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Igor Derysh

Experts: Trump witness may backfire

Trump ally Robert Costello said on Monday that he had attacked the credibility of former Trump attorney Michael Cohen while appearing before a Manhattan grand jury investigating the 2016 hush-money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels.

Costello, himself an attorney who formerly represented Cohen and Rudy Giuliani and was accused of dangling a pardon to Cohen during the Mueller investigation, appeared before the grand jury at Trump's request and said he testified that Cohen is a "serial liar."

"There can be no doubt in anyone's mind that Michael Cohen has great difficulty telling the truth. He is, after all a convicted perjurer, and our track record with Mr. Cohen convinced us that he was a serial liar," Costello told reporters after his testimony.

"As might be expected, Mr. Cohen's lies were always uttered in a way that was beneficial to himself," Costello said. "When it was in Mr. Cohen's personal self-interest, he was capable of telling the truth, but those occasions were few and far between."

Cohen's past is well-documented. Cohen, a longtime "fixer" for Trump, pleaded guilty to federal charges including campaign finance violations related to the hush money payment. Cohen testified that he made the payment at the direction of Trump and that the Trump Organization reimbursed him for "legal expenses."

Costello claimed on Monday that Cohen "decided on his own" that he "could take care" of the Stormy Daniels situation in 2016 and claimed that Trump did not know about the payment.

Costello said he handed over documents related to his communications with Cohen, who he said had waived attorney-client privilege. But Costello also complained that prosecutors had "cherry-picked" six emails out of more than 320 to ask him about, claiming they "took them out of context." Costello seemed to imply that the emails were related to his communications with Cohen about a potential pardon in 2018 amid the Mueller investigation, recalling that Cohen was "looking for a way out" to avoid prison.

In response, Cohen said there were "so many things" about Costello's statement that were untrue. He said that Costello never directly represented him and disputed Costello's claim that Cohen had waived attorney-client privilege.

Cohen was on standby as a rebuttal witness on Monday but was not called, according to his lawyer. He may still be asked to testify on Wednesday, suggesting that a possible Trump indictment could still be several days away.

"I have truth," Cohen told MSNBC. "I have the documentation. Let me rephrase that. The district attorney has the documentation in order to validate every single statement that I've made and to basically dispel anything that Bob Costello has to say which is probably, again, why they didn't need me for rebuttal."

Legal experts agreed that the fact that Cohen was not called to rebut Costello's testimony on Monday suggests that prosecutors are not worried about his statements.

"It seems that this stunt Trump pulled today with Costello didn't ring the bell that they hoped it would ring and prevent an indictment," former U.S. attorney Joyce White Vance told MSNBC.

The decision "suggests that whatever Costello said was either not credible or perhaps more likely not inconsistent with what Cohen already testified to, so Cohen was not needed to 'rebut,'" tweeted former federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, who worked on special counsel Bob Mueller's team. He added that it was "foolish" of the Trump team to give prosecutors a preview of what Costello would say at trial. "Poor defense strategy," he wrote.

Former U.S. attorney Harry Litman added that Costello appeared to be "wantonly betraying attorney-client information and privilege."

"I am willing to bet that his claims of waiver from Cohen are anywhere from dubious to 100% manufactured. If that's right, a bar complaint should follow," he tweeted.

Former Watergate prosecutor Nick Akerman called the decision to let Costello testify before the grand jury a "dumb, stupid move" and warned that it could lead to additional charges against Trump.

Giving prosecutors access to Costello, Akerman told MSNBC, allows the district attorney to bring up "all the conversations Costello had with Michael. All the conversations Costello had with Rudy Giuliani. What Rudy Giuliani said that Donald Trump said and what he conveyed to Donald Trump. And then I would end up indicting Donald Trump for witness tampering and obstruction of justice. I mean, the Mueller report itself is enough basis to do that. But now they put forward a witness who's right in the middle of this witness tampering plot to supposedly give exculpatory evidence!"

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