Trump’s lawyers to mount defense in hush money trial if case is not dismissed

By Thomson Reuters May 21, 2024 | 5:05 AM

By Jack Queen and Andy Sullivan

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Donald Trump’s lawyers will mount their defense on Tuesday in the former president’s hush money trial, unless the judge overseeing the case agrees to dismiss it outright – an unlikely development.

Trump’s lawyers have asked Justice Juan Merchan to dismiss the case before it reaches the jury, arguing that it rests on the testimony of a witness, the estranged former Trump fixer Michael Cohen, who has a well-documented history of lying.

Such dismissal motions are rarely successful, and Merchan indicated on Monday that he was inclined to let jurors assess Cohen’s credibility for themselves. Prosecutors say his testimony is buttressed by other evidence.

Cohen, the prosecution’s final witness, wrapped up his testimony on Monday, clearing the way for Trump’s lawyers to present witnesses and their own evidence.

First up will likely be lawyer Robert Costello, who on Monday testified that Cohen told him he did not have any incriminating information on Trump.

Costello’s demeanor on the witness stand apparently angered Merchan on Monday, who cleared the courtroom to tell him, “Don’t roll your eyes.”

It was unclear whether Trump himself would take the witness stand, a risky move that would open him up to cross-examination. Before the trial started in April, he said he would take the witness stand but on Monday he walked away when reporters shouted out questions about whether he would testify.

Trump is accused of covering up a $130,000 payment that bought the silence of porn star Stormy Daniels, who in the final weeks of the 2016 presidential election was peddling her story of a sexual encounter with Trump.

Though the hush-money payment itself is not illegal, Trump faces 34 counts of falsifying business records to hide his reimbursement to Cohen, who initially paid for the transaction.

Trump, 77, has pleaded not guilty and denies wrongdoing. He says he never had sex with Daniels and has cast the trial as a politically motivated attempt to hurt his effort to win back the White House as a Republican from Democratic President Joe Biden in the Nov. 5 election.

Cohen testified that he spoke repeatedly with Trump about the payment to Daniels in the final stretch of the 2016 presidential campaign when Trump was facing multiple accusations of sexual misconduct.

Cohen said Trump worried that Daniels would hurt his appeal to women voters if she went public with her story. Trump’s legal team says he made the payment to protect his family from embarrassment.

Cohen admitted on the witness stand on Monday that he had stolen money from Trump’s business, saying he was angry his bonus was cut after he handled the Daniels payment.

(Reporting by Jack Queen in New York and Andy Sullivan in Washington; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Howard Goller)