NEW: Defense Rests, Trump Won't Take the Stand in Manhattan Clown Show

Curtis Means/Pool Photo via AP

Consider this a measure of how thoroughly Todd Blanche dismantled Michael Cohen in cross-examination. Donald Trump almost never passes up an opportunity to grab a microphone and tell a story. Especially in Manhattan.

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This time, according to ABC News, Trump apparently doesn't see a need -- or may have heeded advice from his legal team that he can't do anything but distract from Cohen's credibility collapse:

Former President Trump is not expected to take the stand in his criminal hush money trial, sources familiar with the matter tell ABC News.

It's possible that Trump could make a last-minute decision to testify, so sources caution that nothing is final until the defense rests its case.

Trump's lawyers have indicated publicly that Robert Costello, Michael Cohen's one-time legal adviser, is expected to be their last witness before they rest their case today.

And just a few moments ago, the defense rested without calling Trump. 

This is the smart move, of course, and would have been even without Cohen's bizarre contributions to this clown-show prosecution. Trump has a discipline problem when speaking extemporaneously, and that's the last thing defense attorneys need in a criminal trial. Prosecutors may have botched their preparations for Cohen, but they undoubtedly have spent months strategizing how to trick Trump into contradictions and lead him into perjury traps. Even on direct examination, Trump would likely have improvised in ways that allow prosecutors to bring in previously irrelevant testimony and make his situation worse than better.

Strategically, it's even smarter after Cohen's self-immolation on the stand. This leaves Cohen's admissions of actual ledger-entry fraud and embezzlement -- and the prosecutors' slimy immunity deal -- as the last impressions the jury has of the evidentiary phase of the trial. Had Trump testified, his testimony would have been their last impression, and given Trump's popularity among Manhattan's jury pool, that would not have been optimal. In fact, one could criticize Blanche and the rest of the defense team of gilding the lily by calling Robert Costello as a rebuttal witness to Cohen just to underscore what the jury had seen for themselves on cross-examination. 

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CNN analysts think that may have backfired:

The district attorney is "gradually but surely turning Bob Costello into a prosecution witness," CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig said, because Costello is talking about a crucial moment in time” in April 2018 where the emails indicate that Costello was trying to keep Cohen in the fold and not flip. “This shady effort to keep Michael Cohen from not flipping is coming back to the floor. It’s bad for the defense and good for the prosecution.”

William J. Brennan, former Trump Payroll Corp. attorney, also said that Costello's testimony is not in favor of the defense. “It’s just really sad for the defense that this is what we’re focused on now when you had a couple of days that don’t often happen in a criminal trial. You know Cohen was just you know a gift.”

Perhaps they should have quit while they were ahead, but it's going to be impossible to unring the Cohen bell. 

Next up are closing arguments, which apparently will start a week from today. There may be another motion for a directed verdict by the defense on the basis that Alvin Bragg's team still has not identified the felony crime that Trump allegedly tried to cover up with the false business ledger entries, which is the mechanism by which Bragg turned misdemeanors into felonies in the first place. Judge Juan Merchan does not appear inclined to stop the trial for any reason, not even prosecutorial misconduct for allowing Cohen to testify falsely last week, so this will go to the jury.

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Expect Trump's legal team to go after Cohen and the prosecution for covering up Cohen's more serious felony. Elie Honig offered his advice on CNN yesterday:

It's almost impossible to overestimate the potential impact of this argument. Bragg built his case on Michael Cohen, far more than he did on Stormy Daniels, and it turns out that Bragg cut a deal with the bigger crook. And not just a crook, but a man who did the exact same thing Bragg accuses Trump of doing: falsifying business records to cover up a felony, in this case embezzlement. Cohen also got caught in a whopper of a lie material to the case, which had already been seen as a rare "Perry Mason" moment by legal observers, who pronounced themselves aghast. If Cohen's lying on the stand, there is no case

They may also lean into the politics of the trial as a means to suggest a jury nullification of corruption by Bragg, and by implication Merchan as well. As Martin Gurri wrote in an excellent and comprehensive essay at The Free Press titled "The Revenge of the Normies," this smells of political retribution by the elites, and Cohen's testimony makes it all the more pungent:

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To a neutral observer, Trump’s current trial in New York appears as almost a parody of politicization. The crime he stands accused of is, to put it mildly, obscure. It was allegedly committed in 2016 but the indictment wasn’t unveiled until the 2023 election season—and the trial date was rushed forward so it could be held before the elections. The evidence pertains more to public relations than criminal justice. Trump has been forbidden from leaving New York, placing his campaign in a deep freeze. He has been hit with a gag order, preventing him from making his case before the public. One doesn’t have to be a MAGA fanatic to see this as an exercise in personal and political destruction. It will probably work—if not this time, then the next.

Would the defense go that far? Judges don't like appeals to nullification, and the point about Trump being gagged in the middle of a presidential campaign applies directly to Merchan, not Bragg. Given Trump's political standing in Manhattan (as opposed to other boroughs and outside of NYC), a political argument might be risking a political verdict that Trump won't like. But that will certainly be an argument on appeal, both in court and on the campaign trail, if this clown show proceeds to the conclusion Merchan apparently desires. 

We'll keep updating or adding to this story as developments warrant. We have tried to keep resources on this trial as much as possible, because of its political importance and because the MSM has an absolute lock on the reporting. In this case, the prosecution bungles and Cohen's testimony have been so shocking that even they can't spin it away, but you can bet they'll be ready to do so when this case goes to the jury. 

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Jazz Shaw 10:00 PM | June 12, 2024
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