June 21st, 2024

Defense rests without Trump taking the witness stand in his New York hush money trial

By Michael R. Sisak, Jake Offenhartz, Jennifer Peltz And Colleen Long, The Associated Press on May 21, 2024.

NEW YORK (AP) – Donald Trump’s lawyers rested their defense Tuesday without the former president taking the witness stand in his New York hush money trial.

The jury was sent home until May 28, when closing arguments are expected. Trump did not stop to speak as he left the courthouse and ignored a question about why he wasn’t testifying.

After more than four weeks of testimony, jurors could begin deliberating as soon as next week to decide whether Trump is guilty of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.

Prosecutors have accused Trump of a scheme to bury negative stories to fend off damage to his 2016 presidential campaign and then falsifying internal business records to cover it up.

Trump, the first former American president to be tried criminally, has pleaded not guilty and denied any wrongdoing in the case, which he has slammed as politically motivated.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

NEW YORK (AP) – A defense witness in Donald Trump’s hush money case whom the judge threatened to remove from the trial over his behavior returned to the stand Tuesday as the trial nears its end.

Trump’s lawyers hope Robert Costello’s testimony will help undermine the credibility of a key prosecution witness, Trump fixer-turned-foe Michael Cohen.

Costello turned to Judge Juan M. Merchan before the jurors arrived to the court, speaking quietly. The judge acknowledged him and nodded, a much more cordial scene than the drama that unfolded during Monday’s proceedings, when Costello made comments under his breath during testimony, rolled his eyes and called the whole exercise “ridiculous.” The antics angered Merchan, and the judge briefly kicked reporters out of the courtroom to admonish him.

The judge told Costello, a former federal prosecutor, he was being “contemptuous,” adding, “If you try to stare me down one more time, I will remove you from the stand,” according to a court transcript.

The defense was expected to rest its case later Tuesday, clearing the way for the trial to move on to decisions about how to instruct the jury on deliberations. Prosecutors on Monday rested their case accusing Trump of falsifying business records as part of a scheme to bury stories that he feared could hurt his 2016 campaign. The criminal trial, the first of a former U.S. president, is in the final stretch, with closing arguments expected the Tuesday after Memorial Day.

The charges stem from internal Trump Organization records in which payments to Cohen were marked as legal expenses. Prosecutors say they were really reimbursements for a $130,000 hush money payment to porn actor Stormy Daniels to keep her from going public before the 2016 election with claims of a sexual encounter with Trump. Trump says nothing sexual happened between them.

Trump, a Republican, has said he did nothing illegal and has slammed the case as an effort to hinder his 2024 bid to reclaim the White House.

“They have no case,” Trump said outside the courtroom Tuesday. “There’s no crime.”

After jurors left for the day Monday, defense attorneys pressed the judge to throw out the charges before jurors even begin deliberating, arguing prosecutors have failed to prove their case. The defense has suggested that Trump was trying to protect his family, not his campaign, by squelching what he says were false, scurrilous claims.

Defense attorney Todd Blanche argued that there was nothing illegal about soliciting a tabloid’s help to run positive stories about Trump, run negative stories about his opponents and identify potentially damaging stories before they were published. No one involved “had any criminal intent,” Blanche said.

“How is keeping a false story from the voters criminal?” Blanche asked.

Prosecutor Matthew Colangelo shot back that “the trial evidence overwhelmingly supports each element” of the alleged offenses and said the case should proceed to the jury.

The judge didn’t immediately rule on the defense’s request. Such long-shot requests are often made in criminal cases but are rarely granted.

The defense called Costello because of his role as an antagonist to Cohen since their professional relationship splintered in spectacular fashion. Costello had offered to represent Cohen soon after the lawyer’s hotel room, office and home were raided and as Cohen faced a decision about whether to remain defiant in the face of a criminal investigation or to cooperate with authorities in hopes of securing more lenient treatment.

Costello in the years since has repeatedly maligned Cohen’s credibility and was even a witness before last year’s grand jury that indicted Trump, offering testimony designed to undermine Cohen’s account. In a Fox News Channel interview last week, Costello accused Cohen of lying to the jury and using the case to “monetize” himself.

Costello contradicted Cohen’s testimony describing Trump as intimately involved in all aspects of the hush money scheme. Costello told jurors Monday that Cohen told him Trump “knew nothing” about the hush money payment to Daniels.

“Michael Cohen said numerous times that President Trump knew nothing about those payments, that he did this on his own, and he repeated that numerous times,” Costello testified.

Cohen, however, testified earlier Monday that he has “no doubt” that Trump gave him a final sign-off to make the payments to Daniels. In total, he said he spoke with Trump more than 20 times about the matter in October 2016.

Trump lawyer Emil Bove told the judge that the defense does not plan to call any other witnesses after Costello, though it may still call campaign-finance expert Bradley A. Smith for limited testimony. It has not said definitively that Trump won’t testify, but that’s the clearest indication yet that he will waive his right to take the stand in his own defense.

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This story has been corrected to fix the time element to Tuesday, not Monday.

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Long reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Jill Colvin and Michelle Price in New York; Meg Kinnard in Columbia, S.C.; and Eric Tucker and Alanna Durkin Richer in Washington contributed to this report.

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