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Former Trump aide Hope Hicks testifies that she did not expect presidential bid

HOPE Hicks, a former top aide to Donald Trump, told jurors at his criminal trial that she was surprised when he decided to run for president in 2015.

Called to testify on the trial’s 11th day, Hicks was expected to face questions about efforts during that 2016 presidential campaign to bury stories about his alleged sexual misbehaviour.

Hicks is the first person who worked directly for Trump to testify in the first trial of a former U.S. president. Jurors have already heard accounts from outsiders about a hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to charges of falsifying business records to cover up the payment to Daniels and denies having had a sexual encounter with her.

Hicks began working for Trump, then a New York businessman, starting in 2014 and served as a political adviser during his first campaign for president and for several years in the White House.

She told jurors that she went to work for Trump’s business after graduating from college and was surprised by his entry into politics. “One day he said, ‘We’re going to Iowa,’ and I didn’t really know why,” she testified.

She said she thought Trump was joking when he asked her to be the campaign’s press secretary. “I wasn’t sure if I should take it seriously,” she said.

Former National Enquirer tabloid publisher David Pecker testified at the trial that Hicks was in a 2015 meeting where Pecker promised to serve as “eyes and ears” for the Trump campaign and help suppress unflattering news stories that could have threatened his presidential prospects.

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The 12 jurors and six alternates have yet to hear from the main players in the case, including Daniels and Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen, who arranged the payment.

Along with Pecker, they have heard from Daniels’ former lawyer Keith Davidson, who testified he arranged the payment with Cohen. Under questioning from Trump’s defence team, he acknowledged pursuing similar cash-for-dirt deals with other high-profile people.

The defence argues the hush money payment was made to spare Trump’s family embarrassment, not to protect his presidential campaign.

Trump says the case is an attempt by Democrats to undercut his chances of defeating Democratic President Joe Biden in the coming Nov. 5 presidential election.

The case features sordid allegations of adultery and secret payoffs, but it is widely seen as less consequential than the other three criminal prosecutions Trump faces. The others charge him with trying to overturn his 2020 presidential defeat and mishandling classified documents after leaving office. Trump has pleaded not guilty to all of those also.

Still, a guilty verdict could hurt Trump’s presidential bid, Reuters/Ipsos polling has found.

By JACK QUEEN, BRENDAN PIERSON and ANDY SULLIVAN

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