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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Cameron Joseph

‘The people rest’ – and no Trump testimony

Donald Trump at court on Monday.
Donald Trump at court on Monday. Photograph: Steven Hirsch/EPA

On the docket: almost over

Donald Trump’s trial is nearing the end – and it’s now all but certain that the man himself won’t take the stand.

Trump has teased possible testimony for months. It’s always seemed unlikely – he’d have to open himself up to brutal questioning from prosecutors – but he’d refused to rule it out.

But Trump attorney Emil Bove said on Monday that his team doesn’t plan to call any more witnesses after they wrap up with their current one. Without saying so explicitly, he acknowledged that Trump won’t testify.

This revelation came on the day prosecutors finished laying out their case against Trump, after concluding a second round of questions of star witness Michael Cohen. “The people rest,” prosecutor Joshua Steinglass said on Monday afternoon, before Trump’s team began to mount what appears to be a short defense.

Trump’s attorneys called a pair of witnesses including Robert Costello, an attorney close to Rudy Giuliani who Cohen had painted as a sketchy figure, and whose behavior on the witness stand led Judge Juan Merchan to briefly clear the courtroom.

The trial will continue on Tuesday with the end of Costello’s testimony. Merchan said that we’ll wait until next Tuesday, after Memorial Day weekend, for both sides to deliver their closing arguments. The jury will then deliberate whether Trump broke the law.

Here are the biggest moments from what will likely be the final full day of witness testimony in Trump’s first criminal trial.

What Trump’s attorneys got Cohen to say

Cohen admitted he stole from Trump

Trump attorney Todd Blanche got Cohen to admit he stole from the Trump Organization. Cohen said that he’d paid the IT company RedFinch $20,000 for services rendered when Trump refused to pay them himself, then asked for $50,000 in reimbursements from Trump. “So you stole from the Trump Organization?” Blanche asked. “Yes sir,” Cohen conceded.

Fame and fortune

Blanche got Cohen to admit he was looking at running for Congress based on his high name recognition. Cohen also admitted he has a financial interest in the case’s outcome – though he said that he has a stake in the case no matter what its outcome because he talks about it on his podcast and other platforms.

Blanche also offered an alternative accounting for why Cohen was paid so much by Trump in 2017 that didn’t have to do with his $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels, arguing that Cohen tried to bump up his legal work salary in 2016 to close to $150,000, what he had made the previous year. Blanche pointed out that Cohen had received a $150,000 bonus in 2015 but just $50,000 in 2016, and argued that he used the repayment scheme to get himself the bonus he thought he was owed.

What Cohen told prosecutors

Prosecutors got another chance to question Cohen, and got him to reiterate some key points of his testimony.

‘No doubt’ Trump signed off

When prosecutors asked Cohen if he had “any doubt” that he had a conversation with Trump in which he was told to work out his payback with Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, he said he had “no doubt”. He testified – once again – that he would not have paid Daniels $130,000 if Trump hadn’t signed off on the plan, “because I wanted to ensure that I’d get my funds back”.

Cohen said he talked to Trump ‘more than 20’ times about Daniels in October 2016

When prosecutors asked approximately how many times he’d talked directly with Trump about the Daniels situation in October 2016, he responded: “More than 20.”

He also told prosecutors that he’d lied when he wrote in a February 2018 letter to the Federal Election Commission that his payment to Daniels wasn’t a campaign contribution or expenditure. That’s significant because prosecutors need to show Trump falsified business records in furtherance of another crime – in this case, campaign finance violations – to get the jury to convict Trump of felonies.

Trump’s attorneys bring up Cohen’s (almost) former attorney

After quickly summoning a minor witness, Trump’s attorneys brought in Robert Costello, a lawyer that Cohen testified Trump’s team pushed him to hire right after the FBI raided Cohen’s home and office in April 2018.

Cohen had painted Costello as a shadowy figure close to Rudy Giuliani who was there to do Trump’s and Giuliani’s bidding, and keep him “in the fold”.

But Costello insisted that Cohen had actually hired him – even though he never got paid. He testified that the first time he met Cohen, Cohen repeatedly told him: “I swear to God, Bob, I don’t have anything on Donald Trump.”

Things got testy during Costello’s testimony. Costello repeatedly muttered under his breath, expressing frustration about Merchan sustaining objections from prosecutors. Merchan had jurors leave; then, as he admonished Costello to knock it off, Costello seemed to stay petulant. “Are you staring me down right now?” Merchan asked. Then: “Clear the courtroom!” Reporters and most other observers were forced to exit, presumably so Merchan could let Costello have it without a full audience, before court was allowed to resume.

After court concluded for the day, Trump potentially violated the gag order that prohibits him from talking about witnesses. “You saw what happened to a highly respected lawyer today, Bob Costello. Wow,” Trump told reporters outside the courtroom. Merchan has repeatedly fined him for violating that gag order, and previously threatened jail time if he continued to do so.

What else happened?

Trump’s team wanted to call an expert witness, Brad Smith, to discuss campaign finance law, but Merchan ruled that Smith wouldn’t be allowed on the stand because, “an expert is not permitted to present or interpret the law” and he didn’t see any way Smith could testify while avoiding that topic. He pointed out that Smith hadn’t been allowed to testify in crypto fraudster Sam Bankman-Fried’s trial for the same reason.

After jurors were let go for the day, Trump’s attorneys moved to have Merchan dismiss the charges before jury deliberations, arguing that there was no evidence that Trump had committed the crimes. Merchan reserved judgment on deciding on their request, but the possibility that he grants it is very remote.

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