specifically concerning comments he made about the makeup of the jury in this case. Prosecutors had alleged Trump violated the gag order on four separate occasions. The judge ruled that the three other comments did not violate the order. “Going forward this court will have to consider a jail sanction,” Merchan said, noting the $1,000 fine is not stopping him, but he told Trump “incarceration is truly a last resort.”

Remember: Trump faces 34 counts of falsifying business records. Each criminal charge relates to a specific entry among the business records of the Trump Organization, according to the indictment. Prosecutors allege that Trump allegedly disguised the transaction to Daniels as a legal payment and falsified business records numerous times to “promote his candidacy” in the 2016 election.

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