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The Latest | Defense Rests Its Case Without Trump Testifying in His Hush Money Trial
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By Associated Press
Published 1 month ago on
May 21, 2024

The defense in Donald Trump's hush money trial rests its case without the former president testifying. The trial is the first-ever criminal trial of a former US president. (AP/Michael M. Santiago)

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NEW YORK — The defense rested its case in Donald Trump’s hush money trial on Tuesday morning without the former president taking the witness stand to testify, bringing proceedings one step closer to closing arguments.

After more than four weeks of testimony, jurors were sent home with Judge Juan M. Merchan telling them they wouldn’t be needed in court until closing arguments next Tuesday. Merchan suggested the court session may run late that day to accommodate summations from both sides — the defense and prosecution. Merchan told jurors he then expects his instructions to them will take about an hour.

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 and often salacious stories that might have torpedoed his 2016 presidential campaign and then falsifying internal business records to cover up hush money payments associated with the alleged scheme. He has denied the allegations.

Prosecutors rested their case Monday after star witness Michael Cohen concluded his testimony. Cohen spent nearly four full days on the witness stand, placing the former president directly at the center of the alleged scheme. The defense called just two witnesses following the conclusion of Cohen’s testimony — paralegal Daniel Sitko and attorney Robert Costello.

The trial is in its 20th day.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts.

The case is the first-ever criminal trial of a former U.S. president and the first of four prosecutions of Trump to reach a jury.

Current Developments

— Trump campaign calls Cannes film ‘The Apprentice’ ‘blatantly false,’ vows legal action

— Trump’s social media account shares a campaign video with a headline about a ‘unified Reich’

— Trump hush money case: A timeline of key events

— Key players: Who’s who at Trump’s hush money criminal trial

— Hush money, catch and kill and more: A guide to unique terms used at Trump’s trial

Court on Break

Court in Donald Trump’s hush money trial will resume at 2:15 p.m., when prosecutors and the defense will discuss the instructions that will be given to jurors before they start deliberating.

Judge Merchan has said he expects deliberations could begin as early as next Wednesday.

Trump, meanwhile, has returned to Trump Tower and will be back in court this afternoon.

Trump Will Not Testify in His Trial

Donald Trump left the courtroom where his criminal trial is taking place without speaking to reporters. He ignored a question about why he wouldn’t testify in the hush money case.

The former president and presumptive GOP presidential nominee previously said he wanted to take the witness stand to defend himself against what he claims are politically motivated charges.

Defense Rests Its Case Without Trump Testifying

The defense in Donald Trump’s hush money trial rested its case Tuesday morning without the former president taking the stand in his own defense.

“Your honor, the defense rests,” Trump lawyer Todd Blanche told the judge.

After the defense rested, Judge Juan M. Merchan told jurors they won’t be needed again in court until next Tuesday. That’s when he says both sides will give their closing arguments. He suggested the court session may run late that day to accommodate summations from both sides — the defense and prosecution. Merchan told jurors he then expects his instructions to them will take about an hour, after which they can begin deliberating, possibly as early as next Wednesday.

Merchan noted that normally summations would immediately follow the defense resting its case, but he expects summations in this case will take at least a day and — given the impending Memorial Day holiday — “there’s no way to do all that’s needed to be done” before then.

“I’ll see you in a week,” Merchan said.

Cross-Examination of Costello Concludes

Before finishing her cross-examination Tuesday morning, prosecutor Susan Hoffinger questioned Robert Costello’s true intent in maneuvering to represent Michael Cohen, citing a June 22, 2018, email in which the lawyer complained that Cohen was continuing to “slow play us and the president.”

Costello was in talks with Cohen to represent him in the wake of an April 2018 FBI raid on his apartment, office and hotel room, but Cohen has said he was wary of Costello’s ties to the White House and never hired him.

“Is he totally nuts?” Costello wrote in the email to his law partner, Jeffrey Citron

In the email, he asked what he should say to Cohen, using an expletive. “He’s playing with the most powerful man on the planet,” Costello wrote.

“That email certainly speaks for itself, doesn’t it, Mr. Costello?” Hoffinger asked Costello, mimicking the witness’ earlier answers that emails he turned over to the prosecutors’ office “speak for themselves.”

“Yes, it does,” Costello replied.

Hoffinger then asked if, at that point, Costello had “lost control of Michael Cohen for the president, did you not?”

“Absolutely not,” Costello bristled.

Costello Straightens Up on the Stand — Slightly

Defense witness Robert Costello was on Tuesday morning behaving better in the courtroom than he was the previous day when Judge Juan M. Merchan scolded him for speaking out of turn and rolling his eyes.

Still, Costello tried to tack on extra details to his answers to questions from the prosecution.

At one point, Costello told prosecutor Susan Hoffinger that there was additional context around an email regarding Rudy Giuliani, “which I would be delighted to tell you.”

“That’s alright. Let’s move on to the next one,” Hoffinger said.

Moments later, Hoffinger asked Costello if he felt like he was being played by Cohen, as he had written in another email. Costello said he did not.

“You want me to explain it?” Costello asked.

Again, Hoffinger told him that she did not. Costello huffed, adding: “Now you do want me to explain.”

Prosecutors Confront Costello with Emails He Sent to Michael Cohen

As testimony in Donald Trump’s hush money trial began for the day, prosecutor Susan Hoffinger showed defense witness Robert Costello an August 2018 email in which former Trump attorney Michael Cohen told him and one of his partners to stop contacting him because “you do not and never have represented me” and another lawyer did.

Asked whether he was upset that Cohen hadn’t paid him, Costello said he was — and volunteered that he had replied to the message in an email that prosecutors didn’t show.

Hoffinger went a step further and confronted Costello with emails he sent to Cohen in which he repeatedly dangled his close ties to Trump-ally Rudy Giuliani in the aftermath of the FBI raid on Cohen’s property.

In one email, Costello told Cohen: “Sleep well tonight. You have friends in high places,” and relayed that there were “some very positive comments about you from the White House.”

Costello testified Tuesday that “friends in high places definitely refers to President Trump.”

Hoffinger also showed Costello an email he sent to his law partner noting that Giuliani was joining Trump’s legal team.

“All the more reason for Cohen to hire me, because of my connection to Giuliani, which I mentioned in our meeting,” Costello wrote to law partner Jeffrey Citron in the April 19, 2018, email.

Cohen says he never hired Costello.

Witness Testimony Set to Resume

Attorney Robert Costello has returned to the witness stand in Donald Trump’s hush money trial to resume his testimony. The defense witness turned to Judge Juan M. Merchan and spoke to him briefly as they waited for the jury to file in.

Costello’s words were inaudible to reporters. The judge acknowledged him, however, and nodded. The vibe in the courtroom was more cordial than it was during the drama that disrupted proceedings on Monday.

While waiting for the jury, Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass asked the judge to poll jurors on their availability to work next Wednesday, a typical off day for the trial.

According to the judge, closing arguments will be held next Tuesday, the day after Memorial Day, so he may want jurors to work Wednesday to receive instructions on the law or start deliberating.

Trump Arrives in Court

Donald Trump has arrived at the courthouse in lower Manhattan for the 20th day of his hush money trial.

Before court, the former president said, “We’ll be doing something in the morning and then probably coming back in the afternoon. And we’ll be resting pretty quickly.”

He added, however, “I won’t be resting. I don’t rest.

Who Will Be in Court with Trump?

Donald Trump will be joined Tuesday by an entourage including actor Joe Piscopo as well as his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., former acting attorney general Matt Whitaker and former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi, according to his campaign.

He’ll also be accompanied by members of Congress including Sen. Eric Schmitt and Reps. Ronny Jackson, Troy Nehls and Maria Salazar.

Ruling on Motion to Dismiss Waiting in the Wings

As witness testimony resumes in Donald Trump’s criminal trial on Tuesday, a ruling on the defense’s motion to dismiss the case is waiting in the wings.

Defense attorneys asked Judge Juan M. Merchan to dismiss the case on Monday after court adjourned for the day, arguing that prosecutors had failed to prove their case and there was no evidence of falsified business records or an intent to defraud.

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

Colangelo argued that the jury has seen “overwhelming” evidence that the records of the payments to Michael Cohen were falsely categorized as payments for legal services instead of reimbursement and that there was ample evidence that the alleged fudging was done to deceive people — including the voting public and government regulators.

Merchan did not indicate when exactly he would make a decision on the motion.

Costello to Return to the Stand

Attorney Robert Costello will return to the witness stand on Tuesday as Donald Trump’s hush money trial enters its 20th day.

Costello’s testimony was a source of discord on Monday between attorneys on both sides, with prosecutors arguing that he should not be allowed to testify at all.

Before the attorney took the stand, Judge Juan M. Merchan ruled that he would allow the defense to question him about two allegedly inconsistent statements in Michael Cohen’s testimony and to “offer some rebuttal” to his testimony.

Costello, a former federal prosecutor in New York, is relevant to Donald Trump’s hush money case due to his role as a Michael Cohen antagonist and critic in the years since their professional relationship splintered.

The attorney had offered to represent Cohen soon after the lawyer’s hotel room, office and home were raided by the FBI in 2018 and as he faced a decision about whether to remain defiant in the face of a criminal investigation or to cooperate with investigators in hopes of securing more lenient treatment.

Costello was invited last year to appear before the grand jury that indicted Trump after asserting that he had information that undermined Cohen’s credibility.

Closing Arguments Could Be the Tuesday After Memorial Day

Closing arguments in Donald Trump’s criminal trial could take place the day after Memorial Day.

Judge Juan M. Merchan said Monday that when the defense rests its case, he will send the jury home until closing arguments on the day after Memorial Day. Should that happen, jurors will spend a full week away from the trial.

Merchan cited scheduling issues in giving the May 28 date.

The defense is expected to rest its case on Tuesday after calling just a handfull of witnesses, including attorney Robert Costello.

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