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Michael Cohen returns to the podium on day 19 – NBC New York

Michael Cohen returns to the podium on day 19 – NBC New York


The judge overseeing Donald Trump's money trial briefly closed the courtroom Monday, forcing reporters into the hallway after chastising a defense witness for his behavior on the witness stand.

It came minutes after testimony from Robert Costello, a former federal prosecutor who publicly lambasted the prosecution's star witness, Michael Cohen.

Costello annoyed Judge Juan M. Merchan several times during his testimony by making comments in hushed tones and continuing to speak after objections were sustained, signaling witnesses to stop talking. At one point, Costello remarked “jeez” when he was interrupted by an objection. He also called the whole exercise ridiculous.

After excusing the jury, Merchan told Costello, “If you don't like my decision, don't say damn it… You don't look at me sideways and roll your eyes.”

The journalists were surprised to be kicked out of the courtroom in the middle of the proceedings of this historic trial. They were allowed back in after about five minutes.

The prosecution rested its case earlier Monday after several days of testimony from Cohen, the loyal lawyer turned Trump adversary who the defense sought to portray as a serial fabulist who is waging a revenge campaign aimed at bringing down Trump.

Costello, a former New York federal prosecutor, is relevant to this case because of his role as Cohen's antagonist and critic in the years after the dramatic breakdown of their professional relationship.

Costello had offered to represent Cohen shortly after the search of the lawyer's hotel room, office and home and as Cohen had to decide whether to remain defiant in the face of a criminal investigation or cooperate with authorities in the hope of obtaining more lenient treatment.

Costello testified that Cohen told him that Trump knew nothing about the secret $130,000 payment to porn actor Stormy Daniels that is at the center of the affair.

Michael Cohen repeatedly said that President Trump knew nothing about these payments, that he made them himself, and he said this repeatedly, Costello told jurors.

During several hours of cross-examination, Trump's lawyers attempted to sow doubt in jurors' minds about Cohen's crucial testimony implicating the presumptive Republican presidential nominee in the silence scheme. Defense attorneys have seized on Cohen's past lies and criminal history, highlighting the risk that prosecutors will rely on the now-disbarred attorney.

Cohen said earlier Monday that he stole tens of thousands of dollars from the Trump company, an admission that defense lawyers hope to use to undermine Cohen's credibility as a key prosecution witness in the secret trial of the former president.

Cohen claimed he paid a tech company $50,000 for its work to artificially improve Trump's standing in a CNBC online poll of famous businessmen. Cohen said he only gave the company $20,000 in cash in a brown paper bag, but asked Trump for a refund of the entire amount, pocketing the difference.

So you stole from the Trump Organization?” asked defense attorney Todd Blanche.

Yes, sir, Cohen replied. Cohen said he never repaid the Trump Organization. Cohen was never accused of stealing from Trump's company.

Cohen is a key witness but also complicated. He admitted on the witness stand to a number of past lies, many of which he said were aimed at protecting Trump. Cohen also served prison time after pleading guilty to various federal charges, including lying to Congress and a bank and engaging in campaign finance violations related to the hush money scheme. And he has made millions of dollars from critical books about the former president, whom he regularly criticizes on social media in often crude terms.

But pushed by Blanche, Cohen maintained his memories of conversations with Trump about the secret payment to Daniels that is at the center of the affair.

No doubt in your mind? Blanche asked if Cohen specifically remembered having conversations with Trump about the Daniels affair. Without a doubt, Cohen said.

Prosecutors were given another chance to question their star witness after the defense finished its cross-examination. Prosecutor Susan Hoffinger delved into the defense's strategy for going after Cohen, asking: I know you might feel like you're being judged here after the cross-examination, but are you really being judged here ?

No, ma'am, Cohen replied.

After more than four weeks of testimony on sex, money, tabloid machinations and record-keeping details of Trump's business, jurors could begin deliberating as early as next week to decide whether Trump is guilty of 34 counts of falsifying business records in the first criminal trial. of a former American president.

The accusations stem from internal Trump Organization files in which payments to Cohen were marked as legal fees. Prosecutors say they were actually reimbursements for payment made to Daniels to prevent her from going public before the 2016 election about allegations of a sexual relationship with Trump. Trump says nothing sexual happened between them.

Trump has pleaded not guilty. His lawyers say there was nothing criminal about the deal with Daniels or the way Cohen was paid.

“There is no crime,” Trump told reporters after arriving at the courthouse Monday. We paid legal fees. Do you know how it's marked? A legal expense.”

Trump's allies, including several who joined him at the courthouse Monday, quickly seized on Cohen's admission on the witness stand. Former Trump administration official Kash Patel told reporters that Monday marked the first time in six weeks of trial that we finally had a crime “Cohen stealing money from the Trump Organization.”

We also have a victim. That victim is Donald J. Trump, Patel said.

Known for his short-tempered nature, Cohen remained mostly calm on the witness stand despite the defense's sometimes heated questioning about his misdeeds and the allegations in the case.

Prosecutors will have the opportunity to call witnesses in rebuttal once Trump's witnesses are finished. Judge Juan M. Merchan, citing scheduling issues, said he expects closing arguments to take place May 28, the Tuesday after Memorial Day.

Defense attorneys said they had not yet decided whether Trump would testify. And Trump did not respond to questions from reporters asking whether his lawyers had advised him not to take the stand. Defense attorneys are generally reluctant to put their clients on the witness stand and subject them to intense questioning from prosecutors because it often does more harm than good.

Judge Juan Merchan ruled that former President Donald Trump violated the court's silence order for his comments about the jury in his New York criminal case.


Richer reported from Washington.




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