Analysis: Costello's testimony backfired for the defense, legal experts say (2024)

12:37 p.m. ET, May 21, 2024

Analysis: Costello's testimony backfired for the defense, legal experts say

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

Robert Costello's testimony seemed to backfire for the defense, several legal experts said on CNN.

Costello's demeanor toward Judge Juan Merchan caused the courtroom to be cleared on Monday and his back and forth with prosecutors may not be working in the defense's favor.

“It’s just terrible the way it went down and the weird thing is is that Costello knows better, right?" David Oscar Markus, a criminal defense attorney, said. "He’s a lawyer, he’s been in that courtroom, that courthouse. He knows better so just an awful, awful day. And you know the defense took a big risk here and struck out very badly.”

CNN chief legal analyst Laura Coates noted Costello's purpose was to go after Michael Cohen's credibility by calling him a liar, but didn't succeed.

"The prosecutor is undermining through this," Coates said, “and not allowing him, frankly, on this very tight leash, to try to talk his way out of what the documents say. Now the idea, the color we had in the courtroom before about him telling her to ‘speak up, talk louder’ not going over maybe well with the juror,” Coates said.

“He is now not able to explain away what the documents say. That’s where you want your witness to be if you want to undermine them," she added.

The district attorney is "gradually but surely turning Bob Costello into a prosecution witness," CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig said, "because Costello is talking about a crucial moment in time" in April 2018 when the emails indicate Costello was trying to keep Cohen in the fold and not flip. “This shady effort to keep Michael Cohen from not flipping is coming back to the floor. It’s bad for the defense and good for the prosecution.”

William J. Brennan, former Trump Payroll Corp. attorney, also said that Costello's testimony is not in favor of the defense. “It’s just really sad for the defense that this is what we’re focused on now when you had a couple of days that don’t often happen in a criminal trial. You know Cohen was just, you know, a gift.”

Brennan continued, now they put Costello on, “he’s imploded, he fought with the judge, he’s dancing with her (Susan Hoffinger), it’s just not a great way to end.”

10:19 a.m. ET, May 21, 2024

The jury has left the courtroom

The jury has left the courtroom, and Judge Juan Merchan is off the bench.

"Thank you, I'll see you in a week," Merchan tells the jury as they depart.

Merchan says they would be back at 2:15 p.m. to discuss the charging instructions.

10:20 a.m. ET, May 21, 2024

Costello testified for 1 hour and 14 minutes

Robert Costello, a lawyer who advised Michael Cohen, testified for 1 hour and 14 minutes.

He was the final witness in Donald Trump's historic criminal hush money trial.

10:19 a.m. ET, May 21, 2024

Judge instructs jury on timing, saying best thing to do is adjourn for today and hear summations next Tuesday

Judge Juan Merchan is now instructing the jury on timing.

He says he expectsthe summations will take at least a day and he prefers not to break them up if possible.

There's no way to do this in a cohesive manner this week, Merchan says.

He says the best thing to do is adjourn now and hear summations on Tuesday.

"I've considered all the permutation … at the end of the day, I think the best thing that we can do is to adjourn now until next Tuesday. At that time you will hear summations from the attorneys. Probably Wendesday I’ll ask you to come in … hear jury charge and then I would expect that you will begin your deliberations hopefully at some point on Wednesday," Merchan says.

"It might be tempting to think now that both sides have rested you can kind of let up a bit, but in fact these instructions take on even greater significance," Merchan tells the jury of his instructions not to talk about or research the case.

He also asks them to think about if they can work late next Tuesday, since he's "not 100% sure we’re going to get both summations done by 4:30 (p.m. ET)."

10:14 a.m. ET, May 21, 2024

Prosecutors have no rebuttal witnesses

Prosecutors have no rebuttal witnesses.

"Nothing further judge," Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass says.

10:32 a.m. ET, May 21, 2024

Defense has rested their case

Trump attorney Todd Blanche has rested the defense's case.

"The defense rests," Blanche said.

The defense’s case lasted just over two hours compared to weeks for the prosecution.

While the prosecution called 20 witnesses to testify, the defense decided to call a paralegal from Blanche’s law firm for brief testimony before calling Cohen’s former legal advisor Robert Costello to rebuff some of Cohen’s testimony.

Despite repeatedly saying that he would be willing to testify in his own defense, Trump ultimately did not take the stand.

He is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records to cover up a hush money payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels shortly before the 2016 election.

Closing arguments are expected to take place next Tuesday, the day after Memorial Day weekend.

CNN's Laura Dolan contributed reporting to this post.

10:13 a.m. ET, May 21, 2024

Costello denies pressuring Michael Cohen "to do anything"

In a June 13, 2018, email that Trump attorney Emil Bove is reviewing, Robert Costello wrote: "You have the ability to make that communication when you want to. Whether you exercise that ability is totally up to you."

"Was that pressuring Michael Cohen to do anything?" Bove asks.
"No, not at all," Costello says.
"Did you ever pressure Michael Cohen to do anything," Bove asks.
"I did not," Costello says.
"Did you ever have control over Michael Cohen?" Bove asks
"Clearly no," Costello says.

More context: Trump’s attorneys called Costello to the stand as a way to try to rebut Cohen’s testimony about the pressure he was receiving in 2018 when theFBI searched his home and office.

Costello advised Cohen in the weeks after the search, though Cohen did not sign a retainer agreement and did not pay Costello, who touted in email communications his close connections withRudy Giuliani. The former New York mayor also joined Trump’s legal team in 2018.

10:11 a.m. ET, May 21, 2024

Costello testifies Giuliani first brought up the word "backchannel"

Trump attorney Emil Bove is now asking Robert Costello about the "backchannel" email.

Bove asks, "Who first used the word backchannel?"

Costello says, "Rudy Giuliani, in response to my telling him we couldn’t make this public because that’s what Michael Cohen said to me."

Prosecutor Susan Hoffinger a bit earlier asked Costello if he was pushing Michael Cohen to retain him because he could provide a backchannel to Trump, which Costello denied.

Costello says they'd let Trump's inner circle know through the backchannel that Costello would represent Cohen, but Cohen expressed concern, saying, "We don’t want to go public with this, it would cause a press uproar."

Bove confirms with Costello that the first mention about a backchannel was sent in an email the day after Costello told his son he'd be representing Cohen, showing him the statement Cohen was set to release.

Analysis: Costello's testimony backfired for the defense, legal experts say (2024)


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