'Are you staring me down?', Judge rebukes Michael Cohen's former attorney in fiery scene at Trump's hush money trial - Hindustan Times
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'Are you staring me down?', Judge rebukes Michael Cohen's former attorney in fiery scene at Trump's hush money trial

May 21, 2024 12:29 PM IST

'If you try to stare me down one more time, I will remove you from the stand,' judge Merchan told witness Robert Bob Costello.

In a dramatic courtroom clash, a federal judge reprimanded Robert "Bob" Costello, a key witness and former attorney for Michael Cohen, during former President Donald Trump's hush money trial. The confrontation unfolded as Costello testified that Trump was unaware of the $130,000 payment made to porn star Stormy Daniels to silence her allegations of an affair with Trump.

Judge Juan Merchan, left, castigates witness Robert Costello about his "decorum" in the courtroom in Manhattan criminal court, Monday, May 20, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)(AP)
Judge Juan Merchan, left, castigates witness Robert Costello about his "decorum" in the courtroom in Manhattan criminal court, Monday, May 20, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)(AP)

In a shocking turn of events, U.S. District Judge Juan Merchan’s pointed critique of Costello's courtroom behaviour became a focal point of the proceedings. The judge’s frustration peaked when Costello rolled his eyes and muttered under his breath after several objections from prosecutors were sustained.

Why did Judge Juan Merchan lost his cool?

“Jeez,” Costello exclaimed in frustration, prompting Judge Merchan to demand clarification. "I’m sorry?" the judge asked twice, visibly irritated by the witness's demeanor. The tension escalated as Judge Merchan excused the jury and delivered a stern lecture on courtroom decorum. "If you don’t like my ruling, you don’t give me side eye and you don’t roll your eyes," Merchan admonished. “Are you staring me down right now?”

The judge then went ahead to expelled the courtroom audience, including reporters, to address Costello’s conduct privately. According to a court transcript, Merchan warned, “Sir, your conduct is contemptuous right now. If you try to stare me down one more time, I will remove you from the stand.” He further threatened to strike Costello's entire testimony if the behavior continued.

The contentious exchange overshadowed Costello's testimony, which contradicted previous statements by Cohen. Costello, called by Trump's defence team, claimed that Cohen had repeatedly stated Trump "knew nothing" about the payments to Daniels. "Michael Cohen said numerous times that President Trump knew nothing about those payments, that he did this on his own," Costello asserted.

Heated courtroom scene explained

The heated courtroom scene unfolded as Costello recounted his initial meeting with Cohen on April 17, 2018, shortly after the FBI raided Cohen’s home and office. Costello described Cohen as a "maniac" during the meeting, recalling how Cohen paced back and forth, visibly distressed. "He was absolutely a maniac from the beginning, marching back and forth, pacing," Costello testified.

Cohen, who turned against Trump and cooperated with federal investigators, previously testified that Trump was aware of and directed the hush money payments. Cohen’s credibility has been a central issue in the trial, with Costello’s testimony aiming to undermine the prosecution's case.

The judge’s sharp rebuke of Costello highlighted the courtroom drama as Trump's legal battles continue to unfold. Costello, a former federal prosecutor and longtime Trump ally, had previously testified before a Manhattan grand jury that ultimately indicted Trump on 34 counts of falsifying business records.

Following his testimony, Costello criticized Cohen's credibility, characterizing him as having a "lie, cheat, steal" mindset. "If they want to go after Donald Trump and they have solid evidence, then so be it. Michael Cohen is not solid evidence," Costello told reporters.

As the trial progresses, Costello is set to resume his testimony, with the courtroom clash between him and Judge Merchan likely to remain a significant point of interest. The proceedings continue to draw public and media scrutiny as Trump navigates multiple legal challenges while campaigning for a potential return to the White House in 2024.

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