dramatic-day-in-court-as-defense-begins-to-present-case-in-trump-trial

Dramatic day in court as defense begins to present case in Trump trial

Politics
7:31 p.m. ET, May 20, 2024

Key takeaways from Donald Trump’s hush money trial as the prosecution rests its case

From CNN’s Jeremy Herb, Lauren del Valle and Kara Scannell

Former US President Donald Trump and attorney Todd Blanche speak to the press before departing Manhattan criminal court in New York, on Monday, May 20.
Former US President Donald Trump and attorney Todd Blanche speak to the press before departing Manhattan criminal court in New York, on Monday, May 20. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

The prosecution rested its case against Donald J. Trump on Monday in the former president’s hush money trial, which is barreling toward a conclusion as soon as next week. Michael Cohen’s testimony wrapped up after four days — and 17 hours — on the witness stand.

It wasn’t long after the defense began its case for things to get heated. Judge Juan Merchan admonished a witness for the defense, Robert Costello, after he audibly complained when the judge sustained objections to the questions he was being asked.

Here are the key takeaways:

  • Prosecution rests: Prosecutors from the Manhattan district attorney’s office rested their case after calling 20 witnesses over 15 days, including Cohen, Stormy Daniels, former Trump aide Hope Hicks and ex-publisher of the National Enquirer David Pecker. Cohen was the key witness, accusing his former boss of directing him to pay Daniels’ attorney in October 2016 and approving the reimbursement plan at the heart of the criminal case. Prosecutors also introduced a host of evidence to try to corroborate his allegations.
  • Defense witness infuriates the judge: Trump’s attorneys called Costello as a way to try to rebut Cohen’s testimony about the pressure he was receiving in 2018 when the FBI searched his home and office. Costello described his initial 2018 meeting with Cohen, in which he said Cohen told him, “I don’t have anything on Donald Trump.” But once on the stand, Costello quickly got on the wrong side of the judge, audibly protesting the sustained objections. “Ridiculous,” he could be heard saying while the attorneys approached the judge after one objection. He later let out an audible “jeez” following the judge’s ruling.
  • Trial endgame comes into focus: Trump’s side began its defense case Monday afternoon — and appears likely to rest on Tuesday. The defense first called a paralegal to introduce call records between Cohen and Costello, before Costello took the stand. He’s expected to be off the stand by mid-morning Tuesday, and Trump’s attorneys said that — as of now — they don’t plan to call any other witnesses after him. Merchan said he expects to have closings next Tuesday. Once the defense rests its case, he will hold a conference with the two parties to discuss the instructions the judge will give to the jury before deliberations.
7:58 p.m. ET, May 20, 2024

“If you try to stare me down one more time, I will remove you from the stand,” judge tells defense witness

From CNN’s Michelle Watson

The transcripts from Day 19 of Donald Trump’s hush money criminal trial give a little more detail about what happened between Judge Juan Merchan and Michael Cohen’s former legal adviser, Bob Costello, who was the defense’s second witness on Monday. 

“Sir, your conduct is contemptuous right now,” Merchan told Costello after the courtroom was cleared, according to the transcript.
“I’m putting you on notice that your conduct is contemptuous,” Merchan said. “If you try to stare me down one more time, I will remove you from the stand.”

“I will strike his entire testimony; do you understand me?” Merchan then asked Trump defense attorney Emil Bove.

“Yes, Judge. I understand,” Bove responded.

The transcript also notes that court officers had “great difficulty” clearing the courtroom, which is “made up primarily of the press.”

Merchan acknowledged that and said, “I can appreciate that the press wants to be present for every part of these proceedings, therefore, this record is not sealed. The press will have access to this record.” 

1:24 p.m. ET, May 21, 2024

Here are the witnesses who have testified so far in the Trump hush money trial

From CNN staff

Donald Trump’s longtime assistant, the former banker of Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen and adult film actress Stormy Daniels are among witnesses who have taken the stand so far in the hush money trial.

As of Monday evening, here’s everybody we’ve heard from so far:

  • David Pecker — the former CEO of American Media Inc., the National Enquirer’s parent company — was the first witness called to testify. After more than 10 hours of testimony across four days, he offered illuminating details into how the infamous tabloid operated and conducted so-called “catch and kill” operations.
  • Rhona Graff, Trump’s longtime assistant at the Trump Organization, was called to testify briefly on April 26.
  • Gary Farro, the former banker of Cohen, walked the jury through Cohen’s bank activity around the payment to Daniels.
  • Dr. Robert Browning, the executive director of C-SPAN archives, was called so prosecutors could use his testimony to get records into evidence.
  • Phillip Thompson, a director at a court reporting company, testified about how depositions work.
  • Keith Davidson, the former lawyer for model and actress Karen McDougal as well as for Daniels, was on the stand for nearly six hours over two days.
  • Douglas Daus works for the Manhattan District Attorney’s High Technology Analysis Unit, and was assigned to analyze two iPhones that belonged to Cohen in the investigation related to Trump. They were obtained via a search warrant. Daus testified about the “unusual” amount of contacts and other things he found on Cohen’s phone.
  • Hope Hicks, Trump’s longtime former aide, testified for a little less than three hours about her role as Trump’s 2016 campaign press secretary, the aftermath of the “Access Hollywood” tape release and Cohen’s payment to Daniels.
  • Jeffrey McConney, a former Trump Organization controller, testified about how Cohen’s payments were listed in Trump’s financial documents.
  • Deborah Tarasoff, the accounts payable supervisor in the accounting department at the Trump Organization, explained how checks were cut to Cohen in 2017 and testified that invoices over $10,000 had to be approved by Trump or one of his sons.
  • Sally Franklin, the senior vice president and executive managing editor for Penguin Random House publishing group, testified for 46 minutes. Prosecutors used her testimony to enter excerpts from Trump’s books into evidence. 
  • Stormy Daniels, who’s at the center of the hush money case, was on the stand for six hours and 10 minutes over two days of testimony. Daniels walked the jury through details about her alleged sexual encounter with Trump in 2006 and the $130,000 hush money payment from Trump’s ex-attorney Michael Cohen shortly before the 2016 election. Trump attorney Susan Necheles hammered down on Daniels in cross-examination to establish some of the ways she gained publicity and money from her story going public.
  • Rebecca Manochio, a junior bookkeeper at the Trump Organization, testified for about 35 minutes. The prosecution used Manochio to submit invoices, documents and emails as evidence.
  • Tracey Menzies, the senior vice president of production and creative operations at Harper Collins, spoke about one of the books Donald Trump co-authored, “Think Big: Make It Happen in Business and Life,” by Trump and Bill Zanker and read excerpts from the book.
  • Madeleine Westerhout, a former personal assistant to Trump at the White House, detailed how the president preferred to work, his attention to detail and the reaction to the “Access Hollywood” tape.
  • Daniel Dixon, an AT&T lead compliance analyst. He was used to enter phone records into evidence.
  • Jennie Tomalin, Verizon senior analyst in executive relations, was also called to the stand to enter evidence into the records.
  • Georgia Longstreet, who testified on May 3 and May 10, gave evidence about social media posts and text messages.
  • Jaden Jarmel-Schneider, another paralegal from the Manhattan district attorney’s office, testified about analyzing phone records entered into evidence on May 10.
  • Michael Cohen, former Trump attorney, is at the center of the hush money payment, and hence, was a key witness for the prosecution.
  • Daniel Sitko, a paralegal in Trump attorney Todd Blanche’s law firm, was the defense’s first witness and submitted a phone chart into evidence.
  • Robert Costello, an attorney connected with Michael Cohen was the second defense witness. Trump’s attorneys have indicated he will be their final witness.
6:28 p.m. ET, May 20, 2024

Robert Costello declines to comment about his behavior on the stand Monday  

From CNN’s Paula Reid 

Former Michael Cohen adviser Robert Costello declined to comment about his behavior on the stand Monday.

Judge Juan Merchan had asked Costello not to talk about the case. 

Merchan cleared the courtroom about 14 minutes into Costello’s testimony over “proper decorum in my courtroom.” 

Costello could be overheard saying “ridiculous” while attorneys were at a sidebar and later let out a “jeez” over an objection. After another sustained objection, Costello made an audible sigh and rolled his eyes, side-glancing at the judge. 

CNN’s Kara Scannell, Lauren del Valle and Jeremy Herb contributed reporting to this post.

6:22 p.m. ET, May 20, 2024

The hush money cases is only one of the 4 criminal indictments Trump faces

From CNN’s Devan Cole, Amy O’Kruk and Curt Merrill 

The hush money criminal case against former President Donald Trump is just one of four criminal cases he faces while juggling his presidential campaign.

The former president faces at least 88 charges over the four criminal indictments in Georgia, New York, Washington, DC, and Florida. Trump has pleaded not guilty to every charge in these cases. 

Here’s a recap of each case: 

  • Hush money: Trump was first indicted in March 2023 by the Manhattan district attorney on state charges related to a hush-money payment to an adult film star in 2016. Prosecutors allege Trump was part of an illegal conspiracy to undermine the integrity of the 2016 election. Further, they allege he was part of an unlawful plan to suppress negative information, including the $130,000 payment. 
  • Classified documents: Trump was indicted in June 2023 by a federal grand jury in Miami for taking classified national defense documents from the White House after he left office and resisting the government’s attempts to retrieve the materials. The National Archives said in early 2022 that at least 15 boxes of White House records were recovered from the estate, including some that were classified. The charges were brought by special counsel Jack Smith. However, Judge Aileen Cannon has indefinitely postponed the trial, citing significant issues around classified evidence that would need to be worked out before the federal criminal case goes to a jury.
  • Federal election interference: Smith separately charged the former president last August with four crimes over his efforts to reverse the 2020 election results. The indictment alleges Trump and a co-conspirator “attempted to exploit the violence and chaos at the Capitol by calling lawmakers to convince them … to delay the certification” of the election. That case is currently on hold as the Supreme Court weighs Trump’s claims of presidential immunity in the matter. The court held a hearing on the issue of immunity in late April. Every day the court doesn’t issue a decision will play into Trump’s strategy of delay, jeopardizing the likelihood that Smith can bring his case to trial before the November election. 
  • Fulton County: State prosecutors in Georgia brought a similar election subversion case against Trump and others. An Atlanta-based grand jury on August 14, 2023, indicted Trump and 18 others on state charges stemming from their alleged efforts to overturn the former president’s 2020 electoral defeat. A trial date has not yet been set in that case, and the Georgia Court of Appeals will consider an effort by Trump and his co-defendants to disqualify District Attorney Fani Willis from the case.

Read more about the four criminal cases Trump faces. 

6:03 p.m. ET, May 20, 2024

Michael Cohen finishes testimony and defense calls first witnesses. Catch up on a dramatic day in court

From CNN’s Elise Hammond

The prosecution rested its case in the hush money trial against Donald Trump on Monday.

The day started with Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, back on the stand as the defense finished its cross-examination and the prosecution worked to patch up doubts on redirect. Cohen admitted to stealing from the Trump Organization and was grilled about his financial interest in the trial.

The defense then called its first witness, Daniel Sitko, a paralegal for defense attorney Todd Blanche, to submit a phone chart into evidence. The calls in the chart were between Cohen and his former legal adviser, Bob Costello.

Costello was then called to the stand as the defense’s second witness.

Here’s a recap of what happened in court today:

Michael Cohen:

  • October call: Cohen maintained that he only spoke to Trump on the phone on an October 26 call about the hush money payment to Stormy Daniels. Cohen said he remembers it “because it was important to me.” Last week, Trump Attorney Todd Blanche confronted Cohen with text messages he sent to Keith Schiller two days before on October 24 – whom Cohen had said put Trump on the phone – which were unrelated to the Daniels payment.
  • On re-direct: Prosecutor Susan Hoffinger asked Cohen if it was possible that he spoke to Trump about the Daniels payment and brought up other topics in October 2016. Cohen confirmed it was possible.
  • Stealing from the Trump Organization: The payments at the center of the case concern the $420,000 Trump paid Cohen throughout 2017. Documents show some of that money was to reimburse Cohen for unrelated tech services to a company called Red Finch. Cohen testified Monday he only paid back Red Finch $20,000 and kept the rest for himself. “So, you stole from the Trump Organization,” Blanche said. Cohen answered, “Yes sir.”
  • On re-direct: He said he took part of the money intended for Red Finch because “it was almost like self-help.” Cohen confirmed that he did not have a retainer agreement and the $420,000 did not have anything to do with any legal work.
  • Other money-making opportunities: Cohen said he made $4 million in 2017 from six other consulting clients that he did “not specifically tell” Trump about. He said he was Trump’s personal attorney at that time. Cohen also said he made about $4.4 million from podcasts and books since 2020. He also testified that he has a “financial interest” in the outcome of the case but that he will talk about whether Trump is convicted or not.
  • After the Daniels payment: When the payment to Daniels became public, Cohen testified that he told multiple people and reporters that Trump knew nothing about it. Cohen has been testifying that Trump knew about the payment and that he kept his boss updated.
  • On re-direct: Cohen testified that a 2018 letter to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and a 2018 public statement were misleading because they left out Trump personally. Cohen said Trump approved the substance of the false statements. He also told prosecutors that he would not have paid Daniels if Trump had not signed off.
  • Cohen and Costello: Blanche pressed Cohen on his relationship with Bob Costello, trying to argue that Cohen was working with him more than he was letting on. After Cohen was raided by the FBI, he testified Costello wanted him to speak to Rudy Giuliani. He had testified during the prosecution’s direct questioning that Costello offered him back-channel communication to Trump through Giuliani. On cross-examination, Blanche pointed out that it was Cohen who was asking Costello to go to Giuliani for information.

Bob Costello called for the defense:

What happens next: The prosecution will continue its cross-examination of Costello on Tuesday. Hoffinger said she has up to 45 minutes left of questioning and then the defense will have the opportunity to conduct re-direct. Bove said the defense doesn’t expect to call any more witnesses, which suggests at this point Trump will not testify in his own defense. Merchan said he expects closing arguments will be next Tuesday.

5:37 p.m. ET, May 20, 2024

Trump praises witness Bob Costello in remarks outside court room

From CNN’s Aditi Sangal

Former President Donald Trump praised Bob Costello in his remarks after court wrapped for the day.

“You saw what happened to a highly respected lawyer today, Bob Costello. Wow. I’ve never seen anything like that,” he said.

This raises the possibility of Trump running afoul of the gag order he is under by talking about a witness.

What happened: Bob Costello, the defense’s witness, is a lawyer who advised Michael Cohen. During his testimony, Costello could be overheard making comments while attorneys were at a sidebar, and over objections, and glaring and rolling his eyes at Judge Juan Merchan. The judge cleared the courtroom mid-testimony to address “proper decorum”

5:33 p.m. ET, May 20, 2024

Trump says judge can get “respect” back if he dismisses the case

From CNN’s Aditi Sangal

Former President Donald Trump speaks outside of court on Monday, May 20.
Former President Donald Trump speaks outside of court on Monday, May 20. Pool

Former President Donald Trump called the hush money criminal trial a “witch hunt” on Monday after court wrapped.

He also said he hoped that Judge Juan Merchan grants the motion to dismiss the trial. “This case should be dropped by the judge,” he added, saying if Merchan did that, he could “gain the respect back.”

Trump also highlighted commentary from some conservatives that questions and dismisses the merits of the case.

5:05 p.m. ET, May 20, 2024

Trump is still writing as his lawyers pack up

Trump is still writing as his lawyers are packing up. He’s got a note he’d folded earlier, too.