Conclusions from the last day of testimony in the criminal trial against Donald Trump

(CNN) — After about 90 minutes of testimony, the defense closed its case Tuesday for hush money in Donald Trump's criminal trial without the former president taking the stand.

Trump's lawyers called two witnesses: Robert Costello, a lawyer involved in negotiations with Michael Cohen after FBI raids of his home and office in 2018, introduced phone records as evidence.

Publicly, Trump has left open the possibility of testifying in his own defense, but his lawyers have always seemed to rule out that possibility.

In the end, Cohen was the defense's most important witness, testifying in the prosecution's case, but was subjected to cross-examination that lasted more than eight hours over three days.

The jury will now have a week off for Memorial Day, and closing arguments are scheduled for next Tuesday. The verdict is likely to be announced by the end of next week.

Here are the results of testimony on the final day of Trump's trial:

Trump didn't take a stand

In recent months, Trump has repeatedly indicated that he is taking a stand on his own defense.

“Well, I'll do it,” Trump said in an interview with Newsmax on April 25.

“Probably yes, I would, I mean, I think so,” Trump told a Wisconsin television station on May 7.

But on Tuesday, Trump's chance to testify came and went quickly, as attorney Todd Blanch told the judge as Costello left the stand: “The defense is there.”

In the end, there was little mystery about the outcome: Prosecutors and the judge had spent the past week calculating the deadline for the trial, assuming Trump would not testify.

Part of the reason Trump is not expected to take a stand is the scope of the question. Prosecutors asked the judge to allow the former president to be questioned about his alleged wrongdoings in other cases, undermining Trump's credibility as a witness.

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After a routine hearing about what would be allowed — known as the Sandoval hearing — a judge ruled last fall that lawyers would be allowed to question Trump about a $464 civil fraud judgment brought by the New York attorney general in a case involving two violations of the judge's gag order, two in the E. Jean Carroll defamation lawsuit. The rulings against Trump and Donald J. Trump's deal with the New York Attorney General led to the liquidation of the Trump Foundation.

(Credit: Jane Rosenberg)

Additionally, Trump will almost certainly be subject to questions related to the case, including his alleged affairs with Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougall.

All of this added up to the calculation by Trump and his lawyers that he was better off not taking the witness stand.

The most important defense is Cohen's cross-examination

The cross-examination of Cohen, the prosecution's final witness, lasted eight hours, four times longer than the entire defense briefing.

The contrast underscores Cohen's emphasis on the fact that the impeachment against Trump and defense efforts to discredit a former Trump adviser as a witness could be key to an acquittal or a hung jury.

Blanch sought to undermine Cohen's credibility, accusing him of fabricating his conversations with Trump, stealing from his former boss and continuing to lie after pleading guilty to perjury in 2018.

The most dramatic moment of cross-examination came when Cohen testified that Cohen called Trump on the phone at 8:02 p.m. on October 24, 2016, when Blanche called with Trump's bodyguard, Keith Schiller, and continued to pay Daniels.

But Blanch showed Cohen text messages he exchanged with Schiller before and after that call, showing him dealing with a young man who made prank calls and asked Schiller for help.

“That's a lie,” Blanche alleged of Cohen's testimony, which he talked about moving forward with a cash deal with Trump. “You were talking to Mr. Schiller about getting harassing calls from a 14-year-old boy, right?”

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“Part of it was that 14-year-old boy, but I know Keith was with Mr. Trump at the time, and there was more to it than that. That's what I remember based on the documents that I reviewed,” Cohen responded.

Prosecutors tried to legitimize Cohen's testimony by introducing a C-SPAN screenshot showing Trump leaving the stage of a Florida rally with Schiller five minutes before the call.

Prosecutor Susan Haffinger also tried to remind jurors that Trump, not Cohen, was on trial in the case.

“Now, after the cross-examination you might feel like you're on trial here. Are you really on trial here?” asked Haffinger.
“No, ma'am,” Cohen replied.

Blanch asked Judge Juan Merson to dismiss the case after prosecutors finished their case, a rare request by defendants. Blanch argued that Cohen lied in his testimony in this case and that it should be dismissed.

“So you want me to take it out of the jury's hands and decide before it goes to the jury that, as a matter of law, this person is so unreliable that he shouldn't be considered by the jury? What is that? You propose?” asked the merchant.

“All of his testimony shouldn't be considered by the jury. Of course. That's what we're asking the court to do,” Blanche replied.

Mercen is skeptical, then asks Blanche, “You said his lies were 'undeniable,' but do you think he's going to trick 12 New Yorkers into believing this lie?”

Are Trump's arguments against illegal immigration true?

Costello had a difficult experience

Trump's attorneys, who argued against prosecutors' efforts to prevent Costello from testifying, said Costello would deny prosecutors' contention that Trump launched a “pressure campaign” to intimidate Cohen in 2018.

Merchan ruled that Costello could testify, but said he would not allow the testimony to turn into a mini-trial about whether there was actually a pressure campaign on Cohen and how it affected Trump's former lawyer at the time.

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Trump's lawyer, Emil Bowe, tried to show that Cohen used Costello's legal services as a channel to communicate with Trump, although he never signed a retainer agreement and eventually went with another lawyer to handle his federal case.

In their first meeting, Costello said Cohen was “absolutely insane” and suicidal after an FBI raid on his property. According to Costello, Cohen said 10 to 12 times during the meeting: “I swear to God, Bob, I have nothing against Donald Trump.”

Costello's testimony to the jury on Monday quickly caused tension between Costello and the judge. Merson cleared the courtroom to reprimand Costello for gesturing and muttering about the judge's rulings, which limited what he could say on the stand.

Under cross-examination, Haffinger tried to discredit Costello, saying he was more aligned with Trump's interests than he was when he advised Cohen in the spring of 2018.

Haffinger suggested that Costello, who was in frequent contact with his close friend Rudy Giuliani, was part of a pressure campaign to keep Cohen in line. Costello acknowledged that Giuliani gave Cohen an unofficial channel with Trump, but said it was for Cohen's benefit.

Closing arguments are set for Tuesday

Both sides returned to court Tuesday afternoon, without jurors, to discuss instructions for the judge to give the jury before deliberations next week.

Merson chose a scheduling decision to avoid interrupting the final stages of the trial over the four-day Memorial Day weekend, when the court will be dark for a week.

Merson told jurors they will return next Tuesday for closing arguments expected to last all day. Once the jury's instructions are in, Trump's fate will be in their hands.

Eden Hayes

"Wannabe gamer. Subtly charming beer buff. General pop culture trailblazer. Incurable thinker. Certified analyst."

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