Witnesses in Trump’s hush money trial likely to include former members of his inner circle, sources say

Written by on April 8, 2024

Madeleine Westerhout watches as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with North Korean defectors in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, Feb. 2, 2018. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

(NEW YORK) — To try to prove their criminal hush money case against former President Donald Trump, prosecutors in New York are expected to rely on several witnesses who are or were part of Trump’s inner circle, including his longtime assistant, Rhona Graff, his former director of Oval Office operations, Madeleine Westerhout, and longtime trusted aide, Hope Hicks, sources familiar with the case told ABC News.

The sources said prosecutors with the Manhattan district attorney’s office are also expected to call Deborah Tarasoff, who worked in the Trump Organization’s accounting department, and Jeffrey McConney, the Trump Organization’s former controller, as well as Trump’s former attorney and so-called “fixer,” Michael Cohen. McConney is also expected to testify in Trump’s defense, sources said.

Other former Trump aides who appeared before the grand jury that probed the case are not expected to be called as trial witnesses, including Trump’s longtime adviser Kellyanne Conway, the sources said.

Westerhout — who also served as Trump’s executive assistant for the first two-and-a-half years of his presidency — was subpoenaed to testify by the Manhattan district attorney, according to her lawyer Jason Wright. He told ABC News that Westerhout does not know when or if she will be called to the witness stand.

Prosecutors have not publicly released a witness list, and the sources cautioned the decision to call someone to testify is subject to change before the trial, which is set to begin April 15. A spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney’s office declined to comment to ABC News about the prospective witnesses. Lawyers for the other potential witnesses either declined to comment or did not return requests for comment.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to a 34-count indictment charging him with falsifying business records in connection with a hush money payment Cohen made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels just days before the 2016 presidential election.

“It’s a disgrace that it can happen,” Trump said last month. “This was a case could have been brought three and a half years ago, and they decided to wait now just during the election so that I won’t be able to campaign.”

Former American Media Inc. executive David Pecker is also expected to testify, and National Enquirer editor-in-chief Dylan Howard could also be a prosecution witness, sources said. Both played an integral role in what prosecutors say was a “scheme” to “catch and kill” negative stories about Trump during his first campaign for president.

“[Pecker] agreed to help with the Defendant’s campaign, saying that he would act as the ‘eyes and ears’ for the campaign by looking out for negative stories about the Defendant and alerting [Cohen] before the stories were published,” prosecutors alleged in a filing.

Attorneys for Trump have hammered at the credibility of prosecution witnesses, including Cohen, in recent court filings.

“Cohen is not a truth teller, he is a serial liar,” defense lawyers wrote in a February motion to argue that the judge should limit testimony from Cohen, Daniels and others.

Special counsel Jack Smith, who is leading the federal probes into Trump’s handling of classified documents and his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, is also relying on some of Trump’s closest aides, advisers and allies to build those two criminal cases. The indictments in both of those cases are structured using the words of people around Trump during his waning days in office.

In the New York case, the sources also said both Daniels and Karen McDougal — a former Playboy model who received a $150,000 payment from AMI for rights to her story about an alleged affair with Trump — are also expected to testify at trial. Trump has denied having affairs with both McDougal and Daniels.

“I’m absolutely ready. I’ve been ready,” Daniels told ABC’s The View last month. “I relish the day that I get to face him and speak my truth.”

Dino Sajudin, a former doorman who was paid $30,000 to stay quiet after shopping claims, later discredited, that Trump had a love child with a building employee, was a prospective witness in the case but is no longer expected to testify at the trial, according to sources familiar with the matter.

In a ruling last month, Manhattan Judge Juan Merchan cleared the way for witnesses including Daniels, McDougal and Sajudin to testify because their actions “flow directly from the 2015 meeting at Trump Tower where Pecker, Cohen” and Trump agreed to the catch-and-kill scheme, the judge said.

“[T]he evidence and testimony surrounding these individuals is inextricably intertwined with the narrative of events and is necessary background for the Jury,” Merchan wrote.

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