Trump’s Criminal Defense Rests After Dubious Final Witness

May 21, 2024 by Tom Ramstack
Trump’s Criminal Defense Rests After Dubious Final Witness
Former President Donald Trump sits in Manhattan Criminal Court on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in New York. (Michael M. Santiago/Pool Photo via AP)

NEW YORK — Former President Donald Trump’s attorneys ended their criminal defense Tuesday in a New York courthouse with a problematic effort to undercut the credibility of the prosecution’s star witness.

After closing arguments from the attorneys next week, the case is scheduled to be turned over to the jury to decide Trump’s guilt or innocence — and possibly the outcome of the next presidential election.

The last witness was Robert Costello, a former legal advisor to Michael Cohen, who was Trump’s personal attorney and now his main accuser on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.

Costello’s testimony was only a marginal benefit to the defense. Some of it supported the prosecution’s case.

His contentious personal behavior Monday afternoon led the judge to clear the courtroom to warn Costello about being too belligerent.

“Ridiculous,” Costello said after listening to the judge’s ruling on a prosecution objection to his testimony. “Jeez,” he said on another occasion.

He said in his testimony that Cohen had told him he acted alone in paying hush money to two women who said Trump had sex with them. Costello quoted Cohen as saying Trump could not be blamed for any business records that sought to hide the payments.

Prosecutors charged Trump with 34 counts for each of his business ledger entries that appeared to conceal the nature of the payments.

To the defense team’s benefit, Costello described much of Cohen’s testimony as reflecting deceit.

When prosecutor Susan Hoffinger asked whether he held animosity toward Cohen, Costello replied, “I don’t have animosity. I don’t think Michael Cohen is telling the truth.”

“Yes or no?” Hoffinger asked.

“No,” Costello said.

Several legal analysts interviewed on televised reports of the trial said the defense team made a mistake in calling Costello as a witness.

Costello became Cohen’s legal advisor after media reports and later prosecutorial investigations revealed the hush money payments. As suspicions turned toward Cohen as Trump’s “fixer,” he sought advice from Costello.

Costello also testified last week to a congressional committee investigating whether the Justice Department was trying to punish political adversaries of the president by pursuing criminal charges against them.

Costello told lawmakers Cohen was lying about some of his testimony during Trump’s trial, particularly as it relates to conversations between the two attorneys.

After Costello testified at the trial Tuesday, Judge Juan Merchan dismissed the jury for this week. He spent the rest of the afternoon discussing jury instructions with the attorneys.

Closing arguments are set for next Tuesday. A verdict is possible by the end of the week.

Trump did not testify during the trial. As he left the court, he told the media that he committed “no crime.”

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