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Trump's hush money trial in New York could wrap up this week

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

OK - the prosecution took four weeks to present its case in former President Trump's criminal trial for falsifying business records. The defense is taking a bit less time. They started yesterday, and could rest their case today.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen wrapped up his testimony yesterday. He answered final questions from both sides. Then two defense witnesses took the stand, and one of them was unruly enough for the judge to scold him.

INSKEEP: NPR's Andrea Bernstein gets to watch all of this and joins us once again. Andrea, good morning.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK, first, how did the questioning end for the star prosecution witness, Michael Cohen?

BERNSTEIN: The defense hammered at him yesterday, but the prosecution had one big point they wanted to set right - that phone call to Trump's bodyguard we've been talking about, where the defense called into question whether Cohen really spoke to Trump, was just one of maybe 20 conversations where Cohen said he kept Trump apprised of the payoff scheme. After all that, mid-afternoon, prosecutors said, Your Honor, the people rest, and the defense began calling witnesses. Their main - and perhaps final - witness is attorney Robert Costello.

INSKEEP: Much less famous person than Michael Cohen. Who is he?

BERNSTEIN: He's a New York lawyer who came into Cohen's life after the FBI raided Cohen's home and office in April of 2018. Cohen testified about him. He said that Costello had approached him, telling him he was very close to Rudy Giuliani, who was, at that time, about to become Trump's attorney. Robert Costello sent Cohen one message that said, sleep well tonight. You have friends in high places - which Cohen said he took to mean that he was part of the team, that Trump would protect him if he played ball and didn't rat him out to prosecutors. That word, rat, by the way, is a word Trump has used about Michael Cohen.

INSKEEP: That makes me feel like I'm in a mob movie or something like that, but how exactly does Costello fit into this case?

BERNSTEIN: Prosecutors said in court yesterday that part of the reason Cohen was still not telling the truth, as of the spring of 2018, was because of pressure he felt from Costello, but the defense was trying to dispute that, to bring on Costello to show that Cohen was using him. As a backdrop for all of that, the defense squeezed a big crew of Trump supporters into the courtroom yesterday, including the former leader of the Hell's Angels motorcycle gang and Bernie Kerik, the former New York Police Commissioner-turned-convicted-felon who Trump pardoned - all of whom watched the jury carefully and Robert Costello's testimony.

INSKEEP: Bernie Kerik - past guest on this program. So there was this moment of tension that I followed on social media between Costello and the judge. What happened?

BERNSTEIN: At one point, after the judge sustained an objection, Costello said, jeez, and Judge Juan Merchan, who is the calmest of all the Trump trial judges said, excuse me? And Costello said, strike it, strike it, which is a no-no. A short time later, the judge excused the jury and admonished Costello. He said, you don't give me side eye, and you don't roll your eyes. Trump afterwards called Merchan a tyrant to reporters in the hallway.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: You saw what happened to a highly respected lawyer today. I'm going to say it out loud - I've never seen anything like that.

INSKEEP: OK, so that was the drama yesterday. Any other witnesses coming from Trump's legal team?

BERNSTEIN: The defense said, this might be it, while reserving the possibility that Trump might testify - seems unlikely. A big argument today about jury instructions, which is so, so important in a case like this, where the fraudulent business records are only a felony if they were allegedly created to cover up another crime. That underlying crime the prosecution does not have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Andrea Bernstein
[Copyright 2024 NPR]