Donald Trump speaks to the media before entering the courtroom...

Donald Trump speaks to the media before entering the courtroom at Manhattan Criminal Court on Monday. Credit: Pool/Sarah Yenesel

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office rested its case on Monday against former President Donald Trump for allegedly falsifying business records in an attempt to cover up a hush money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels in an attempt to sway the 2016 presidential election.

The most dramatic moment of the day, however, came when Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan dressed down defense witness Robert Costello, a high-profile Nassau County criminal lawyer, for making comments on the judge’s rulings.

Trump’s legal defense team put Costello, who has represented Leona Helmsley, George Steinbrenner and Rudy Giuliani, on the witness stand to rebut testimony from the prosecution that he was part of the former president’s intimidation campaign. Prosecutors had submitted emails into evidence that they say showed Costello urging Michael Cohen, who testified he set up the hush money arrangement, not to cooperate with a federal investigation into campaign finance law violations related to the Daniels payment.

During direct examination, Costello made his contempt for the judge clear when he muttered “ridiculous” after the judge sustained one objection and "jeez" after another. The Long Island lawyer also answered questions after the judge ordered him not to.

Finally, Merchan, clearly annoyed with the witness, ordered the jury out of the room and said, “I wanted to discuss proper decorum in my courtroom.

“If you don't like my ruling, you don't say 'Jeez,' you don't say 'Strike it,' because I'm the only one who can strike testimony in the court. If you don't like my ruling, you don't give me side-eye and you don't roll your eyes.”

Costello, who seemed not to hear the judge though they were feet apart, finally turned to look at Merchan as he spoke.

At that point, the judge exploded.

“Are you staring me down right now?” Merchan said, raising his voice.

The judge then ordered the courtroom cleared, though members of Trump’s entourage, including disgraced former New York City Correction Commissioner Bernie Kerik, actor and former Hell’s Angel leader Chuck Zito and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, were allowed to stay.

After about five minutes, the media was allowed to return to the courtroom, and Costello continued his testimony without any gestures or asides.

Transcripts released later showed the judge threatened to remove Costello from the courtroom.

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

Then, addressing defense lawyer Emil Bove, who was conducting the direct questioning, the judge said, “I will strike his entire testimony; do you understand me?”

Bove said he understood.

When Costello tried to speak, asking, “Can I say something, please?” Merchan replied, “No, no. This is not a conversation.” 

In his testimony, Costello, a former supervisor in the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office, denied Cohen’s earlier testimony that Costello pressured the former fixer to hire him as a defense lawyer to act as a back channel to Trump, then president.

Outside the courtroom, after testimony concluded for the day, Trump called the judge a “tyrant.”

“The press, I imagine, is not happy they just got thrown out of a courthouse. Nobody's ever seen anything like it,” he said. “You saw what happened to a highly respected lawyer today, Bob Costello. Wow. I’ve never seen anything like that.”

Earlier in the day, Cohen’s testimony capped weeks of the prosecution’s case in which prosecutors elicited testimony from National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, Daniels and Keith Davidson, a Los Angeles lawyer who specialized in representing celebrities.

The former president was charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records to cover up reimbursements he paid to Cohen, a Lawrence native, who shelled out $130,000 to Daniels a month before the 2016 presidential election in exchange for her silence about a tryst she had with the former president.

The charges have been upgraded to felony-level crimes because the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office argued they were part of a conspiracy to cover up another crime — conspiracy to promote an election by unlawful means.

Trump has pleaded not guilty and his lawyers filed their third motion on Monday to dismiss the case.

Defense lawyer Todd Blanche argued that there was insufficient evidence to support the charges because Cohen provided legitimate services, the relationship between Trump and Cohen was personal and there was no conspiracy or underlying attempt to sway the election.

“There’s no evidence that the business records were false,” Blanche said, adding, “The underlying predicate that makes this misdemeanor a felony — there’s simply no evidence of a conspiracy.”

Prosecutor Matthew Colangelo countered that the evidence was clear that the former president was part of the effort to hide his affair from the voting public ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

“As a matter of law, it’s more than sufficiency that the defendant set in motion a series of events that led to the false business entries,” he said.

Merchan said that he would rule on the defense motion on Tuesday.

On Monday, Cohen’s fourth day of testimony, Blanche sought to further discredit the Manhattan district attorney’s star witness by painting him as a serial liar and perjurer.

Additionally, Blanche got Cohen to admit that he stole $30,000 from the Trump Organization when he was reimbursed $50,000 for payments to a computer services company called Red Finch.

What appeared to be a major blow to Cohen’s reputation was muted by the full explanation that Cohen gave for the payment.

Trump had contracted with Red Finch to influence an online poll conducted by CNBC on the most famous business owners in the last century, according to Cohen.

“At the beginning of the poll, he was polling at the bottom of the list and it upset him,” the former lawyer testified. “We reached out to Red Finch, who created an algorithm to make sure that Trump would rise through this poll. We discussed where he wanted to finish. He, of course, wanted to be Number 1.”

Ultimately, Cohen testified, Trump landed ninth in the polling and refused to pay the company.

The trial will continue on Tuesday with Costello being cross-examined by prosecutors. Defense lawyers said they expect to rest their case on Tuesday as well.

Closing arguments are not scheduled until after Memorial Day, meaning deliberations and the verdict will not come until next week.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office rested its case on Monday against former President Donald Trump for allegedly falsifying business records in an attempt to cover up a hush money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels in an attempt to sway the 2016 presidential election.

The most dramatic moment of the day, however, came when Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan dressed down defense witness Robert Costello, a high-profile Nassau County criminal lawyer, for making comments on the judge’s rulings.

Trump’s legal defense team put Costello, who has represented Leona Helmsley, George Steinbrenner and Rudy Giuliani, on the witness stand to rebut testimony from the prosecution that he was part of the former president’s intimidation campaign. Prosecutors had submitted emails into evidence that they say showed Costello urging Michael Cohen, who testified he set up the hush money arrangement, not to cooperate with a federal investigation into campaign finance law violations related to the Daniels payment.

During direct examination, Costello made his contempt for the judge clear when he muttered “ridiculous” after the judge sustained one objection and "jeez" after another. The Long Island lawyer also answered questions after the judge ordered him not to.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Manhattan prosecutors rested their case on Monday against former President Donald Trump for allegedly falsifying business records in an attempt to cover up a hush money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels in an attempt to sway the 2016 presidential election.
  • Earlier in the day, Trump's former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen’s testimony capped weeks of the prosecution’s case in which they elicited testimony from National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, Daniels and Keith Davidson, a Los Angeles lawyer for celebrities.
  • Trump has pleaded not guilty and his lawyers filed their third motion on Monday to dismiss the case.

Finally, Merchan, clearly annoyed with the witness, ordered the jury out of the room and said, “I wanted to discuss proper decorum in my courtroom.

“If you don't like my ruling, you don't say 'Jeez,' you don't say 'Strike it,' because I'm the only one who can strike testimony in the court. If you don't like my ruling, you don't give me side-eye and you don't roll your eyes.”

Costello, who seemed not to hear the judge though they were feet apart, finally turned to look at Merchan as he spoke.

At that point, the judge exploded.

“Are you staring me down right now?” Merchan said, raising his voice.

The judge then ordered the courtroom cleared, though members of Trump’s entourage, including disgraced former New York City Correction Commissioner Bernie Kerik, actor and former Hell’s Angel leader Chuck Zito and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, were allowed to stay.

After about five minutes, the media was allowed to return to the courtroom, and Costello continued his testimony without any gestures or asides.

Transcripts released later showed the judge threatened to remove Costello from the courtroom.

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

Then, addressing defense lawyer Emil Bove, who was conducting the direct questioning, the judge said, “I will strike his entire testimony; do you understand me?”

Bove said he understood.

When Costello tried to speak, asking, “Can I say something, please?” Merchan replied, “No, no. This is not a conversation.” 

In his testimony, Costello, a former supervisor in the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office, denied Cohen’s earlier testimony that Costello pressured the former fixer to hire him as a defense lawyer to act as a back channel to Trump, then president.

Outside the courtroom, after testimony concluded for the day, Trump called the judge a “tyrant.”

“The press, I imagine, is not happy they just got thrown out of a courthouse. Nobody's ever seen anything like it,” he said. “You saw what happened to a highly respected lawyer today, Bob Costello. Wow. I’ve never seen anything like that.”

Earlier in the day, Cohen’s testimony capped weeks of the prosecution’s case in which prosecutors elicited testimony from National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, Daniels and Keith Davidson, a Los Angeles lawyer who specialized in representing celebrities.

The former president was charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records to cover up reimbursements he paid to Cohen, a Lawrence native, who shelled out $130,000 to Daniels a month before the 2016 presidential election in exchange for her silence about a tryst she had with the former president.

The charges have been upgraded to felony-level crimes because the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office argued they were part of a conspiracy to cover up another crime — conspiracy to promote an election by unlawful means.

Trump has pleaded not guilty and his lawyers filed their third motion on Monday to dismiss the case.

Defense lawyer Todd Blanche argued that there was insufficient evidence to support the charges because Cohen provided legitimate services, the relationship between Trump and Cohen was personal and there was no conspiracy or underlying attempt to sway the election.

“There’s no evidence that the business records were false,” Blanche said, adding, “The underlying predicate that makes this misdemeanor a felony — there’s simply no evidence of a conspiracy.”

Prosecutor Matthew Colangelo countered that the evidence was clear that the former president was part of the effort to hide his affair from the voting public ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

“As a matter of law, it’s more than sufficiency that the defendant set in motion a series of events that led to the false business entries,” he said.

Merchan said that he would rule on the defense motion on Tuesday.

On Monday, Cohen’s fourth day of testimony, Blanche sought to further discredit the Manhattan district attorney’s star witness by painting him as a serial liar and perjurer.

Additionally, Blanche got Cohen to admit that he stole $30,000 from the Trump Organization when he was reimbursed $50,000 for payments to a computer services company called Red Finch.

What appeared to be a major blow to Cohen’s reputation was muted by the full explanation that Cohen gave for the payment.

Trump had contracted with Red Finch to influence an online poll conducted by CNBC on the most famous business owners in the last century, according to Cohen.

“At the beginning of the poll, he was polling at the bottom of the list and it upset him,” the former lawyer testified. “We reached out to Red Finch, who created an algorithm to make sure that Trump would rise through this poll. We discussed where he wanted to finish. He, of course, wanted to be Number 1.”

Ultimately, Cohen testified, Trump landed ninth in the polling and refused to pay the company.

The trial will continue on Tuesday with Costello being cross-examined by prosecutors. Defense lawyers said they expect to rest their case on Tuesday as well.

Closing arguments are not scheduled until after Memorial Day, meaning deliberations and the verdict will not come until next week.

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