Former President Donald Trump speaks to reporters at Manhattan Supreme Court on...

Former President Donald Trump speaks to reporters at Manhattan Supreme Court on Monday. Credit: Pool/Peter Foley

The jury in former President Donald Trump's hush money trial got a look for the first time Monday at the documents at the center of the charges facing Trump — the series of $35,000 checks, which prosecutors said were hush money reimbursements, bearing Trump's black Sharpie signature — as the former president was held in contempt of court for a second time.

The reimbursement checks to former Trump attorney and fixer Michael Cohen — for paying adult film star Stormy Daniels hush money to cover up the alleged affair — went all the way to the White House via FedEx so that Trump could sign off on them personally, a former Trump accountant and a clerk testified Monday.

Prosecutors attempted to show, through the testimony of Trump Organization controller Jeffrey McConney and accounts payable supervisor Deborah Tarasoff, the level of control Trump still exerted over his company even after he had set up a revocable trust and turned control of The Trump Organization over to his sons during his presidency. McConney did not provide any testimony to indicate that Trump directed Cohen to make the payments and for his employees to falsify business records to that end.

“Michael was complaining that his bonus wasn’t big enough from the previous year,” said McConney. “I guess this was to make up what he was owed.”

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The jury in ex-President Donald Trump's hush money trial got a look for the first time Monday at the documents at the center of the charges facing Trump — the series of $35,000 checks, which prosecutors said were hush money reimbursements, bearing Trump's black Sharpie signature.
  • The reimbursement checks to former Trump attorney and fixer Michael Cohen — for paying adult film star Stormy Daniels hush money to cover up the alleged affair — went all the way to the White House via FedEx so that Trump could sign off on them personally, a former Trump accountant and a clerk testified Monday.
  • Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Juan M. Merchan, the presiding judge in the case, announced that he had held Trump in contempt of court for a second time and again threatened him with potential jail time if he continues to violate the limited gag order.

McConney, who took the stand Monday morning as the 10th witness to testify against Trump, talked the jury through the paper trail of documents that were part of the payments from Trump to Cohen that prosecutors said were reimbursements for Cohen paying hush money to Daniels and Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model. Both women have said they had sexual encounters with Trump while he was married to former first lady Melania Trump, which he has denied.

Trump's revocable trust paid $105,000 and another $315,000 came from his personal account — totaling $420,000 to Cohen, documents show.

The money was doled out in monthly payments of $35,000, McConney testified, confirming copies of the checks, emails, notes and other documents that prosecutors presented him with.

Testimony from McConney and Tarasoff plodded along as Manhattan prosecutor Matthew Colangelo went line by line over invoices, vouchers and receipts, leading the jury through what the Manhattan district attorney charges are fake business records aimed at covering up the former president's extramarital affairs.

Like any other account payable, Tarasoff told the jury, she would print out the invoice with the voucher and the blank check and then FedEx them to the White House, where Trump would sign them.

Prosecutors have said the payments to Cohen were reimbursements for the $130,000 hush money to Daniels, the $150,000 to McDougal, extra funds to cover taxes and a bonus.

Before testimony began Monday, state Supreme Court Justice Juan M. Merchan announced that he had held Trump in contempt of court for a second time and again threatened him with potential jail time if he continues to violate the limited gag order.

Merchan, who announced his finding from the bench just before the third week of testimony began, fined Trump another $1,000 — the highest penalty under the law — which he must pay by Friday. The judge also ordered Trump to remove the offending post from Truth Social, Trump's social media site.

“It appears that the $1,000 fine is not working as a deterrent, therefore I must consider a jail sanction,” Merchan told Trump, adding that he worried about the stress on the system, including to jail personnel and the Secret Service, if he were to incarcerate the former president.

“The magnitude of such a sanction is not lost on me,” said Merchan. “But at the end of the day, I have a job to do. Your continued and willful violations of the gag order constitute a direct attack on the rule of law. I cannot allow that to continue.”

Merchan added: “As much as I don’t want to institute a jail sanction, I want you to know that I can and I will.”

Merchan made clear that Trump would not face jail for his latest violation because it occurred before he was held in contempt on April 30 for nine violations of the gag order and warned that if he continued to violate the order, he could be incarcerated.

In the latest instance, Merchan found that Trump violated the gag order during an interview that aired on April 22, during which he mentioned the jury that was picked for his criminal trial. The gag order prohibits Trump from speaking publicly about court staff, potential witnesses or the jury.

“That jury was picked so fast — 95% Democrats,” said Trump. “The area's mostly all Democrat. You think of it as a — just a purely Democrat area. It's a very unfair situation that I can tell you.”

Trump was first found in criminal contempt last week and fined $9,000 for a string of comments and social media posts he made in violation of the gag order.

Trump, the GOP's presumptive presidential nominee, is on trial on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records with respect to how the alleged payment to Daniels was recorded in business records maintained by The Trump Organization, the ex-president's Manhattan-based real estate company. Prosecutors said the payment was falsely claimed as “legal services” and amounted to election interference.

His attorneys have said he is innocent. Trump has called the case against him a politically-motivated “witch hunt.”

Prosecutors have said Trump entered into a conspiracy with Cohen, a Lawrence native, and David Pecker, the former publisher of the National Enquirer tabloid to “catch and kill” negative stories about Trump as he ran for president and to publish negative stories about his political opponents.

On cross-examination, McConney confirmed that Trump never directed him to process the payments, but once again the jurors heard from yet another witness who testified that the former president controlled every aspect of his business down to the last decimal point.

The controller told the jury that Trump once noticed that the cash balance in his bank account had dipped from the previous week.

“Jeff, you’re fired,” Trump told him, using his signature catchphrase that he popularized on “The Apprentice.”

Stunned, McConney said he waited for his boss to finish his phone call and then he took the accountant to task for not being a tougher negotiator when it came to paying bills.

“It was a teaching moment,” McConney said.

McConney sighed audibly as his testimony concluded. He smiled at Trump and his son Eric Trump, who attended the trial as a spectator for the second time Monday.

After the trial stopped for the day Monday afternoon, the prosecution told the judge it expected to wrap up its case at the end of next week.

Trump, in comments outside the courtroom, railed against the gag order and suggested he would be willing to go to jail.

“I have to watch every word I tell you people,” Trump said to reporters. “Yes, we have questions, a simple question — I’d like to give it, but I can’t talk about it because this judge has given me a gag order and said you’ll go to jail if you violate. And frankly, you know what, our Constitution is much more important than jail. It’s not even close. I’ll do that sacrifice any day.”

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