Defense rests without Trump testifying in hush money case

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Former President Donald Trump speaks to media before his trial at the Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in New York. (Michael M. Santiago/Pool Photo via AP)

The defense rests its case without ex-President Donald Trump taking the witness stand in his New York hush-money case. Closing arguments are expected next Tuesday.

With testimony now concluded, Trump rose slowly from his seat, straightened his tie and whispered in one of his attorney’s ear.

Leaving the courtroom, he did not stop to speak and ignored a question about why he won’t testify.

Trump had previously said he wanted to take the witness stand to defend himself against what he claims are politically motivated charges.

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 suggests 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.

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

This brings the case one step closer to final arguments.

Before finishing her cross-examination, Hoffinger questioned Costello’s true intent in maneuvering to represent 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 says 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.

So far, Costello is behaving better than on Monday, when Judge Merchan scolded him for speaking out of turn and rolling his eyes.

Still, the witness is trying to tack on extra details to his answers. Hoffinger isn’t having it.

At one point, Costello said there was additional context around an email regarding 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 she did not. Costello huffed, adding: “Now you do want me to explain.”

Prosecutor Susan Hoffinger 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 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.

As testimony began for the day, prosecutor Susan Hoffinger showed 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.

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

Merchan said he will.

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

And he asked for Robert Costello to be brought to the witness stand to resume testifying.

Costello turned to Merchan and spoke to him briefly as they waited for the jury. His words were inaudible to reporters. The judge acknowledged him and nodded. It’s a more cordial vibe than the tension that disrupted the proceedings Monday.

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