Trump fined $1K for gag order violation as former employee discusses repayments

Former United States President Donald Trump is attending the Formula 1 Miami Grand Prix in Miami, USA, on May 5, 2024. (Photo by Alessio Morgese/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Key things to know:

  • Witness testimony is resuming Monday with Trump's hush money trial now in its 12th day.
  • The judge fined Trump another $1,000 on Monday for violating his gag order and warned that future violations could result in jail time. 
  •  Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records to cover up hush money payments, recording them instead as legal expenses. He has pleaded not guilty.

The judge presiding over Donald Trump's hush money trial fined him $1,000 on Monday and warned that future gag order violations could send him to jail, while jurors heard detailed testimony for the first time about the financial reimbursements at the center of the case.

The testimony from Jeffrey McConney, the former Trump Organization controller, provided a mechanical but vital recitation of how the company reimbursed payments meant to suppress embarrassing stories from surfacing during the 2016 presidential campaign and then logged them as legal expenses in a manner that Manhattan prosecutors said broke the law.

McConney's appearance on the witness stand came as the first criminal trial involving a former American president entered its third week of testimony.

Overall, prosecutors are setting the stage for pivotal testimony from Michael Cohen, who paid Daniels $130,000 for her silence before he went to prison for the hush money scheme.

Follow along for live updates:

4:25 p.m. ET: Trump on jail time: ‘I’ll do that sacrifice any day’

Donald Trump ended his day in court by suggesting he’s willing to go to jail to keep railing against his case.

Trump complained about the gag order that bars him from talking about jurors and court staff, telling reporters: "I have to watch every word I tell you people ... because this judge has given me a gag order and said you’ll go to jail if you violate it."

"And frankly, you know what? Our Constitution is much more important than jail," he went on. "It’s not even close. I’ll do that sacrifice any day."

Trump also complained about the case potentially lasting another two to three weeks, as has been expected, calling it "election interference."

"This case should be over. This case should have never been brought," he said. "I thought they were finished today," he said, charging "they all want to keep me off the campaign trail."

He also said he thinks his legal team is doing "very well."

4:20 p.m. ET: Prosecution is ahead of schedule

Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass told Judge Juan M. Merchan that the prosecution’s case is proceeding ahead of schedule and he estimates being finished calling witnesses two weeks from Tuesday, the Associated Press reported. 

Once the prosecution is done, Trump’s lawyers can then call their own witnesses.

4:15 p.m. ET: Trial is adjourning early for the day

The trial is adjourning for the day, about a half-hour earlier than expected. It appears prosecutors opted not to put on another witness for such a short time at the end of the day.

4:00 p.m. ET: Deborah Tarasoff concludes her testimony

Deborah Tarasoff is done on the witness stand after a brief cross-examination. Trump lawyer Todd Blanche’s questions focused on having the accounts payable supervisor acknowledge that she got permission to cut the checks in question not from Trump himself but from his company’s chief financial officer and controller.

"You never had any reason to believe that President Trump was hiding anything or anything like that?" Blanche asked.

"Correct," Tarasoff replied.

3:15 p.m. ET: Checks written to reimburse Michael Cohen shown in court

Jurors are getting their first look at the checks used to reimburse Michael Cohen for his $130,000 hush money payment to porn actor Stormy Daniels, including some bearing former President Donald Trump’s trademark signature, the Associated Press reported. 

Prosecutors showed the checks as they questioned Deborah Tarasoff, the Trump Organization accounts payable supervisor who processed the payments.

Most of the checks were paid out of Trump’s personal account and were signed by him at the White House, Tarasoff testified.

Two other checks shown was drawn from Trump’s revocable trust, which was used to hold his assets while he was president. It bore the signatures of two trustees, Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., and the Trump Organization’s longtime finance chief Allen Weisselberg.

The checks were logged in internal records as legal expenses arising from a retainer agreement. Prosecutors allege the payments were mislabeled to conceal Cohen’s reimbursement and the underlying hush-money payment.

Cohen started getting the checks soon after leaving full-time employment with Trump’s company, the Trump Organization. He started submitting invoices for $35,000 per month for a total of $420,000.

A prior witness said Cohen was paid that amount to cover the cost of the $130,000 reimbursement, another expense he incurred for technology services, plus a bonus and money for him to pay taxes on the money as if he were receiving it as income, rather than a tax-free reimbursement.

3:00 p.m. ET: Deborah Tarasoff talks about procedure for checks after Trump went to White House

Once Donald Trump became president, payments from his personal account had to first be delivered, via FedEX, to his new residence in Washington, DeborahTarasoff testified.

"We would send them to the White House for him to sign," she said.

The checks would then return with Trump’s sharpie signature. "I’d pull them apart, mail out the check and file the backup," she said, meaning putting the invoice into the Trump Organization’s filing system.

2:30 p.m. ET: Deborah Tarasoff describes her job, says Weisselberg ‘had his hands in everything’

Deborah Tarasoffs’ testimony began with her describing the nature of her job and familiarity with key figures in the Trump Organization, including Michael Cohen and two of the trial’s previous witnesses, Rhona Graff and Jeffrey McConney.

Asked by prosecutor Christopher Conroy to describe Weisselberg’s management style, she replied, "He had his hands in everything." By contrast, Tarasoff said her job was to pretty much follow instructions passed down from on high, the Associated Press reported. 

"I get approved bills, I enter them in the system, and I cut the checks," she said matter-of-factly.

2:10 p.m. ET: Prosecution’s next witness is Deborah Tarasoff, accounts payable supervisor at the Trump Organization

Deborah Tarasoff was the recipient of a 2017 email in which then-controller Jeffrey McConney told her "post to legal expenses" with regard to the handling of reimbursement payments to Michael Cohen. She prepared the checks used to pay Cohen.

Tarasoff and McConney both worked under longtime company chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg. Tarasoff previously testified at the Trump Organization’s 2022 trial on unrelated tax fraud charges.

In that case, she testified that she knew nothing about Allen Weisselberg’s scheme to evade taxes on $1.7 million in company-paid perks and was just following orders when she processed payments from Trump Organization accounts for his personal expenses, according to the Associated Press.  

Also in that testimony, Tarasoff said she agreed with a defense lawyer’s description of Weisselberg as an exacting, authoritarian micromanager who enjoyed immense trust within the company.

Tarasoff said that in September 2016, as the presidential vote that catapulted Trump to the presidency neared, Weisselberg ordered her to start deleting notations about some of the transactions in the company’s bookkeeping system. Tarasoff said she didn’t think Weisselberg was asking her to do anything illegal.

But even if he had, she said: "I guess I would because he’s the boss and he told me to do it."

1:05 p.m. ET: Jeffrey McConney acknowledges legal retainers can be verbal, ends testimony

In a riposte to prosecutors’ questions that elicited that Jeffrey McConney never saw a legal retainer agreement for Cohen, Bove asked whether retainers can be verbal. "To my knowledge, yes," McConney said.

Bove then wrapped up his cross-examination of McConney. After a quick second round of questions from prosecutor Matthew Colangelo and Bove apiece, his time on the stand is over.

The court is now breaking for lunch.

12:55 p.m. ET: The issue of whether the payments to Michael Cohen were legitimate or not

Prosecutors have argued that the 2017 payments to Michael Cohen – including his reimbursement for shelling out $130,000 to Stormy Daniels -- weren’t legitimate legal expenses. The defense argues otherwise, and Bove got McConney to acknowledge that he didn’t know whether or not Cohen did indeed do legal work for Trump in 2017.

For example, Bove brought up a defamation lawsuit that Trump was facing from then-"Apprentice" contestant Summer Zervos. She accused Trump of subjecting her to unwanted kissing and groping in 2007 and then slurring her when she went public during his 2016 campaign.

He denied all her claims. She dropped the suit in 2021.

McConney testified that he had "no idea" whether Cohen worked on the Zervos matter.

Other attorneys represented Trump in court appearances and filings during at least many of the years of the case.

12:45 p.m. ET: Jeffrey McConney says he wasn’t told to record payments as legal expenses

The former Trump Organization controller testified that Trump never directed him to log Cohen’s payments as legal expenses, nor did Allen Weisselberg relay to him that Trump wanted them logged that way, according to the Associated Press. 

"Allen never told me that," McConney testified.

In fact, McConney said he never spoke to Trump about the reimbursement issue at all.

As for Cohen, McConney said his interactions with Trump’s then-lawyer were "minimal." He said that other than emails about invoices, he never spoke to Cohen about the reimbursement arrangement.

Though he testified that he logged Cohen’s payments as "legal expenses" because Cohen was a lawyer, McConney again appeared somewhat skeptical of his work.

At the time of the payments, "Mr. Cohen was a lawyer," Bove said, seeking to underscore that the payments were legitimate legal expenses.

"OK," McConney testified, spurring laughter throughout the courtroom. "Sure. Yes."

12:40 p.m. ET: Defense points to Cohen’s title in email: ‘Personal attorney to President Donald J. Trump’

Underscoring his point that Cohen was acting as a lawyer to Trump, Bove directed McConney to the signature in a February 2017 email, which reads: "Personal attorney to President Donald J. Trump" and shows a Gmail address, rather than a Trump Organization email, the Associated Press reported. 

"It doesn’t say ‘fixer’ does it?" Bove asked, referencing a title commonly applied to Cohen.

"No," McConney responded.

Bove posited that by that point, after leaving his full-time position at the Trump Organization, Cohen was "akin to a vendor to President Trump" and was paid accordingly.

12:30 p.m. ET: Jurors pay attention as Jeffrey McConney goes through documents

While noontime testimony took a dry turn — Jeffrey McConney was authenticating and describing various ledger printouts and tax documents — jurors were nevertheless largely watching the former Trump Organization controller, with some appearing to take notes. One juror cradled his chin in his hand.

If not the juiciest testimony heard so far, it’s legally important, allowing the documents to be entered into evidence. They show the source and scope of payments, including that Cohen was paid $315,000 out of Trump’s personal account and $105,000 out of the trust that handled his assets while he was in the White House.

12:15 p.m. ET: Court breaks for morning recess

Trump flashed a smile at someone in the gallery as he exited the courtroom. Alina Habba, a lawyer who serves as a Trump spokesperson and has represented him in other matters, was among the entourage following him out of the courtroom.

The former president gave a thumbs up as he went through the hallway.

12:00 p.m. ET: Jeffrey McConney explains how checks to Cohen were paid from Trump’s personal account

After paying the first two checks to Cohen through a trust, the remainder of the checks — covering payments for April to December 2017 — were paid from Trump’s personal account, Jeffrey McConney testified.

With Trump, the only signatory to that account, now in the White House, the change in funding source necessitated "a whole new process for us," McConney added.

"Somehow we’d have to get a package down to the White House, get the president to sign the checks, get the checks returned to us and then get the checks mailed out," he testified.

11:10 a.m. ET: McConney explains why reimbursement were entered as a legal expense

Getting to a key part of the case — how and why Cohen’s reimbursement for the Daniels payment was entered as a legal expense — Jeffrey McConney testified that he instructed an accounting department employee to do so.

All expenses had to be entered in the general ledger with a category code, and "we were paying a lawyer," McConney explained. So in went the code: 51505.

He also instructed the employee to record that the first two payments were for a "retainer" for the months of January and February 2017.

"I was just taking information from the invoice" Cohen had typed into an email, McConney said, though he acknowledged he’d never seen a retainer agreement between Cohen and the company.

11:05 a.m. ET: Bank statement and notes lay out plan to repay Michael Cohen

A bank statement displayed in court showed Cohen paying $130,000 to Keith Davidson, Daniels’ lawyer, on Oct. 27, 2016, out of an account for an entity Cohen created for the purpose.

Allen Weisselberg’s handwritten notes about reimbursing Cohen were stapled to the bank statement in the company’s files, McConney said.

Those notes spell out a plan to pay Cohen a base reimbursement of $180,000 — covering the payment to Davidson and an unrelated technology bill. That total was then doubled or "grossed up" to cover the state, city and federal taxes Weisselberg estimated Cohen would incur on the payments.

Weisselberg then added a $60,000 bonus, for a total of $420,000, according to the notes. That money was to be paid out in 12 monthly installments of $35,000 each.

McConney’s own notes were also shown in court. After calculations that laid out that Cohen would get $35,000 a month for 12 months, McConney wrote: "wire monthly from DJT."

Asked what that meant, McConney said: "that was out of the president’s personal bank account."

McConney said he didn’t know of any other time when the company added onto an employee reimbursement to cover the cost of taxes. Employee reimbursements, if characterized as such, are not subject to taxation.

Trump is accused of falsifying business records by labeling the money paid to Cohen in his company’s records as legal fees. Prosecutors contend that by paying him income and giving him extra to account for taxes, the Trump executives were able conceal the reimbursement.

11:00 a.m. ET: Jurors hear about reimbursements at heart of charges against Trump

For the first time, jurors are hearing about the reimbursements at the root of the falsifying business records charges against Trump.

Jeffrey McConney testified about conversations he had with the company’s longtime finance chief Allen Weisselberg in January 2017 about reimbursing Michael Cohen for $130,000 he’d paid to lawyer Keith Davidson. Davidson was the lawyer for porn actor Stormy Daniels.

"Allen Weisselberg said we had to get some money to Michael, we had to reimburse Michael. He tossed a pad toward me and I started taking notes on what he said," McConney testified, recalling a Jan. 27, 2017, meeting with Weisselberg. "That’s how I found out about it."

"He kind of threw the pad at me and said, ‘take this down,’" McConney testified.

Cohen, who’d worked for the Trump Organization for about a decade, had just been taken off the payroll as a salaried employee.

10:25 a.m. ET: ‘You’re fired': Former exec recalls early lesson from Trump

In an anecdote from early in his career, Jeffrey McConney described Trump’s close attention to his cash and hardball approach to bills.

When he went to drop off a report on Trump’s desk one day in the late 1980s, the then-real estate mogul looked up while on the phone and said, "Jeff, you’re fired."

McConney was taken aback. Then Trump added, according to the ex-controller: "You’re not fired, but my cash balances went down from last week."

McConney explained that various expenses had come up. Trump responded that he should "focus on my bills, negotiate my bills."

"It was a teaching moment," McConney recalled. The lesson? "If someone’s asking for money, negotiate with them," rather than just paying.

From the defense table, Trump appeared to enjoy hearing the story, lifting his chin and smiling broadly in McConney’s direction.

10:20 a.m. ET: Trump’s former corporate controller is next witness 

Former Trump Organization controller Jeffrey McConney has taken the stand.

He worked for Trump’s company for about 36 years, retiring last year after he was granted immunity to testify for the prosecution at the Trump Organization’s New York criminal tax fraud trial, where he admitted breaking the law to help fellow executives avoid taxes on company-paid perks. The company was convicted and is appealing, the Associated Press reported. 

He left the company last year with $500,000 in severance, and went on to testify tearfully last fall at the civil fraud trial of Trump, the company and key executives — including McConney. The ex-controller said he’d been worn out by his entanglement in a litany of Trump-related investigations and legal proceedings. "I just wanted to relax and stop being accused of misrepresenting assets for the company that I loved working for," he said at the time.

10:10 a.m. ET: The comment that violated the gag order

The judge in Trump's hush money case found on Monday that Trump had violated his gag order with comments he gave to a program called "Just the News No Noise" on April 22, which is broadcast on Real America’s Voice.

On the program, the former president criticized the speed at which the jury was picked and claimed it was stacked with Democrats. "The jury was picked so fast. 95 percent Democrats. The area’s mostly all Democrat," he is quoted as saying.

In his ruling, Judge Juan M. Merchan said the comments "not only called into question the integrity, and therefore the legitimacy of these proceedings, but again raised the specter of fear for the safety of the jurors and of their loved ones."

The gag order bars Trump from making comments about the jurors, key witnesses and some others connected to the criminal trial.

9:50 a.m. ET: Trump fined $1,000 for gag order violation

The judge presiding over Trump's hush money trial fined him $1,000 for violating his gag order and sternly warned the former president that additional violation could result in jail time.

The fine marked the second sanction for Trump for inflammatory comments about witnesses since the start of the trial last month. He was fined $9,000 last week for nine violations.

Judge Juan M. Merchan warned Monday that additional gag order violations could potentially result in jail time, though he said that was "the last thing I want to do."

9:35 a.m. ET: Trump talks Columbia commencement cancelation before court

Before heading into the courtroom Monday morning, Trump spoke to reporters, relaying familiar complaints about the fairness of the trial, the judge and the gag order that stops him commenting on witnesses and jurors, according to the Associated Press.

He also noted the breaking news that Columbia University canceled its main commencement following weeks of pro-Palestinian protests.

"That shouldn’t happen," he said.

9:30 a.m. ET: The witness heard, but not yet seen

Although an ensemble of different people have testified in Trump's hush money case over the past two weeks, one pivotal witness has been frequently heard but not yet seen: Michael Cohen.

Jurors last week began hearing Cohen’s words on audio recordings as prosecutors worked to directly tie Trump to payments to silence women with damaging claims about him before the 2016 election.

Jurors heard, in particular, a potentially crucial piece of evidence: a recording of Trump and Cohen, then his attorney, discussing a plan to pay off an ex-Playboy model who claimed to have an affair with Trump. The former president denies the affair.

They also heard a few witnesses recount their interactions with Cohen — some pleasant and others far less so.

It's unclear when the prosecution's star witness will take the stand.

Trump's hush money case

The indictment against Trump centers on payoffs allegedly made to two women, porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal.

Trump’s former lawyer and "fixer," Michael Cohen, paid Daniels $130,000 and arranged for the publisher of the National Enquirer supermarket tabloid to pay McDougal $150,000.

Trump's company, the Trump Organization, then reimbursed Cohen and paid him bonuses and extra payments – all of which, prosecutors say, were falsely logged as legal expenses in company records. Over several months, Cohen said the company paid him $420,000.

Payments were also allegedly made to a Trump Tower doorman who claimed to have a story about a child he alleged Trump had out of wedlock.

The indictment, brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, made Trump the first ex-president ever to face criminal charges.

Trump has denied the accusations.

What happened last week?

Hicks took the stand last week, recounting how Trump's campaign was turned upside-down following the leak of a video wherein he bragged about grabbing women without their permission.

Meanwhile, Davidson – who represented porn actor Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal in hush money negotiations – also took the stand. Davidson spent hours detailing his role in securing payouts for Daniels and McDougal in exchange for their silence about previous sexual encounters they said they had with Trump.

Trump also faced a second contempt hearing over whether he had again violated his gag order over four more prospective violations. Judge Juan M. Merchan has not yet ruled on that sanctions request. 

Trump was fined $9,000 earlier in the week over gag order violations.

Who are the jurors?

After being forced to release a seated juror, the judge ordered the media not to report on where potential jurors have worked – even when stated in open court – and to be careful about revealing information about those who would sit in judgment of the former president. Here's what we can report.

Juror 1 and foreperson: A man who lives in New York City and has no children. Loves the outdoors and gets his news from The New York Times, Daily Mail, Fox News and MSNBC. 

When asked by Trump defense attorney Todd Blanche if he was aware Trump is charged in other cases and jurisdictions, and how that affects him, the man said, "I don’t have an opinion." 

Juror 2: A man who said he follows Trump’s former lawyer, Cohen, on "X," formerly known as Twitter. He also revealed he follows other right-wing accounts including Trump’s former adviser, Kellyanne Conway. 

He has said he would unfollow Cohen as he may be a witness in the trial. 

Juror 3: A middle-aged man who lives in Manhattan. He grew up in Oregon. He gets his news from The New York Times and Google. 

Juror 4: A man who lived in New York City for 15 years. He is originally from California. He is married with three children and a wife who is a teacher. He has served on a jury before – both on a grand jury and a jury in a criminal trial. 

The juror said he gets his news from "a smattering" of sources and does not use social media. 

Juror 5: A young woman who is a New York native. 

She gets most of her news from Google and Tiktok. 

Juror 6: A young woman who lives in Manhattan and likes to dance. 

Juror 7: A man who is married with two children. 

He gets most of his news from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the New York Post and The Washington Post. The man has said he is aware there are other lawsuits but said, "I’m not sure that I know anyone’s character." 

Juror 8: No information has been released about this juror. 

Juror 9: A woman who lives in Manhattan. She is not married and has no children. 

She has never served on a jury before and does not watch the news. However, she said she does have email subscriptions to CNN and The New York Times. She follows social media accounts and listens to podcasts. She also enjoys watching reality TV. 

Juror 10: A man who lives in Manhattan. He is not married and has no children. He does have a roommate who works in accounting. He rarely follows the news but he does listen to podcasts on behavioral psychology. 

Juror 11: No information has been released about this juror. 

Juror 12: No information has been released about this juror. 

How long will the trial last? 

The trial is expected to last anywhere from six to eight weeks. Trump is expected to attend court each day.

How can I watch the Trump trial?

The trial is not being televised. Instead, news reporters and producers will have the ability to sit inside the courtroom and deliver information to the public.

How many court cases is Trump involved in?

As of this report, Trump is currently involved in four criminal cases, which includes the hush money case. 

A second case out of Fulton County, Georgia, has charged Trump, as well as 18 others, with participating in a scheme to illegally attempt to overturn the former president’s loss to President Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. 

Trump is also involved in a third criminal case in Washington, D.C., which charged him with allegedly conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in the run-up to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol. 

And his fourth case involves classified documents that Trump illegally retained at his Mar-a-Lago estate after he left the White House. 

RELATED: A guide to Trump’s court cases

The Associated Press, FOX News, FOX 5 NY and Catherine Stoddard contributed to this report.