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Former White House adviser Hope Hick testifies in Trump's criminal trial


First this hour, a report from the New York criminal trial of Donald Trump - former Trump campaign press secretary Hope Hicks testified with a detailed look inside the 2016 campaign as it was increasingly buffeted by allegations of wrongdoing by women. Late in the afternoon, she broke down on the stand. NPR's Andrea Bernstein has been in the courtroom and joins us now. Andrea, if you could just start by reminding us who Hope Hicks is.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Hicks was a longtime loyal Trump aide who came to work in communications at his business just about four years after she finished college but soon got swept up to be his campaign press secretary. When she took the stand, she started off by saying, as she turned to the jury, I'm really nervous.

SUMMERS: OK. And where does Hope Hicks fit into the story that the DA is presenting in court?

BERNSTEIN: She offered a vivid look at what happened inside the campaign in the fall of 2020. She was the first person to learn of the impending story about the Access Hollywood tape and laughed at the email she had sent to the campaign leadership at the time, saying, deny, deny, deny. She says she went up to the 25th floor of the Trump Tower where a high-level team was preparing Trump for a debate. And she told them about the whole, when you're a star, they let you do it, comments. And Trump said that didn't sound like something he would say.

SUMMERS: I mean, I don't mean to state the obvious here, but he did say that.

BERNSTEIN: Right. And Hicks testified that they pivoted then to saying it was locker room talk and that he was sorry. But in the days and weeks that followed, more women came forward with allegations, all of which Trump denied. Then came Friday, November 4, days before the election, and the Wall Street Journal sent Hicks an e mail that it was about to publish a story about Karen McDougal's agreement with the National Enquirer, and it was also going to mention Stormy Daniels.

SUMMERS: Was this the first time that Hicks had heard those names?

BERNSTEIN: Hicks said, yes. She had just landed at a rally in Ohio and called National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, who told her that Karen McDougal was paid for magazine covers and fitness columns. It was all very legitimate. That's what the contract was for. This, of course, contradicts what Pecker told this jury just last week. So he lied to Hope Hicks, and Cohen told Hicks he didn't know what she was talking about, and Trump told her to say it was totally untrue to the Wall Street Journal, and so she did.

SUMMERS: OK. So fast-forward, Hicks goes on to the White House, and all this comes up again?

BERNSTEIN: Yes. She's his communications director with a desk right outside the Oval Office. A year into Trump's presidency, the Wall Street Journal publishes another story about the payment of $130,000 to Daniels. After that, Hicks said, Trump told her that he had spoken to Michael, Michael Cohen, and Michael had paid this woman to protect him, Trump, from this allegation and that Cohen had done it out of the, quote, "kindness of his heart," at which point, prosecutors said, did that sound right? And she said, well, I didn't know Michael to be charitable. She said Trump also asked her how it was playing, which was a question he frequently asked her, and she said that Trump told her it was better to have the story come out then than before the election.

SUMMERS: You mentioned at the top that Hope Hicks broke down in court. What caused that?

BERNSTEIN: So in cross examination, the defense was trying to have her talk about how this was upsetting to Trump because he didn't want his family to know about it and how it was a normal thing to shape media coverage. But at the very beginning of her cross examination, when she was just starting to talk about her early work at the Trump Organization on hospitality in 2014, her face contorted, and she started to cry. Here was a formerly - former - extremely loyal former aide now testifying at the criminal trial of a former boss. It just seemed to get to her, and they had to take a break in the courtroom until she could compose herself.

SUMMERS: That's NPR's Andrea Bernstein. Andrea, thanks.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Corrected: May 4, 2024 at 12:00 AM EDT
An earlier version of this story referenced January 2017 as being one year into Donald Trump's presidency. January 2018 was one year into his presidency. Also, at 1:10 into the segment, the reporter references the "fall of 2020." The events in question took place four years prior, in the fall of 2016.
Andrea Bernstein
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