Donald Trump and Hope Hicks at the White House in March 2018. Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

NEW YORK – Hope Hicks, a former top aide to Donald Trump, appeared to break down crying on the witness stand Friday at Trump’s criminal trial, where she told jurors about campaign and White House efforts to keep a lid on scandalous stories about his past sex life.

Hicks has long been seen as one of Trump’s most loyal aides, following him from his business to the 2016 presidential campaign to the White House. After about two hours on the witness stand in a packed courtroom, she was overcome by emotion as Trump lawyer Emil Bove prepared to cross-examine her.

As Bove began, Hicks slowly turned her face away from Trump, who was sitting at the defense table, and toward the jury. She brought her hand to her nose and started to quietly cry.

“Miss Hicks, do you need a break?” asked New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan. “Yes,” she said through tears.

With that, the jury was summoned out of the courtroom while Hicks collected herself.

Her time on the stand marked a significant shift in the focus of trial testimony; after a week of hearing about tabloid editors and secret deals to stifle or sell celebrity gossip, the jury was led through the whirlwind of the 2016 presidential campaign and directly to the Oval Office.


Hicks had appeared nervous at the start of her testimony, but there was no confrontation or revelation that seemed to prompt her emotional moment. It appeared that the attention of the high-profile trial, and being a prosecution witness against her former boss, whom she described in positive terms, became overwhelming as the day wore on.

Hicks told the jury about conversations inside the White House in 2018, as aides dealt with the fallout from news stories about hush money payments made to two women during the 2016 campaign to keep them from going public with allegations about sexual trysts with Trump.

Under questioning from prosecutor Matthew Colangelo, Hicks recounted speaking to Trump after an article appeared in 2018 about a hush money payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels. That $130,000 payment was first made by then-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, whom Trump later reimbursed. Those reimbursements, and their categorization as legal costs rather than campaign expenses, are the basis of the 34-count indictment filed against Trump by the Manhattan district attorney.

After that hush money payment was detailed by the Wall Street Journal, Hicks said, Trump told her that “Michael had paid this woman to protect him from a false allegation, and that Michael felt like it was his job to protect him and that’s what he was doing and he did it out of the kindness of his heart.” Soon after the story came out, Cohen publicly claimed to have made the payment with his own money.

Cohen completed a three-year prison term after pleading guilty to fraud and lying and has become an outspoken Trump critic. He is expected to be a key witness in the case. Hicks on Friday became the latest of several trial witnesses who have said biting things about Cohen.

Asked if it sounded like Mr. Cohen to make a $130,000 payment “out of the kindness of his heart,” Hicks replied, “I’d say that would be out of character for Michael … I didn’t know Michael to be an especially charitable person or selfless person.”


She said he was “the kind of person who seeks credit.”

At another point, Hicks wryly mentioned that Cohen liked to refer to himself as a “fixer,” yet in her experience, he fixed things “only because he first broke it.”

For prosecutors, the main purpose of Hicks’ testimony seemed to be showing that Trump and his campaign were very concerned about allegations made against him by women.

When it came to the Stormy Daniels story, which surfaced publicly while he was in the White House, Hicks said Trump told her that “it was better to be dealing with it now, and it would have been bad to have that story come out before the election.”

As soon as Hicks said that, prosecutors ended their questioning.

Hicks’ testimony, while emotional at one moment, did not offer any major revelations or surprises, but it adds to prosecutors’ larger point that Trump was motivated to keep scandalous stories out of the public eye during the election.


But Hicks’ account also made clear that her former boss was concerned about the potential effect of the allegations on his family.

When the Journal published a story in early November 2016 about the National Enquirer buying the rights to a Playboy model’s tale of an affair with Trump – a purchase the tabloid made for the express purpose of keeping the allegation quiet – Hicks said the presidential candidate worried about Melania Trump’s reaction.

In her role as a campaign adviser, Hicks said, she wanted to “blow past it and keep going.”

She said Trump was “concerned about the story, he was concerned about how it would be viewed by his wife, and he wanted me to make sure that the newspapers weren’t delivered to their residence that morning.”

By that point, the campaign had already been rocked a month earlier, when The Washington Post revealed the existence of an “Access Hollywood” recording in which Trump bragged about grabbing women’s genitalia.

That story unleashed a political maelstrom, Hicks testified. Prosecutors wanted her testimony in part to show that, in the wake of the scandal, Trump and his campaign were desperate to prevent further damaging stories about him and women, and that gave the candidate and his staff a powerful motive to keep Daniels and any other potential accusers quiet.


Hicks said she was “a little stunned” when she was first asked for comment about the “Access Hollywood” tape, and wrote in an email that they should “deny, deny, deny.”

“I had a good sense that this was going to be a massive story and sort of dominate the news cycle for the next several days at least,” she said. “This was a crisis.”

At times in her testimony, Hicks flashed a sense of humor, noting that around the same time as that story, a hurricane hit the East Coast.

“I don’t think anybody remembers where or when that hurricane made landfall,” she said. “It was all Trump, all the time, for the next 36 hours.”

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