July 19, 2024

At Donald J. Trump’s Manhattan criminal trial, his lawyers have insisted he had “nothing to do” with any of the felony charges against him.

But testimony from prosecution witnesses over the last several weeks has called that argument into question, underscoring that Mr. Trump can be obsessive about two all-important aspects of his work: Anything having to do with the media, and anything having to do with his money.

The 34 documents at the heart of the prosecution’s case relate to both obsessions.

The Manhattan district attorney says Mr. Trump orchestrated the disguise of 11 checks, 11 invoices and 12 ledger entries to continue the cover-up of a damaging story, paying his former fixer $420,000 in the process. And the testimony about Mr. Trump’s management style could play a central role as prosecutors seek to convince the jury that there is no world in which Mr. Trump was not tracking the outflow of cash from his accounts.

The prosecutors’ strategy illustrates the risk of a criminal trial for Mr. Trump, one of the most famous men in the world, whose character and habits are familiar even to those who have not tracked his every move. The Manhattan district attorney’s office has accused him of orchestrating the falsification of the 34 documents to cover up a hush-money payment to a porn star, Stormy Daniels.

David Pecker, the former publisher of The National Enquirer and the trial’s first witness, worked with Mr. Trump for decades, the two men trading favors as each sought to make headlines. Asked about Mr. Trump’s qualities as a businessman, Mr. Pecker described him “as a micromanager from what I saw,” adding that “he looked at all of the aspects of whatever the issue was.”

The prosecutor questioning Mr. Pecker next asked about Mr. Trump’s approach to money. “He was very cautious and very frugal,” Mr. Pecker replied.

The prosecutors have a mountain of corroborating evidence, but none that directly links Mr. Trump himself to the scheme. Instead, witness after witness has emphasized some of the former president’s most famous characteristics — some of which Mr. Trump himself has promoted for decades — eliciting a portrait of a man who prosecutors contend could not have helped but oversee a hush-money payment to avoid a damaging story.

It is unclear whether jurors will accept that narrative. Only one witness, the former fixer, Michael D. Cohen, is expected to testify to having direct knowledge of Mr. Trump instructing his underlings to falsify documents. And one employee, Deborah Tarasoff, has said that Mr. Trump did not oversee her work closely, testifying that he typically acted through at least two layers of middle management.

But the courtroom has already heard, from old friends and former employees, about the way Mr. Trump’s tendencies informed the culture of his company, the Trump Organization, where he first honed his management style.

Hope Hicks, a former spokeswoman for Mr. Trump, described it in her testimony as a “very big and successful company.” But she noted that it was “really run like a small family business.”

“Everybody that works there,” she said, “in some sense reports to Mr. Trump.”

Ms. Tarasoff’s former manager, Jeffrey McConney, told a story that may have pleased prosecutors. He said that early in his career at the Trump Organization, he had walked into the boss’s office and Mr. Trump — in the midst of a phone conversation — had told him: “You’re fired.”

Once off the phone, Mr. McConney said, Mr. Trump had taken it back. But he had warned his new employee to watch the accounts closely, noting that the “cash balances went down last week.”

“He said, ‘Now focus on my bills,’” Mr. McConney recalled. “It was a teaching moment. Just because somebody is asking for money, negotiate with them, talk to them.” Don’t just hand the money over “mindlessly.”

Mr. McConney’s testimony was corroborated on Tuesday by an unusual witness: a past version of Mr. Trump himself.

Sally Franklin, a top editor for Penguin Random House, was called to the witness stand to read aloud passages from two of Mr. Trump’s books in which he described himself as a fastidious custodian monitoring the minutiae of his business.

“I always sign my checks, so I know where my money’s going,” he wrote in one of the excerpts read aloud in court. In another, Mr. Trump boasted of cashing a check for 50 cents, sent by Spy magazine as a prank.

“They may call that cheap; I call it watching the bottom line,” he wrote in the book. “Every dollar counts in business, and for that matter, every dime. Penny pinching? You bet. I’m all for it.”

Prosecutors hope that it will be hard to imagine that author parting with $420,000 without good reason.

In interviews, former aides said that while Mr. Trump’s focus did not apply to everything, he was attuned to any element of his business or persona that the public might see, from visuals to advertising copy to press statements.

Jack O’Donnell, a former Trump casino executive, recalled Mr. Trump, late one night, admonishing a maintenance worker who was polishing the marble floors at one of the casinos — Mr. Trump told the worker he was using the wrong chemical. Alan Marcus, a former consultant for the Trump Organization, described Mr. Trump providing feedback on the language of a television commercial opposing a tunnel project by a casino rival in Atlantic City, and on taking the spots down when they became controversial.

Barbara Res, a former top Trump Organization executive who oversaw some of Mr. Trump’s most prominent construction projects, including Trump Tower, said that the boss didn’t have any real knowledge of high-rise construction before that project. But she said that when it came to specific superficial details, he often sought to impose his will.

That included insisting, in spite of building code requirements, that he didn’t want buttons in Braille in his elevators. “He said, ‘We won’t have handicapped people living in Trump Tower, so we don’t need that,’” she recalled. The architect working on the project overruled him.

Mr. Trump himself described this tendency in another book excerpt read in court, writing: “When you are working with a decorator, make sure you ask to see all of the invoices. Decorators are by nature honest people, but you should be double-checking regardless.”

Ms. Res described a culture where Mr. Trump’s desires were so well known that people would often do things to please him without him saying a word, paraphrasing a version of what Mr. Cohen has said.

“We knew Trump so well, he didn’t have to say anything, we knew what he wanted,” Ms. Res said. “I never did anything illegal and I stopped him from demolishing a building without a permit. But others did.”

There have also been indications during the trial of Mr. Trump’s tendency to insert himself — to micromanage — when the stakes are high. Ms. Hicks, the former spokeswoman, told a story that hinted at her former boss’s interest in the coordination of hush-money payments, even if he did not deign to involve himself directly.

At that time, Mr. Trump, famously, did not text. But Ms. Hicks did. On the stand, she described a text message that she had sent to Mr. Cohen on Nov. 5, 2016, days before the presidential election. Something had prompted her to ask Mr. Cohen for Mr. Pecker’s phone number — despite already having contact information for the publisher.

“I have it,” she told Mr. Cohen apologetically. “But Mr. Trump thinks it’s the wrong number.”

#Trump #Long #Micromanager #Prosecutors

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