Wednesday, June 12, 2024

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Bombshell Photos Devastate Donald Trump’s Defense in Hush Money Trial

Trump advisor-turned-witness Robert Costello's defiant outbursts draw judge's wrath, damaging ex-president's defense.

Donald Trump hush money trial
Photo: Gage Skidmore

The high-stakes criminal trial of former President Donald Trump related to illegal hush money payments made to Stormy Daniels took a dramatic turn today as prosecutors sought to introduce a pivotal piece of photographic evidence undercutting the defense’s efforts to discredit the star witness, Michael Cohen.

On Friday, Trump’s defense attorney Todd Blanche launched a blistering attack on the credibility of star witness Michael Cohen. Blanche brandished text messages between Cohen and Trump’s former bodyguard Keith Schiller, alleging they contradicted Cohen’s testimony about a crucial phone call to discuss the hush money payment made to Stormy Daniels.

With tensions ratcheting up, Blanche shouted at Cohen, “That was a lie, you did not talk to President Trump, you talked to Keith Schiller — you can admit it!” 

However, Cohen remained poised and unflinching under the heated grilling. “No sir, I don’t know that it’s accurate. I believe I spoke to Mr. Trump,” he calmly countered, refusing to back down from his version of events. While acknowledging part of the call involved a teenager’s prank, Cohen stood firm that he would have immediately updated Trump as that was his standard practice, stating, “I knew that Keith was with Mr. Trump at the time and there was more potentially than this.”

Damning Photo Evidence Contradicts Trump Lawyer Claims

On Monday, prosecutor Susan Hoffinger moved to admit a still image from C-SPAN video archives showing Trump alongside his former bodyguard Keith Schiller moments before the phone call discussed on Friday. The image completely discredits the defense’s argument that Cohen only spoke with Schiller and Trump wasn’t present. 

The defense, led by Todd Blanche, fiercely objected, arguing that the image lacked proper authentication and amounted to inadmissible hearsay. A tense back-and-forth ensued, with Judge Juan Merchan initially expressing skepticism about allowing the evidence, citing potential hearsay issues.

However, in a bid to counter the defense’s insinuation that Cohen fabricated his account of the call, prosecutors revealed they had been in contact with a C-SPAN custodian prepared to verify the image’s authenticity. After extended wrangling, Blanche, likely seeking to avert further scrutiny of a key defense claim, ultimately agreed to allow the damning photo’s admission.

With the image projected for all to see, Cohen identified Trump and Schiller leaving the stage together at the Tampa rally, corroborating his testimony about briefing Trump on the Daniels payout shortly after.

“No doubt,” Cohen affirmed when Hoffinger pressed him on speaking with Trump that evening about wiring the $130,000 hush money payment.

Costello’s Courtroom Antics Undermine Trump’s Defense

Robert Costello, a former legal adviser to Michael Cohen, found himself in the crosshairs of Judge Juan Merchan. Costello’s testimony about a pivotal 2018 meeting with Cohen at the Regency Hotel devolved into a spectacle of open defiance and disrespect for the court’s authority.

According to Costello, the two-hour meeting on April 17, 2018, was a tense affair, with Cohen in an “absolutely manic” state, pacing incessantly while Costello and his law partner, Jeffrey Citron, remained seated. As Emil Bove attempted to probe the details of Cohen’s alleged comments about the former president’s family, prosecutor Susan Hoffinger repeatedly objected, with Judge Merchan sustaining her objections.

As the objections mounted, Costello grew increasingly agitated, ignoring the judge’s rulings and prompting Merchan to issue a stern warning. “Mr. Costello, you’re to remain seated,” the judge declared in a raised voice, as the witness displayed open contempt for the court’s authority.

Costello’s behavior quickly devolved, with audible sighs and eye-rolls punctuating his testimony. At one point, he exclaimed “Jesus!” in exasperation, prompting a reprimand from the judge. “Sorry?” Merchan asked, as laughter rippled through the overflow room.

The situation reached a boiling point when Costello held a prolonged glare at the judge after another sustained objection. “Are you staring me down?” Merchan demanded, before making the extraordinary decision to clear the courtroom of the jury and media.

Reid, who has covered Costello for over a decade, said she was “pretty shocked” by his behavior, despite his well-known animus toward Cohen and ill will toward the judge. “The fact that he would engage in this kind of behavior in a criminal courtroom, in a historic case of this nature is truly shocking,” adding that his actions undermined the defense’s efforts and validated concerns about calling him as a witness.

Costello’s outbursts and open defiance of Judge Merchan were likely a significant setback for Trump’s defense team, which has struggled to gain traction throughout the trial. The former president praised Costello as a “highly respected lawyer” but may now regret that endorsement, as Costello’s courtroom antics have overshadowed his testimony.

The incident also raises broader questions about the propriety of Trump’s legal strategy and the caliber of witnesses his team has chosen to call. While the jury’s reaction remains unknown, Costello’s behavior undoubtedly cast doubt on his credibility and potentially undermined the defense’s case.

Defense Attacks Michael Cohen’s Credibility, Invoicing Practices

Michael Cohen, Donald Trump, and Todd Blanche
Sketch: Christine Cornell

Trump’s lawyers, led by Todd Blanche, attempted to cast doubt on Cohen’s credibility and muddy the timeline around the infamous $130,000 hush money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels in October 2016. However, Cohen remained steadfast that he explicitly discussed the arrangement with Trump.

“My recollection is that I was speaking to him about Stormy Daniels, because that was what he tasked me to take care of,” Cohen fired back when Blanche suggested other issues may have dominated their discussions.

Blanche zeroed in on discrepancies like Cohen’s reimbursement requests exceeding what he paid vendors, in a bid to paint him as a liar and skimmer. Cohen copped to misleading invoices, admitting “I just felt it was almost like self-help” in pocketing extra funds from Trump.

But this line of attack could backfire for the defense. By having Cohen confirm criminal conduct of his own, it bolsters the prosecution’s theory that Trump’s falsified records aimed to conceal an underlying illegality—in this case, Cohen’s admitted crimes around the hush payment.

Cohen Affirms Donald Trump Approved Hush Money Scheme

When prosecutors re-took Cohen for redirect, they deftly reinforced his testimony about Trump’s direct involvement and approval of the criminal scheme. Cohen confirmed Trump “happily” signed off on his misleading 2018 statements denying knowledge of the Stormy Daniels payout.

Cohen also stated under oath that the $420,000 in total reimbursements he received in 2017 had nothing to do with legal services, despite the Trump Organization falsely coding it as such in financial records. And those records are the very falsifications underpinning the felony charges against Trump.

Perhaps the most significant moment came when prosecutor Susan Hoffinger had Cohen directly confirm an audio recording where he laments to Stormy Daniels’ attorney, “I can’t even say how many times he [Trump] said to me—I hate the fact that we did it.”

The “it” being the hush money deal to bury Daniels’ allegations of an affair, a payment Cohen said he never would have made without Trump’s expressed approval. 

Evidence Overwhelms Defense as Trial Nears Conclusion

As closing arguments loom, the prosecution’s case remains robust, bolstered by a wealth of evidence and legal principles that favor their position. While the defense will seek to cast doubt on the credibility of individual witnesses, the testimony and documentary proof outweighs the credibility issues with witnesses like Michael Cohen.

For a former president who has spent years branding himself as a maverick outsider taking on a corrupt system, these courtroom revelations undermine that cynical public relations myth. What emerges from Cohen’s insider account and the prosecutions’ evidence is something far more familiar—a wealthy, amoral elite callously abusing his power and rigging the rules in his favor using his significant wealth.

Whether jurors find Donald Trump himself culpable of falsifying those business records remains to be seen. But the proceedings have already shredded whatever tattered credibility the former president had left in the eyes of Americans that still value ethical behavior and family values.