Donald Trump refuses to testify as secret money trial enters final stage

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Donald Trump’s defense relied on the Manhattan “hush money” case Tuesday without him taking the stand, bringing the historic first criminal trial of a former US president to its final stages.

The decision, an apparent retreat by Trump, who had repeatedly promised to testify to clear his name, came at the end of more than four weeks of evidence by prosecutors, during which they called 20 witnesses, including Stormy Daniels, porn actor allegedly paid by Trump in exchange for his silence about an alleged sexual encounter.

Former Trump fixer Michael Cohen, who organized and facilitated payments totaling $130,000 to Daniels in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, also testified over several days.

Trump’s defense team, which had tried to undermine Cohen’s credibility during cross-examination, dropped its case after calling only two witnesses: a paralegal who worked with the defense attorney and Robert Costello, Cohen’s former legal adviser and ally. of Trump.

In a brief, moody take on the stand, Costello testified that Cohen had repeatedly confided in him that “President Trump didn’t know anything about these payments (to Daniels), that he did it on his own.” The evidence threatened to undermine Manhattan prosecutors’ claim that the former fixer was acting on behalf of his boss’ 2016 election campaign.

Costello further claimed that Cohen had told him in 2018, while he was under federal investigation for crimes related to Daniels’ payments: “I swear to God Bob, I have nothing on Donald Trump.”

The former federal prosecutor was reprimanded this Monday by Judge Juan Merchán for rolling his eyes and mocking the judge’s rulings. sotto voce with exclamations like “ridiculous” and “jeez.”

Todd Blanche, Trump’s attorney, had previously suggested he might call an additional witness, election law expert Brad Smith, but declined to do so after the judge restricted the scope of that testimony.

Closing arguments will begin next Tuesday, after which the jury will begin its deliberations. Trump, 77, faces 34 counts of falsifying business records. He pleaded not guilty and denounced the trial as a politically motivated witch hunt.

During weeks of testimony, Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, was forced to limit his presidential campaign and spend hours sitting at the defense table in Manhattan criminal court, which he referred to as a “freezer.” He often seemed to sleep through hours of testimony, waking up at moments of high drama.

A so-called charging conference, in which the two sides will argue over whether prosecutors have met their legal burden, will be held Tuesday afternoon before the trial is officially suspended.

Trump’s turn in his testimony marked a shift in his decisions to take the stand in two recent civil trials in New York, both of which ended in convictions against the 77-year-old.

Last November, Trump ranted for hours while taking the stand in a bench trial about allegedly inflating the value of his real estate assets in loan applications, repeatedly drawing the judge’s ire. He was found liable for more than $450 million in that case earlier this year.

He also took the stand for a few minutes in January as part of a civil defamation case brought against him in Manhattan federal court by writer E. Jean Carroll, who was later awarded $83 million by a jury. of damages.

Trump had strongly hinted that he would repeat the pattern in the “secret money” case. On the eve of the trial last month, Trump told reporters that he would “absolutely” testify in his defense, calling the Manhattan process a “scam.” And he added: “I am testifying. I tell the truth, I mean, the only thing I can do is tell the truth. And the truth is that there is no case.”

He later appeared to soften his stance, saying he would “like” to take the stand and suggesting he would be prevented from doing so by Merchan, who had instituted a gag order preventing Trump from speaking publicly about jurors, witnesses and court staff.

The comments prompted the judge to address the matter in court earlier this month and reiterate that Trump had a “fundamental right” to testify.

In comments to Fox News on Monday, Trump spokeswoman Alina Habba said her boss still wanted to testify and had “nothing to hide” but “has to listen to his lawyers.”