A Tongue-Lashing for a Defense Witness Isn’t Great News for Trump

Eight times a day during his felony trial, a former president of the United States must stand and honor 12 jurors and six alternates as they walk past, eyes straight ahead or down, casting no glances at him. It’s inspiring to watch these ordinary citizens as sovereign soldiers for justice.

On Monday this calm processional was disrupted, as jurors were forced to hurry out after a witness for the defense mocked the authority of the court. Moments later, Justice Juan Merchan ordered the courtroom immediately cleared, and reporters fled in a frenzy.

The reason for all of this was the testimony of Robert Costello, an astonishingly arrogant former federal prosecutor who has defended the likes of George Steinbrenner and Leona Helmsley, borrowing a little of his nasty affect from each.

Michael Cohen testified earlier that Costello and Rudy Giuliani were assigned by Donald Trump to open a back channel to Cohen to keep him in the Trump fold.

Costello testified before a friendly House subcommittee last week that Cohen was a liar. This apparently impressed Trump and — presto! — Costello was the first important witness the defense called after the prosecution rested.

On direct examination, Costello did next to nothing for the defense beyond landing a few more mostly irrelevant blows on Cohen.

On cross-examination by the prosecution, however, you could almost see steam coming out of Costello’s ears. The temerity of this lowly local female prosecutor asking him questions! Merchan ruled earlier that Costello could testify only on certain subjects. When Merchan sustained several objections from the prosecution and struck a couple of Costello’s answers from the record, Costello decided to play judge.

He muttered “ridiculous” and “strike it” after disliking a question. An enraged Merchan excused the jury and said sharply, “I want to discuss proper decorum in my courtroom.” He continued, “You don’t say, ‘Geez,’ and you don’t say, ‘Strike it.’ And if you don’t like my ruling, you don’t give me side-eye and roll your eyes.”

Merchan apparently didn’t want reporters to hear the rest of his tongue-lashing and cleared the courtroom.

None of this was good for the defense, which struggled all day to build on Thursday’s success in making Cohen seem he was lying about the purpose of his calls to Trump in late October 2016. Cohen looked bad admitting he passed $20,000 in cash in a paper bag to Red Finch, a tech firm that uses algorithms to rig online polls. But Trump looked even worse by directing Red Finch to cheat his way onto CNBC’s list of the most famous business leaders of the 20th century. Classic Trump.

Jurors may conclude that the whole bunch of ’em are liars and reasonably doubt every word out of all of their mouths. At this point, that may be Trump’s best hope of avoiding conviction.

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