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Trump Trial Chaos as Judge Clears Court and Cohen Cops to Stealing

Theft and theater as courtroom drama unfolds.

A tumultuous court session on Monday, May 20, saw one witness for the prosecution against former President Donald Trump admit to massive theft and a witness for the defense berated by the presiding judge. With one week to go in this historic trial and a motion to dismiss the case entirely under review by the judge, the grand finale of the only case against Trump likely to be determined before the November election has viewers spellbound.

Attorney Robert Costello made headlines a week ago as a star witness before Congress, testifying about Michael Cohen’s lies. Monday in the Trump trial over Stormy Daniels payouts, Costello caused a different scene entirely. Judge Juan Merchan first dismissed the jury and then later cleared the courtroom to rebuke Costello. Before those fireworks, however, Mr. Cohen’s fraud and theft against Trump were discussed in greater detail on cross-examination. We learned about Cohen’s millions “earned” from exploiting his relationship with Trump for financial gain, then turning on him and selling appearances criticizing his former client.

Crime Does Pay, For Some

First up was Micheal Cohen’s continued cross-examination by the defense. He admitted to stealing $30,000 from Trump after claiming he was using the money to pay a delinquent bill to technology services company Red Finch. Cohen collected $50,000 from Trump for the payment but only handed over $20,000.

After having Cohen affirm that he did, indeed, steal money from the Trump Organization, Trump attorney Todd Blanche asked whether he had “been prosecuted for larceny or even made to pay it back?” “No sir,” Cohen replied.

New banner Legal Affairs with ScottWhat’s icing on the cake was why he was collecting the debt – Red Finch’s CEO was his friend. With friends like Cohen…. The disgraced and disbarred former lawyer admitted to stealing from both Red Finch and Trump. This revelation can’t be understated in what it reveals about the prosecution. Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg – who structured and brought the case – is a Democrat accused by Trump and others of waging lawfare, using the power of the office to punish a political enemy rather than seek justice. Cohen’s frank admission lays bare that Bragg ignored a massive fraud involving multiple victims, including Donald Trump, to convict the former president of mislabeling settlement payments.

Next up was Robert Costello, the lawyer, who is a former federal prosecutor in Manhattan. He is a Trump ally and was Cohen’s attorney for a time, but he got stiffed on his bill. Costello has been telling anyone who will listen that Cohen is lying about much of his testimony, including Trump’s knowledge of the Stormy Daniels payoff, much less agreeing to it.

Combative Testimony

Matthew Russell Lee, an attorney and independent reporter for his Inner City Press, was in the courtroom as he has been since the start. He said of Costello, “his direct examination was like nothing I’ve ever seen.” Mr. Costello’s testimony was allowed only in a narrow range, and “almost everything was objected to, and almost everything was sustained.” But Costello did not testify within the bounds established by Merchan, answering questions that were deemed out of order by the judge:

“He would then answer the question, then they would say ‘stricken,’ and then finally, he was asked a question; Hoffinger, the prosecutor objected, Judge Merchan said, ‘sustained’ and, Bob Costello said, ‘Jeez.’

That’s what set things on the path to the courtroom clearing. After a subsequent question, Courthouse News Service (CNS) reported Costello exhibited a “loud exhale.” It set Merchan off. The judge dismissed the jury to admonish the witness, and when they cleared out, he said, “I’d like to discuss proper decorum in my courtroom. When you’re a witness on my stand, if you don’t like my ruling, you don’t say, ‘Geez,’ you don’t give me side-eye, and you don’t roll your eyes, okay?” Costello audibly agreed but communicated something else entirely with a glare to the bench.

Out of order!

Merchan was about to bring the jury back when he took exception to Costello’s gaze. “Are you staring me down? Clear the courtroom!” Merchan ordered the public and the press out in an extraordinary move to double down, bringing Costello to the woodshed.

Judges tend to see themselves as kings and queens in their courtrooms. While they brush back insolence and disrespect with regularity, clearing a courtroom like this is a rarity usually reserved for dramatic scenes in fictional stories. What might Merchan have said to Costello? With any run-of-the-mill witness, a judge may threaten a contempt finding with a fine and jail. As an attorney who practices in the same judicial district, however, Costello is entirely in a different box. He could be threatened with a complaint to the bar or an attempt to restrict his right to appear in federal courts in that district.

CNS said, “When reporters were allowed back inside, Costello stared blankly forward, slumped in the witness chair.”

In other news, the trial was extended a week. Merchan previously announced the likely end of the trial on Tuesday, May 21. Now, closing arguments are scheduled for Tuesday, May 28, after the long Memorial Day weekend. Lawyers for Mr. Trump have submitted a motion to dismiss the case before it reaches the jury, arguing that Mr. Cohen’s testimony as the star witness is not credible. Judge Merchan has not yet ruled on this motion.

Read More From Scott D. Cosenza, Esq.

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