Stormy Daniels leaves Manhattan Criminal Court after testifying
Stormy Daniels leaves Manhattan Criminal Court after testifying at former US President Donald Trump's trial, in which she is a central figure. AFP

Donald Trump's defense attorney and Stormy Daniels went head to head on Thursday during cross-examination of the porn star's blistering testimony, the line of questioning occasionally meandering into the bizarre and even earning a critique afterward from the judge.

Under examination that frequently veered hostile, Daniels was quick on her feet, toeing a tight line between tenacity and vulnerability as jurors watched the defense deride her career and assail her credibility.

She clapped back for hours during the most intense testimony yet in the criminal trial, which centers on whether a $130,000 hush money payment to Daniels was fraudulently covered up with the intent of influencing the 2016 presidential election.

Trump lawyer Susan Necheles insisted repeatedly through her questioning that Daniels, 45, had fabricated her story of a one-off sexual encounter with Trump.

"You made all this up, right?" the counsel asked at one point, prompting Daniels to respond with an emphatic "No."

Several moments saw Daniels accuse Necheles of putting words in her mouth: "You're trying to make me say it's changed, but it hasn't changed," she said, referring to her account of events.

Team Trump vied to cast Daniels as money-grubbing, sleazy and deceptive.

Necheles grilled Daniels over her decision to pen a book that included depictions of the encounter, and her decision to promote branded products.

"Not unlike Mr. Trump," Daniels quipped back.

In one of the more offbeat moments of the nearly eight hours of testimony, Necheles brought up interest by Daniels in tarot cards and the paranormal, in an apparent bid to cast her as unhinged.

She then moved to present Daniels as a fabulist, mocking her work as a screenwriter and director of pornographic films while alleging that it makes her good at twisting the truth.

"So you have a lot of experience in making phony stories about sex appear to be real?" said Necheles.

"Wow, that's not how I would put it," Daniels said.

"The sex is real. The characters names might be different. But the sex is very real. That's why it's pornography," the witness continued.

If the story with Trump were untrue, she said, "I would've written it to be a lot better."

At the close of her marathon testimony which lasted approximately eight hours over two days, the defense asked Daniels if she knew anything about Trump's bookkeeping -- the actual crux of the case.

She said she does not.

But that wasn't the point of calling Daniels to the stand, one prosecutor said later -- she was there to detail why Trump would've wanted to cover up her story at the finish line of his White House bid.

That reasoning came up after jurors had been dismissed for the day, during a motion hearing that saw Team Trump try once more for a mistrial.

It was again denied, but not before Judge Juan Merchan skewered Trump's lawyers in front of him.

"I disagree with your narrative that there is any new account here. I disagree that there is any changing story," he said, audibly irritated.

In his extraordinary dressing down of the defense's lawyering, Merchan said their very insistence that Daniels had made the encounter up cleared the way for the prosecution to include evidence -- much of it salacious -- to the contrary.

Necheles spent much of her cross hammering on the very details they were holding up as grounds for a mistrial, Merchan said, "drilling it over and over and over again into the jury's ears."

"I don't understand the reason for that," he said during his dramatic critique, asking why the defense had not objected to the presentation of those details during direct questioning.

And that Trump's team has been attacking Daniels from the very beginning, including during opening statements, "pits your client's word against Ms. Daniels' word," Merchan said.

"That, in my mind, allows The People to do what they can to rehabilitate her and corroborate her story," he said, using a term for the prosecution.

"Your motion for a mistrial is denied."