In an illustration, former president Donald Trump watches as Stormy Daniels is questioned by prosecutor Susan Hoffinger
In this illustration, former president Donald Trump watches as Stormy Daniels is questioned by prosecutor Susan Hoffinger © REUTERS

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Happy Thursday and welcome to US Election Countdown. Today we’re talking about:

  • Stormy Daniels’ testimony

  • Ken Griffin holds fire

  • Biden vs the oil barons

In a salacious episode of this year’s biggest courtroom drama, porn actor Stormy Daniels took the stand in Donald Trump’s “hush money” trial and gave a graphic account of alleged sexual advances he made towards her in 2006 [Free to read]. She’s expected to continue her testimony today.

To recap, Daniels is at the centre of the case: she was paid $130,000 in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election so that she wouldn’t say anything about the supposed sexual encounter. Trump is charged with falsifying the business record behind those payments. 

Daniels, who giggled nervously through her testimony on Tuesday, was just steps away from a glowering Trump at the defence table. She told the jury about how she was invited to Trump’s place after meeting at a golf tournament in Lake Tahoe.

They talked about the porn industry, and the ex-president said he could put her on his reality show The Apprentice, Daniels said. She also testified that Trump told her not to worry about his wife because they “don’t sleep in the same room”.

Daniels hit Trump’s behind with a rolled-up magazine, she said, and after she went to the bathroom, she found Trump in “boxer shorts and T-shirt”. She then went on to describe their “brief” sexual encounter. The FT’s Joe Miller has more details on Daniels’ witness testimony in his report from the courthouse.

As things were heating up in New York, Miami Judge Aileen Cannon pumped the brakes on a different Trump case. Cannon postponed the federal classified documents case, which was scheduled to begin on May 20, saying she needed more time for “adequate preparation”.

There are “myriad and interconnected” pre-trial issues to resolve, Cannon said, adding it “would be imprudent and inconsistent” to rush. 

This means the “hush money” trial is likely to be the only one of the cases against Trump to be heard before election day. 

Campaign clips: the latest election headlines

Behind the scenes

Ken Griffin
Citadel chief executive Ken Griffin: ‘It’s a much more difficult set of decisions that each of us will have to make come November’ © ALLISON DINNER/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Corporate executives descended upon Los Angeles earlier this week for the Milken Institute’s conference. At the think-tank’s annual gathering, Republican megadonor and Citadel chief executive Ken Griffin said presidential leadership has “been in short supply”.

Though he’s been pumping money into local and congressional races, he has yet to decide who he’ll back for the White House with his original pick, Nikki Haley, gone from the race. Back in March he said he expected Donald Trump to win.

“It’s a much more difficult set of decisions that each of us will have to make come November,” Griffin said.

The good news on the Trump side is the names being thrown about for his cabinet are really good people. So I feel much better about the narrative that Trump will have a hard time attracting good people.

Under Biden, he thinks the US’s credibility is in doubt, which could erode its reserve currency status and the sense that the country is a consistent force for good:

On the Biden front, we’ve had challenges with the perceived strength of the American presidency. And this is heartbreaking because it’s the disconnect between policy and the perception that America will stand behind its policies. So, for example, China has crossed one of Biden’s red lines. Now what are we going to do?

All he’s hoping for, he went on, is that “in 2028, we have great candidates on two sides”.

Datapoints

Big Oil has boomed under Biden as company profits skyrocketed to unprecedented levels. So why does the oil industry hate him?

Along with those profits, oil and gas production is at record levels, US hydrocarbon exports have surged and shareholders have reaped in returns. But how much of this windfall Biden can take credit for is debatable. 

Oil and gas industry players have no interest in thanking the president. Instead, they’re warning about the potential long-term damage Biden could do to the sector through regulatory clampdowns.

Biden “said he was going to end the oil and gas industry — he is doing that”, said Stephen Robertson, executive vice-president of the Permian Basin Petroleum Association.

“There have been over 200 actions taken by this administration opposed to the oil and gas industry,” he added. “There’s not one of these that will be the end of the industry . . . but there’s going to be a straw that breaks the camel’s back.”

When Russia invaded Ukraine and shook oil markets, Biden urged drillers to pump more oil. But amid high prices, he clashed with the sector, lashing out at ExxonMobil for making “more money than God” and saying Mike Wirth, Chevron’s CEO, was “sensitive” after the executive said Biden was trying to “vilify” the industry.

Those tensions have been flaring again as energy policy has taken place front and centre in this election.

Viewpoints

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