Opinion: The Trump team swung for the fences. Thanks to Stormy Daniels, they struck out | CNN (2024)

Editor’s Note: Norman Eisen is a CNN legal analyst and editor of “Trying Trump: A Guide to His First Election Interference Criminal Trial.” He served as counsel to the House Judiciary Committee for the first impeachment and trial of then-President Donald Trump. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. Readmore opinionat CNN.

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On day 14 of the Manhattan criminal trial of former President Donald Trump, the defense took a gamble in launching a scorched-earth cross-examination of Stormy Daniels — a considerable intensification Thursday that went well-beyond the initial questioning of Daniels that Trump’s lawyer Susan Necheles capably began on Tuesday.

The risk when you swing for the fences on cross-examination is that unless you make contact, you very visibly strike out in front of the jurors. From my perspective sitting just 10 feet away from the jury box, that happened repeatedly here.

Necheles was good, but Daniels was better.

Daniels, the adult film actress who received a $130,000 hush money payment in 2016, has been a key witness in the felony false business records case against Trump. Prosecutorsallegethat the payment was made in order to influence the presidential election by suppressing her story of a sexual encounter with Trump and that 34 documents were falsified to cover it up. Trumpdenieshaving a sexual encounter with Daniels and has pleaded not guilty.

It was expected that the cross would be even tougher today and, indeed, Necheles furiously attacked Daniels from the get-go. The attorney’s problem was that she was not the only one who got to speak during the examination. Her tough questions were often met with forceful responses from Daniels.

For example, early in the day Necheles tried to get Daniels to agree that she hoped to be “instrumental” in putting Trump “in jail.” The question was based on a Twitter exchange that Necheles showed the witness and jury in which Daniels had responded to a post calling her a “human toilet” by answering, “Exactly! Making me the best person to flush the orange turd down.”

TRUMP TRIAL DIARY

CNN legal analyst Norm Eisen is in the courtroom for former President Donald Trump’s Manhattan criminal trial and chronicling what he sees for this CNN Opinion series. Read previous installments:

What Trump may not have expected from Stormy Daniels’ testimony
The prosecution is racking up points – and that should make Trump nervous
Hope Hicks’ testimony was a nightmare for Trump

Daniels coolly responded by pointing out the tenuousness of Necheles’ argument: “I don’t see ‘instrumental’ or ‘jail’” in the tweet, Daniels said. When the defense attorney pressed her further, Daniels pointed out her post was “hyperbole” and added that “I’m also not a toilet.”

Daniels held her own — and when a witness holds her own on cross, she’s winning. Unlike her direct examination, which seemed stilted at times, the witness showed her personality and her steel on Thursday.

In the most pointed back-and-forth of the day, Necheles attacked Daniels’ recollection of the circ*mstances surrounding her alleged sexual encounter with Trump in 2006. How Daniels got there — by car or walking. Whether or not food was served during the dinner. What colors the tiles on the bathroom floor were. And how Daniels — as an adult film star who has appeared in more than 150 movies — could have become “faint” when she came out of the bathroom and saw Trump in his underwear on the bed.

Daniels replied that she sees her husband unclothed at home all the time, but “if I came out of the bathroom and it was not my husband, but Mr. Trump instead, I would probably have the same reaction” as she did when she saw Trump that moment in 2006.

Instead of the question undermining Daniels, she got the better of the exchange. It also reinforced Daniels’ Tuesday testimony that she felt a power imbalance with Trump at the time of the encounter. Instead of improving Trump’s situation, I thought the exchange made it worse.

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    Why take this risk? As these trial diaries have detailed, both sides have, for the most part, done an outstanding job. But the facts and the law favor the prosecution, and they were ahead in the count after Tuesday’s questioning. Perhaps that is why defense counsel took a risk here.

    Or perhaps they were acting at the direction of their famously combative client, whose 2023 all-caps social media post “If you go after me, I’m coming after you!” came up during Thursday’s testimony. Whatever the explanation was, it ended up leaving Trump no better — and perhaps worse — off.

    The cross also offered a preview of what we can expect when Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen takes the stand in the days ahead. I interviewed him on these identical facts for the first Trump impeachment and I expect he, like Daniels, will exceed expectations.

    Opinion: The Trump team swung for the fences. Thanks to Stormy Daniels, they struck out | CNN (2024)

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