Defence rests without Donald Trump entering witness box in hush money trial

21 May 2024, 21:14

Former US president Donald Trump sits in Manhattan Criminal Court in New York
Trump Hush Money. Picture: PA

The jury was sent home until May 28, when closing arguments are expected.

Donald Trump’s lawyers have rested their defence without the former US president entering the witness box in his New York hush money trial.

“Your honour, the defence rests,” Trump lawyer Todd Blanche told the judge following evidence from a former federal prosecutor who had been called to attack the credibility of the prosecution’s key witness.

The jury was sent home for a week, until May 28, when closing arguments are expected, but the lawyers returned to the courtroom to discuss how the judge will instruct jurors on deliberations, a sort of road map meant to help them apply the law to the evidence.

Donald Trump sits in court in New York
Donald Trump sits in court in New York (Curtis Means/DailyMail.com via AP, Pool)

The two sides haggled over word choices, legal phrases and descriptions of campaign-related issues.

Trump did not stop to speak as he left the courthouse and ignored a question about why he was not giving evidence.

The Republican presumptive presidential nominee had previously said he wanted to enter the witness box to defend himself against what he claims are politically motivated charges.

As he left a news conference with supporters of the former president outside the courthouse, Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr defended his father’s decision not to give evidence.

“There’d be absolutely no reason, no justification to do that whatsoever. Everyone sees it for the sham that it is,” the younger Trump said.

After more than four weeks of evidence, jurors could begin deliberating as soon as next week to decide whether Trump is guilty of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.

After the defence rested, Judge Juan M Merchan told jurors the court session could run late on Tuesday to accommodate both prosecution and defence summations – the last time the jury would hear from either side.

Judge Merchan told jurors he then expects that his instructions to them on deliberations would take about an hour, after which they can begin discussing the case, possibly as early as May 29.

Until now, they have been told not to discuss the case with anyone outside court and not to discuss the case among each other.

Donald Trump Jr speaks outside Manhattan Criminal Court in New York
Donald Trump Jr speaks outside Manhattan Criminal Court in New York (Julia Nikhinson/AP)

Judge Merchan noted that normally summations would immediately follow the defence resting its case, but he expects summations in this case will take at least a day and, given the impending Memorial Day holiday, “there’s no way to do all that’s needed to be done” before then.

“I’ll see you in a week,” Judge Merchan said.

Prosecutors have accused Trump of a scheme to bury negative stories to fend off damage to his 2016 presidential campaign and then falsifying internal business records to cover it up.

Trump, the first former American president to be tried criminally, has pleaded not guilty and denied any wrongdoing in the case, which he has condemned as politically motivated.

The charges stem from internal Trump Organisation records in which payments to Michael Cohen were marked as legal expenses.

Prosecutors say they were really reimbursements for a 130,000 dollar (£102,000) hush money payment to adult film actor Stormy 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.

“They have no case,” Trump said in the morning on Tuesday before court adjourned.

Donald Trump sits between his lawyers Emil Bove, left, and Todd Blanche, right, before the start of the day’s proceedings in the Manhattan Criminal Court in New York
Donald Trump sits between his lawyers Emil Bove, left, and Todd Blanche, right, before the start of the day’s proceedings in Manhattan Criminal Court (Dave Sanders/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

“There’s no crime.”

The final witness was Robert Costello, called in an effort to undermine the credibility of Trump fixer-turned-foe Mr Cohen, who has placed Trump at the centre of the effort to bury potentially damaging stories.

Prosecutor Susan Hoffinger showed Mr Costello an August 2018 email in which Mr Cohen told him and one of his partners to stop contacting him because “you do not and never have represented me” and another lawyer did.

Asked whether he was upset that Mr Cohen had not paid him, Mr Costello said he was – and volunteered that he had replied to the message in an email that prosecutors did not show.

Prosecutors have said that they want to show that Mr Costello was part of a pressure campaign to keep Mr Cohen in Trump’s corner once the then-lawyer came under federal investigation.

On that theme, Ms Hoffinger asked Mr Costello about a 2018 email in which he assured Mr Cohen that he was “loved” by Trump’s camp, “they are in our corner” and “you have friends in high places”.

Asked who those “friends in high places” were, Mr Costello said he was talking about Trump, then the president.

Mr Costello bristled as he insisted he did not feel animosity towards Mr Cohen and did not try to intimidate him.

Judge Juan Merchan, left, castigates witness Robert Costello about his 'decorum' in the courtroom in Manhattan Criminal Court on Monday in New York
Judge Juan Merchan, left, castigates witness Robert Costello about his ‘decorum’ in the courtroom in Manhattan Criminal Court on Monday in New York (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

“Ridiculous. No,” he said to the latter.

Trump’s lawyers had hoped he would cast doubt on Mr Cohen’s evidence.

The two had a professional relationship that splintered in spectacular fashion.

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

Mr Costello has repeatedly maligned Mr Cohen’s credibility and was even a witness before last year’s grand jury that indicted Trump, offering evidence designed to undermine Mr Cohen’s account.

In a Fox News Channel interview last week, Mr Costello accused Mr Cohen of lying to the jury and using the case to “monetise” himself.

Mr Costello contradicted Mr Cohen’s evidence describing Trump as intimately involved in all aspects of the hush money scheme.

Mr Costello told jurors on Monday that Mr Cohen told him Trump “knew nothing” about the hush money payment to Ms Daniels.

Michael Cohen
Michael Cohen (Seth Wenig/AP)

“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,” Mr Costello said.

Mr Cohen, however, said earlier on Monday that he had “no doubt” that Trump gave him a final sign-off to make the payments to Ms Daniels.

In total, he said he spoke to Trump more than 20 times about the matter in October 2016.

After jurors left for the day on Monday, defence lawyers pressed the judge to throw out the charges before jurors even begin deliberating, arguing prosecutors have failed to prove their case.

The defence has suggested that Trump was trying to protect his family, not his campaign, by squelching what he says were false, scurrilous claims.

Defence lawyer Todd Blanche argued that there was nothing illegal about soliciting a tabloid’s help to run positive stories about Trump, run negative stories about his opponents and identify potentially damaging stories before they were published.

Former US president Donald Trump speaks to reporters alongside his lawyer Todd Blanche at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York
Former US president Donald Trump alongside his lawyer Todd Blanche at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York (Michael M Santiago/Pool Photo via AP)

No-one involved “had any criminal intent”, Mr Blanche said.

“How is keeping a false story from the voters criminal?” he asked.

Prosecutor Matthew Colangelo shot back that “the trial evidence overwhelmingly supports each element” of the alleged offences and said the case should proceed to the jury.

The judge did not immediately rule on the defence’s request.

Such long-shot requests are often made in criminal cases but are rarely granted.

By Press Association

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