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Trump defense rests at New York hush money trial, ex-president doesn’t testify

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Former U.S. President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom at Manhattan Criminal Court with attorney Todd Blanche on May 21, 2024 in New York City. 

Michael M. Santiago | Reuters

Defense lawyers for Donald Trump rested their case at his criminal hush money trial Tuesday without calling the former president to testify.

Trump’s decision not to take the witness stand was not a surprise, as testifying carries serious risks for any criminal defendant, particularly one with a tendency to speak off the cuff and undercut his prior statements, as he has shown in testimony in other, civil matters.

Trump had previously said he was “absolutely” willing to testify in the case, where he is accused of falsifying business records related to reimbursing his then-personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen for paying porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet about an alleged sexual tryst with Trump.

“Your honor, the defense rests,” Trump’s lawyer Todd Blanche told Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Juan Merchan.

Trump’s attorneys said they were done presenting testimony and evidence to the jury after they finished questioning criminal defense lawyer Robert Costello, who was one of only two people they called to the witness stand.

Robert Costello is cross examined by prosecutor Susan Hoffinger during former U.S. President Donald Trump’s criminal trial on charges that he falsified business records to conceal money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016, in Manhattan state court in New York City, U.S. May 21, 2024 in this courtroom sketch. 

Jane Rosenberg | Reuters

Closing arguments in the case are scheduled to begin May 28.

The former president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., when asked by reporters later why his father did not testify said, “Why would you justify this insanity?”

“Look at the clowns that they put on there,” the younger Trump said, referring to prosecution witnesses. “You don’t subject yourself to that nonsense. You’re going into a kangaroo court. There is nothing more, nothing less. There’d be absolutely no reason, no justification to do that whatsoever.”

Trump is the first U.S. president, former or otherwise, ever to stand trial in a criminal case.

The Republican faces criminal prosecutions in three other jurisdictions while headed toward a rematch this November of his 2020 election contest against President Joe Biden.

Merchan on Monday afternoon had sharply warned Costello, a former federal prosecutor, for glaring at the judge and muttering in disdain when Merchan upheld objections from prosecutors.

“I’m putting you on notice that your conduct is contemptuous now,” Merchan told Costello, after clearing the courtroom of most of the public and press.

“If you stare me down one more time, I will remove you from the stand,” Merchan warned, according to a transcript.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump watches as Robert Costello is cross examined by prosecutor Susan Hoffinger during Trump’s criminal trial on charges that he falsified business records to conceal money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016, in Manhattan state court in New York City, U.S. May 21, 2024 in this courtroom sketch. 

Jane Rosenberg | Reuters

Costello testified about his dealings with Cohen in early 2018, after Cohen’s home and offices were raided by the FBI for a criminal probe that included investigating his payment two years earlier to Daniels.

Cohen has said he paid Daniels to keep her quiet about the purported encounter with Trump in 2006 to keep her from damaging Trump’s chances in the 2016 presidential election.

More news on Donald Trump

Trump, who denies having sex with Daniels and with a Playboy model who separately got hush money from a supermarket tabloid publisher friendly with him, is charged in the criminal case with falsifying business records related to reimbursing Cohen for the payment.

Trump’s lawyers have used Costello’s testimony to try to undermine Cohen’s credibility to jurors.

This is developing news. Check back for updates.

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