Donald Trump's lawyers urge the judge to throw out his hush money case after prosecution rests - Hindustan Times
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Donald Trump's lawyers urge the judge to throw out his hush money case after prosecution rests

AP |
May 21, 2024 03:35 AM IST

Donald Trump's lawyers urge the judge to throw out his hush money case after prosecution rests

NEW YORK — Donald Trump's lawyers on Monday pressed the judge overseeing his hush money trial to stop the case from going to the jury and throw out the charges after prosecutors concluded their presentation of evidence.

Donald Trump's lawyers urge the judge to throw out his hush money case after prosecution rests
Donald Trump's lawyers urge the judge to throw out his hush money case after prosecution rests

Judge Juan M. Merchan did not immediately rule on the defense request, which came at the end of a busy day that included the judge briefly kicking reporters out of the courtroom after admonishing a defense witness for his behavior on the stand.

The trial will resume Tuesday with more testimony from Robert Costello, a former federal prosecutor who Trump's lawyers called to the stand to attack the credibility of the prosecution's star witness, Trump attorney-turned-adversary Michael Cohen.

Cohen was the last witness — at least for now — for prosecutors, who are trying to prove that Trump sought to bury unflattering stories about himself and then falsified internal business records to cover it up as part of a scheme to illegally influence the 2016 presidential election.

Over several hours of cross-examination, Trump’s attorneys seized on Cohen’s past lies and criminal history, underscoring the risk of prosecutors’ reliance on the now-disbarred attorney. Cohen testified earlier Monday that he stole tens of thousands of dollars from Trump’s company, an admission defense lawyers hope to use to sow doubt in Cohen's crucial testimony implicating the former president in the hush money scheme.

After jurors left for the day, defense attorney Todd Blanche told the judge that prosecutors failed to prove their case and that it should be thrown out immediately. Blanche beseeched the judge to “not let this case go to the jury relying on Mr. Cohen’s testimony."

The judge appeared unmoved by the argument, asking the defense attorney whether he believed that “as a matter of law, this person’s so not worthy of belief that it shouldn’t even be considered by the jury?”

“You said his lies are irrefutable,” the judge replied. “But you think he’s going to fool 12 New Yorkers into believing this lie?”

The defense request came after a chaotic scene unfolded when the judge — angered by Costello's behavior on the stand — briefly forced reporters out of the courtroom and into the hallway.

Costello aggravated Merchan repeatedly in his testimony by making comments under his breath and continuing to speak after objections were sustained — a signal to witnesses to stop talking. At one point, Costello remarked “jeez" when he was cut off by an objection. He also called the whole exercise “ridiculous.”

After excusing the jury, Merchan told Costello: "If you don’t like my ruling, you don’t say ‘jeez’ ... You don’t give me side eye, and you don’t roll your eyes.”

A former federal prosecutor in New York, Costello is relevant to the case because of his role as a Cohen antagonist and critic in the years since their professional relationship splintered in spectacular fashion.

Costello had offered to represent Cohen soon after the lawyer’s hotel room, office and home were raided and as Cohen faced a decision about whether to remain defiant in the face of a criminal investigation or to cooperate with authorities in hopes of securing more lenient treatment.

Costello testified that Cohen told him Trump “knew nothing” about the $130,000 hush money payment to porn actor Stormy Daniels that's at the center of the case.

“Michael Cohen said numerous times that President Trump knew nothing about those payments, that he did this on his own, and he repeated that numerous times,” Costello told jurors.

Back on the witness stand for a fourth day, Cohen told jurors that he stole from the Trump Organization after his 2016 holiday bonus was slashed to $50,000 from the $150,000 he usually received.

Cohen claimed to have paid $50,000 to a technology firm for its work artificially boosting Trump's standing in a CNBC online poll about famous businessmen. Cohen said he gave the firm only $20,000 in cash in a brown paper bag, but he sought reimbursement from Trump for the full amount, pocketing the difference.

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

“Yes, sir,” Cohen replied. Cohen said he never paid the Trump Organization back. Cohen has never been charged with stealing from Trump’s company.

Cohen is a key witness but also a complicated one. He admitted on the witness stand to a number of past lies, many of which he claims were meant to protect 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 off critical books about the former president, whom he regularly slams on social media in often profane terms.

But when pushed by Blanche, Cohen stood by his recollection of conversations with Trump about the hush money payment to Daniels that's at the center of the case.

“No doubt in your mind?” Blanche asked about whether Cohen specifically recalled having conversations with Trump about the Daniels matter. No doubt, Cohen said.

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

The charges stem from internal Trump Organization records where payments to Cohen were marked as legal expenses. Prosecutors say they were really reimbursements for the payment to Daniels to keep her from going public before the 2016 election with claims of a sexual encounter with Trump. Trump says nothing sexual happened between them.

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

"There’s no crime," Trump told reporters after arriving at the courthouse Monday. “We paid a legal expense. You know what it’s marked down as? A legal expense."

Prosecutors will have have an opportunity to call rebuttal witnesses once Trump's witnesses are done. The judge, citing scheduling issues, said he expects closing arguments to happen May 28, the Tuesday after Memorial Day.

Defense lawyers said they have not decided whether Trump will testify. And Trump did not respond to shouted questions from reporters about whether his lawyers have advised him not to take the stand. Defense attorneys generally are reluctant to put their clients on the witness stand and open them up to intense questioning by prosecutors, as it often does more harm than good.

____

Richer reported from Washington. Associated Press reporters Jill Colvin and Michelle Price in New York; Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina; and Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.

This article was generated from an automated news agency feed without modifications to text.

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