Donald Trump Hush Money Trial Enters Final Stages with Defense Set to Rest

Donald Trump Hush Money Trial Nears Conclusion

by Faruk Imamovic
Donald Trump Hush Money Trial Enters Final Stages with Defense Set to Rest
© Getty Images

The prosecution concluded its case against former President Donald J. Trump on Monday, marking a critical juncture in the hush money trial that has captivated national attention. The trial, which centers on allegations that Trump falsified business records related to a payment made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, is now rapidly approaching its conclusion.

Prosecution Rests After 15 Days of Testimonies

The Manhattan District Attorney's office presented its final witness on Monday, culminating a 15-day period where 20 witnesses took the stand. Key testimonies came from Michael Cohen, Trump's former lawyer and fixer, who spent over 17 hours detailing his involvement in the hush money payment and the subsequent reimbursements. Cohen alleged that Trump directed the payment to Daniels’ attorney just before the 2016 presidential election and approved the reimbursement plan central to the criminal charges.

Cohen's credibility was heavily scrutinized during cross-examination by Trump’s attorney, Todd Blanche. Blanche attempted to discredit Cohen by suggesting he fabricated conversations implicating Trump in the scheme. Despite this, the prosecution bolstered Cohen’s allegations with substantial evidence, including expert witnesses and documents, to support their case that Trump orchestrated the reimbursement through falsified business records.

Defense Witness Sparks Heated Exchange with Judge

As the defense began its case on Monday, tensions escalated quickly. Robert Costello, a key witness for the defense, was admonished by Judge Juan Merchan for his conduct on the stand. Costello, who had advised Cohen following an FBI search of Cohen’s home and office in 2018, repeatedly spoke over the judge and audibly protested the sustained objections to questions posed by Trump’s attorney, Emil Bove.

The situation escalated when Costello sighed and rolled his eyes in response to another sustained objection, prompting Judge Merchan to clear the courtroom of the press. In a rare move, the judge issued a stern warning to Costello about maintaining courtroom decorum, threatening to remove him from the stand and strike his testimony if his behavior continued. Once the press and jury returned, Costello's testimony proceeded without further incident, though he is expected to face cross-examination by prosecutor Susan Hoffinger on Tuesday.

Michael Cohen, former personal lawyer to Donald Trump
Michael Cohen, former personal lawyer to Donald Trump© Getty Images/Spencer Platt

Trial Endgame: What to Expect Next

With the prosecution having rested its case and the defense likely to conclude on Tuesday, the trial is nearing its final stages. Trump’s defense team, which had initially planned to call a campaign finance expert, decided against it after Judge Merchan limited the scope of the expert’s testimony. As of now, it appears unlikely that Trump will testify in his own defense.

Judge Merchan has scheduled closing arguments for next Tuesday, May 28, to avoid having the jury begin deliberations only to break for the four-day Memorial Day weekend. Once the defense rests, the judge will confer with both parties to finalize the jury instructions before deliberations commence.

Cohen’s Admissions and Financial Motivations

In a notable moment during his cross-examination, Michael Cohen admitted to stealing $60,000 from the Trump Organization by falsely claiming reimbursement for a payment to a tech company. Cohen rationalized the theft as “self-help” after feeling shorted on his bonus, though he acknowledged it was wrong when questioned by Hoffinger.

Cohen also conceded that he has a financial stake in the outcome of the trial, noting that his podcast and social media activities generate revenue. However, he maintained that the trial’s result would not influence his continued discussions about Trump.

Prosecutors attempted to clarify any confusion caused by Blanche’s questioning, reinforcing Cohen’s assertion that Trump had approved the payment to Daniels and directed Cohen to handle the reimbursement with Weisselberg. A recorded phone call played in court further supported Cohen's claims, where he described Trump’s regret over the payment but acknowledged it was the right move according to his advisors.

Sparring Over a Key Phone Call

A significant point of contention arose over a phone call between Cohen and Trump on October 24, 2016. Blanche suggested the call was related to a prank caller, not the Daniels payment. In response, prosecutors introduced a photo from a C-SPAN video showing Trump with Keith Schiller, his bodyguard, five minutes before Cohen’s call. This evidence aimed to validate Cohen’s testimony that he discussed the payment with Trump that evening.

Despite rigorous cross-examination, Cohen remained steadfast in his account, asserting he spoke with Trump about Daniels multiple times in October 2016. His testimony concluded with him reaffirming his certainty about the conversations with Trump regarding the hush money payment.

As the Trump hush money trial edges closer to a verdict, the courtroom dynamics and pivotal testimonies continue to shape its trajectory. With the defense poised to rest and closing arguments scheduled, the jury will soon deliberate on the evidence presented over the past month. The trial’s outcome remains uncertain, but the proceedings thus far have underscored the high stakes and intense scrutiny surrounding this high-profile case.

Donald Trump