Five Key Points from Dramatic Day as Prosecution Ends Trump Trial


NEW YORK — It was a turbulent day in court for Donald Trump’s hush money trial, as a judge temporarily cleared the courtroom following a heated exchange with a witness summoned to support the former president’s case.

Upon exiting the courtroom on Monday, Trump lauded the witness, Robert Costello, a former adviser to his ex-attorney and fixer Michael Cohen. Costello’s testimony was crucial in the defense’s attempt to challenge Cohen’s assertions about Trump’s alleged role in a hush money payment to Stormy Daniels. This payment is the basis for the charges Trump now faces.

Former President Donald Trump speaks to the press before his criminal trial at Manhattan Criminal Court on Monday, May 20, 2024, in New York. (Sarah Yenesel/Pool Photo via AP)

“You saw what happened to a highly respected lawyer today, Bob Costello. Wow. I’ve never seen anything like that,” Trump said. The former president also suggested that presiding Judge Juan Merchan could regain “respect” by dismissing the charges before the jury deliberates on whether to convict or acquit Trump of the 34-count indictment.

“This case should be dropped by the judge,” Trump said, adding if the judge did that, Merchan could “gain the respect back.”

Trump, who is under a gag order that prevents him from commenting on witnesses, has denied wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty in the case.

Here are five key takeaways from the dramatic proceedings on Monday:

Prosecution rests its case against former president

After calling more than 20 witnesses and presenting over 200 pieces of evidence, prosecutors from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office concluded their case against Trump late Monday afternoon.

Their final and most crucial witness was Cohen. After enduring three days of cross-examination where prosecutors scrutinized Cohen’s credibility and key parts of his story, the final move involved redirect questioning about calls Cohen made to Trump, where Cohen claims he spoke to Trump about Daniels.

One such call, made to Trump’s bodyguard Keith Schiller on the night of Oct. 24, 2016, has been a focal point of the trial.

Defense attorneys emphasized that the call lasted only 90 seconds and followed calls and texts between Cohen and Schiller about Cohen being harassed by a 14-year-old. They argued that Cohen wouldn’t have enough time in under two minutes to discuss the harassment with Schiller and then have a separate conversation with Trump to plot the hush money scheme.

On Monday, prosecutors countered by submitting into evidence a still image showing Trump near Schiller around the time the call was made, suggesting Cohen could have spoken to Trump about Daniels.

Prosecutor Susan Hoffinger asked Cohen how many times he believed he discussed Daniels with Trump in October 2016.

“More than 20,” Cohen replied.

The prosecution’s decision to rest their case on Monday was significant for the trial, indicating Bragg’s office believes it has shown beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump falsified business records with the intent to commit another crime, though the other crime remains unspecified.

Michael Cohen leaves his apartment building on his way to Manhattan criminal court in New York, Monday, May 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Cohen admits to stealing from Trump Organization

Trump’s defense attorney Todd Blanche grilled Cohen on how he lied about a reimbursement request in 2017, resulting in the Trump Organization overpaying him by tens of thousands of dollars.

Cohen testified he was reimbursed $50,000 for payments to Red Finch for technology services, but he only paid Red Finch $20,000, effectively stealing money from the Trump Organization.

Blanche’s questioning intensified as he interrogated Cohen about this admission.

“Did you ever have to plead guilty to larceny?” Blanche asked.

“No, sir,” Cohen said.

The reimbursement was part of a broader $420,000 payment plan central to the case against Trump. Drafted by the Trump Organization’s ex-Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg, the plan included paying Cohen for the Daniels payment, the Red Finch payment, an annual bonus, and taxes.

Cohen admitted to stealing the Red Finch money and acknowledged that the reimbursement plan’s tax aspect caused the Red Finch payment to double, meaning he effectively stole $60,000 rather than $30,000.

When asked by the prosecution on redirect about this, Cohen said he did it because he was angry about receiving a lower annual bonus.

“I was angry because of the reduction in bonus, and so I just felt like it was almost like self-help,” Cohen said.

Donald Trump, far left, watches as defense attorney Emil Bove questions Robert Costello, right, with Judge Juan Merchan presiding in Manhattan criminal court, Monday, May 20, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

Key points from Robert Costello’s testimony

Robert Costello, who provided Cohen legal advice when Trump’s ex-fixer was the target of a federal prosecution in April 2018, was questioned by defense attorneys on Monday about a crucial meeting between Cohen and Costello at the Regency Hotel that month.

Though Costello’s testimony was severely restricted by the judge, he highlighted that Cohen seemed to be in a crisis during the meeting and had no incriminating evidence against Trump to help Cohen avoid prosecution.

Costello, a former prosecutor who testified before Congress last week, indicated that Cohen repeatedly stated Trump knew nothing about the hush money payments to Daniels.

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

Judge Juan Merchan presides over Donald Trump’s trial in Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

Judge reprimands Costello and tells reporters to leave courtroom

At the witness stand, Costello audibly reacted negatively as Merchan sustained several objections from the prosecution. He said, “Geez,” after one objection was sustained and later offered to strike one of his own responses from the record after multiple interruptions by the judge.

In response to Costello’s behavior, Merchan temporarily asked the jury to leave the courtroom on Monday afternoon to address Costello’s conduct.

Following a stern warning from the judge, Costello glared at Merchan, prompting the judge to ask, “Are you staring me down?” Then, in a surprising turn, the judge ordered, “Clear the courtroom!” The press reacted with alarm, and after several minutes, everyone was permitted to return.

According to a transcript from Monday’s proceedings, Merchan threatened Costello with contempt while the press was not present.

“Your conduct is contemptuous right now. I’m putting you on notice that your conduct is contemptuous. If you try to stare me down one more time, I will remove you from the stand,” Merchan said.

Attorneys for former President Donald Trump Todd Blanche, front, and Emil Bove, rear, exit the New York State appellate court, Monday, April 8, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)

Trump attorney calls for judge to dismiss the charges

Later in the afternoon, Blanche asked Merchan to dismiss all the charges in the case.

“So you’re asking me to find Mr. Cohen not credible as a matter of law?” Merchan asked the lawyer, adding, “You want me to take it out of the jury’s hands and decide before it even gets to the jury?”

“Yes,” Blanche replied. The defense lawyer argued they didn’t just catch Cohen in one lie but rather “he came in here with a history of lying.”

The move, known as seeking a “directed verdict,” is not an uncommon ask from a defense attorney.

Merchan said at the end of the day that he would reserve his decision on the defense’s call to dismiss the charges.

The defense attorneys said they planned to finish questioning Costello on Tuesday and likely had no further witnesses after him. They indicated they could rest their case by Tuesday morning, meaning there is a low chance Trump himself will take the stand.

Kaelan Deese
Kaelan Deese
Supreme Court reporter covering the latest happenings at the nation's highest court and the legal issues surrounding Second Amendment rights, abortion, and religious liberties. He previously wrote breaking news as a fellow for The Hill during the 2020 election cycle. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma's Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communications program in 2019.

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