Robert Costello is back on the stand for the defense in Trump trial after clashing with judge

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A lawyer who has clashed with Donald Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen — and whom the judge overseeing the hush money case scolded for disrespectful behavior on the witness stand — will resume his testimony Tuesday as possibly the final witness for the defense in the first criminal trial of a former president.

New York state Judge Juan Merchan dressed down Robert Costello, a veteran New York lawyer who engaged in discussions with Cohen in 2018 to represent him, over his facial expressions and snide remarks on the witness stand in Manhattan on Monday. Merchan was so incensed by Costello’s behavior that he asked the jury to leave and then ordered the courtroom cleared of journalists and the public before he reprimanded Costello.

“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” and strike his testimony from the record, Merchan said.

Costello was one of two witnesses the defense called Monday after prosecutors rested their case. The other was a paralegal who works for Trump attorney Todd Blanche, who testified about phone calls between Costello and Cohen in 2018.

Costello testified that Cohen told him that Trump had been unaware of the $130,000 hush money payment he made to adult film actor Stormy Daniels in the closing weeks of the 2016 presidential campaign. Cohen testified in his four days on the witness stand that he’d lied to Costello because he didn’t trust him, in part because he was also representing Rudy Giuliani, a close Trump ally.

Cohen and Costello have taken repeated public jabs at each other in the years since then. “If they want to go after Donald Trump and they have solid evidence, so be it. But Michael Cohen is far from solid evidence,” Costello told reporters after he testified before the grand jury in the case last year. “He is totally unreliable,” Costello said at the time.

At the end of court Monday, Trump attorney Emil Bove told Merchan that the defense had no other witnesses after Costello but that that was subject to change. Asked before the trial started whether he would take the stand in his own defense, Trump said he “absolutely” would, but that answer has softened in the weeks since then, with Trump saying he’d testify “if necessary.”

Cohen was the final witness called by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office and prosecutors’ 20th witness overall. Under questioning from Blanche, Cohen acknowledged Monday that he’d swindled Trump and his company out of $30,000.

Asked whether he “stole from the Trump Organization,” Cohen said, “Yes, sir.”

On cross-examination, Cohen said he’d done so because he was “angry” that Trump had slashed his annual bonus in 2016. “It was almost like self-help,” he said.

Despite the likely end of testimony Tuesday, jurors won’t hear closing arguments until May 28 because of conflicts with jurors’ schedules and the Memorial Day holiday.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to the 34 counts of falsifying business records related to the Daniels payment.

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