06/24/2024

Some Crim

Track the Untold Stories

Left: Judge Juan Merchan poses for a picture in his chambers in New York, Thursday, March 14, 2024. Merchan is presiding over Donald Trump’s hush money case in New York (AP Photo/Seth Wenig). Right: FILE - Former President Donald Trump is escorted to a courtroom, April 4, 2023, in New York (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File).

‘Are you staring me down right now?’: Furious judge in Trump hush-money trial clears the courtroom as defense witness gripes about court’s rulings and asks to ‘strike’ the record

Left: Judge Juan Merchan poses for a picture in his chambers in New York, Thursday, March 14, 2024. Merchan is presiding over Donald Trump’s hush money case in New York (AP Photo/Seth Wenig). Right: FILE — Former President Donald Trump is escorted to a courtroom, April 4, 2023, in New York (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File).

The judge overseeing Donald Trump’s hush-money trial in New York City angrily cleared the courtroom in response to perceived hostility from a witness called by the defense late Monday afternoon.

Taking the stand was criminal defense attorney Robert Costello, who came to deal with Michael Cohen, 57, in the aftermath of the infamous FBI raid on his law office and a posh hotel room in April 2018.

One line of questioning led to a series of sustained objections from the state. But the witness apparently wanted to answer the questions and exclaimed, in apparent exasperation at the judge’s ruling: “Jeez,” according to a report by Law&Crime Network reporter Terri Austin.

“Excuse me,” New York County Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan asked, audibly shocked as the courtroom brimmed with silence. “Excuse me?”

Related Coverage:

    A quick apology from the witness did not help matters much — as he also instructed the judge to strike his informal expletive from the record. Minutes later, the jury was sent away and Costello was instructed to remain seated for an upbraiding and etiquette lesson.

    “I’d like to discuss proper decorum in my courtroom,” the properly annoyed judge told the witness, according to a report by MSNBC personality Katie Phang. “If you don’t like my ruling, you don’t say ‘Jeez.’”

    The judge’s anger, however, had apparently been building.

    Merchan continued excoriating the witness — an over 40-year veteran of the New York State legal system — for his earlier behavior.

    “You don’t say ‘strike it,’ because I’m the only one who can strike testimony in the court,” Merchan explained, still relatively patient, according to a report by Newsweek reporter Katherine Fung. “If you don’t like my ruling, you don’t give me side eye or roll your eyes.”

    The jurist asked the witness if he understood.

    Costello replied in the affirmative but apparently, his eyes suggested a different understanding of the judge’s lecture.

    “Are you staring me down right now?” the judge asked — finally sending even the press away to protests and shouting.

    The intended upshot of Costello’s testimony was to refute Cohen’s recollections of discussions the two had in the months after the FBI raid — months in which Cohen was still part of the Trumpworld fold. The state’s star witness has described the conversations during those months as a “pressure campaign” intended to keep him from talking to federal investigators.

    Despondent and described as suicidal at this point in his life, Cohen previously testified he met Costello at the Loews Regency New York Hotel on the recommendation of attorney acquaintance Jeffrey Citron.

    During that meeting, Cohen testified, Costello let it be known that he was close to Rudy Giuliani, 79, who was, at that point, working closely with Trump during the special counsel investigation led by Robert Mueller, according to a report by Just Security fellow Adam Klasfeld.

    Channeling some of Costello’s alleged words to him that day, Cohen said the other lawyer impressed upon him the good of being close to Giuliani — and thus remaining close to Trump through the rough patch: “This would be a great way to have a backchannel to the president to make sure that you are still good and that you are secure.”

    Cohen’s account of what, exactly, Costello told him during that initial meeting became an obvious point of contention for the defense — and likely a hard slog. Jurors had previously been shown an email prosecutors hoped would corroborate the tenor of those alleged bearhug-style promises emanating from then-president Trump’s orbit.

    “You are ‘loved’ … they are in our corner,” Costello wrote to Cohen. “Sleep well tonight … you have friends in high places.”

    Before the eruption and emptying of the courtroom, second-chair defense attorney Emil Bove had been talking to Costello about the contents of an email exchange with Cohen in the spring of 2018 where both discussed Rudy Giuliani being brought onto Trump’s legal team.

    “I told you my relationship with Rudy which could be very very useful for you,” Costello wrote.

    “Great news for Rudy,” Cohen replied. “I know I owe you a call.”

    As the questions about those emails went on, prosecutors repeatedly raised objections before the defense could form full sentences.

    Several such attempts later and jurors were asked to leave.

    After the breakout session, Bove resumed his direct examination, finally eliciting the answers the defense had banked on.

    Asked whether or not he ever pressured Cohen, Costello replied in the negative. Then, asked whether he had ever pressured Cohen with regard to Giuliani. Again, the witness said he did not.

    Rather, Costello insisted, he treated Cohen like a client and said his number one obligation during that representation — which only amounted to legal advising — was the interest of his client.

    Join the discussion 

    The post ‘Are you staring me down right now?’: Furious judge in Trump hush-money trial clears the courtroom as defense witness gripes about court’s rulings and asks to ‘strike’ the record first appeared on Law & Crime.