Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Top 5 This Week

Robert Costello’s Explosive Meltdown: A Fatal Blow to Trump’s Defense

Legal experts pan defense's "ill-advised" gambit putting Costello on stand against Trump.

Robert Costello on the stand with Donald Trump in background
Sketch: Christine Cornell

In a stunning turn of events, Donald Trump’s much-touted witness in his criminal trial over hush money payments proved to be a complete disaster, undermining the former president’s defense and inadvertently bolstering the prosecution’s case against him. 

Robert Costello, a longtime Trump loyalist and lawyer, took the stand with the goal of discrediting Michael Cohen, the former fixer whose damning testimony has been key in tying the prosecution’s case together. However, Costello’s erratic behavior and his own damning emails revealed a concerted effort to pressure Cohen into remaining silent, contradicting a key part of Trump’s defense.

Costello Emails Reveal Trump’s Witness Tampering Scheme

The evidence presented through Costello’s emails and admissions paints a damning portrait of Trump’s inner circle conspiring to prevent Cohen from flipping on him. On Tuesday, emails were shown where Costello discussed having a “back channel” to Trump through Rudy Giuliani, with whom he had close ties.

 “Our issue is to get Cohen on the right page without giving him the appearance that we are following instruction from Giuliani or the president,” one email stated bluntly. When Cohen didn’t immediately hire Costello, emails revealed Costello’s outrage, calling Cohen an “asshole” for “playing with the most powerful man on the planet.”

These explosive messages make the intent crystal clear — Costello was acting as an agent for Trump’s interests, not Cohen’s, attempting to prevent him from becoming a cooperating witness against the former president. As legal analyst Elie Honig put it, “This shady effort to keep Michael Cohen from not flipping is coming back to the floor. It’s bad for the defense and good for the prosecution.”

Emails Shred Robert Costello’s Credibility

The prosecution’s cross-examination of Robert Costello was a masterclass in dismantling an unreliable witness. Susan Hoffinger, the lead prosecutor, methodically dissected Costello’s contradictory statements, using his own emails as a weapon against him. Hoffinger highlighted Costello’s close ties to Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, and the apparent quid pro quo offer of serving as a “back channel” to the White House in exchange for representing Cohen.

One by one, Hoffinger presented incriminating emails that laid bare the pressure campaign orchestrated by Robert Costello, Rudy Giuliani, and others within Trump’s inner circle. An April 2018 email from Costello to Cohen boasted of his “relationship with Rudy which could be very very useful to you,” blatantly leveraging his White House connections. Another email revealed Costello’s law partner stating that retaining their firm would provide Cohen with “friends in high places”—a thinly veiled reference to Trump himself, as Costello later admitted under intense questioning by the prosecution.

Perhaps the most damning evidence came in the form of a May 2018 email, in which Costello explicitly stated that their “issue is to get Cohen on the right page without giving the appearance that we are following instructions from Giuliani or the President.” This email, which Costello grudgingly acknowledged as speaking for itself, shattered any pretense of his impartiality and exposed the coordinated effort to silence Cohen and prevent him from cooperating with federal investigators.

Costello’s Courtroom Antics Undermined Trump’s Defense

Costello’s lack of composure on the stand also hurt the defense’s case significantly. He grew increasingly flustered, directly defying the judge’s instructions and at times showing up the judge in a disrespectful manner. His attempts to spin the narrative were repeatedly shut down by Hoffinger, who expertly cut him off whenever he veered off course, forcing him into monosyllabic responses that only highlighted the damaging nature of the evidence.

Costello’s relentless pursuit of Cohen extended beyond the courtroom, with the attorney appearing before a Republican-led congressional committee in what Hoffinger characterized as a blatant attempt to “publicly vilify” and intimidate Cohen while he was testifying in the criminal trial. This shameless act of witness intimidation, intended to protect Trump’s interests, shows the lengths to which the former president’s allies will go to obstruct justice and undermine the rule of law.

Throughout his testimony, Costello’s contemptuous demeanor and repeated clashes with Judge Juan Merchan only undermined his credibility further. His defiant refusal to provide straightforward answers and his insistence on offering unsolicited explanations drew sharp rebukes from the bench, culminating in a courtroom clearing incident that legal experts have described as a self-inflicted wound for the defense.

Legal Analysts Critique Defense’s Ill-Advised Witness

As CNN’s chief legal analyst Laura Coates astutely observed, Costello’s intended purpose of discrediting Cohen’s testimony backfired spectacularly, with the prosecutor effectively “undermining” and “not allowing him, frankly, on this very tight leash, to try to talk his way out of what the documents say.” The defense’s ill-advised gambit to put Costello on the stand has been widely panned, with former Trump Payroll Corp. attorney William J. Brennan describing it as a “really sad” turn of events that has overshadowed the few positive moments for the defense earlier in the trial.

The implications of Costello’s implosion are potentially devastating for Trump’s already precarious legal position. The emails and testimony have shown a concerted effort by the former president and his inner circle to silence a key witness. This directly contradicts Trump’s repeated claims of innocence and paints a picture of a man willing to use any means necessary, legal or otherwise, to protect his political ambitions.

Moreover, Costello’s testimony has likely severely damaged the credibility of the defense’s broader strategy of portraying Cohen as a vengeful liar seeking retribution against Trump. By revealing the intense pressure exerted on Cohen to remain loyal, the prosecution has provided a compelling alternative narrative: that Cohen’s decision to cooperate with authorities was born out of a genuine desire to do the right thing in the face of relentless intimidation tactics.

As the trial moves towards its conclusion, the fallout from Costello’s disastrous performance will undoubtedly loom large. The jurors have been presented with a wealth of evidence suggesting an obvious effort to conceal the hush money payments through fraud. They have witnessed firsthand the unraveling of a key defense witness, whose credibility was destroyed by his own words and actions.

The question now becomes whether this bombshell testimony will be enough to sway the jurors and secure a conviction against the former president. Regardless of the outcome, however, Costello’s implosion has already inflicted significant damage to Trump’s public perception and legal standing by exposing the lengths to which he and his allies were willing to go to obscure the truth and evade accountability.