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Defense rests in Trump's hush money trial

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Testimony in former President Trump's criminal trial in New York is now in the books. The defense and the people have rested, and Trump will not be testifying in his own defense. NPR's Andrea Bernstein has been covering this trial and joins us now. Hi, Andrea.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK, so what was the last day of testimony like?

BERNSTEIN: It was pretty dramatic, like all of the trial. The defense only called two witnesses in total, a paralegal to certify some records, and attorney Robert Costello, a lawyer who tried to get Michael Cohen to hire him at a crucial inflection point. It was in 2018 after the FBI had searched Cohen's home and office. But before, Cohen had decided to plead guilty to violating campaign finance laws at the direction of Trump. In his own testimony, Cohen said he'd felt pressured by Costello to stay on the team. And during Cohen's testimony last week, prosecutors showed an email where Costello told Cohen he had friends in high places. Sleep well tonight.

CHANG: OK, so wait. Why did the defense want Costello to testify?

BERNSTEIN: There's reason to believe that Trump himself chose Costello. Trump had high praise for Costello yesterday, even though Trump was not supposed to be discussing witnesses. The idea seemed to be that Costello would expose Cohen as a self-serving liar because Costello is, as Trump said, a, quote, "highly respected lawyer." But the problem for Costello was that Susan Hoffinger, the prosecutor, gave a tight cross-examination where Costello got tripped up.

CHANG: Wait. How? How did that happen?

BERNSTEIN: Hoffinger asked Costello if he'd said at his first meeting that he told Cohen how close he is to Rudy Giuliani. Costello said he hadn't. Then Hoffinger showed an email where Costello said exactly that. Hoffinger was also able to introduce another email from Costello saying that then-President Trump was, at that time, paying for some of Cohen's lawyers. And the email showed Costello trying to hide that, saying, quote, "our issue is to get Cohen on the right page without giving the appearance that we are following instructions from Giuliani or the president."

So those emails certainly suggested that Trump was trying to prevent Cohen from coming forward and telling the truth, which, of course, Cohen ultimately did do, leading to this very criminal trial. And now the jury is left with all of this in their heads for the next week. The judge sent them home until Tuesday for summations. They were instructed not to consume any media. But just today Trump told reporters in the hallway he might break his gag order to defend the Constitution. So that's the situation we're in while our trial goes dark.

CHANG: While it goes dark. Wait. Why did the judge organize the schedule that way?

BERNSTEIN: He told jurors he didn't want to break up summations, jury instructions and deliberations and that there was no way to start summing up today because, due to Memorial Day weekend, there's only one more day of court this week. But we did spend the afternoon listening to lawyers' arguments on how the judge will instruct the jury. And it's important in this case. They're not being asked to determine something like did someone attack someone, which is the kind of crime that often gets tried in this building. Instead, the jury has to determine there were false records, and they were falsified in furtherance of another crime, which the DA has argued was conspiring to unlawfully influence the election. And exactly what that latter part means could be the difference between a conviction and an acquittal.

CHANG: Indeed. That is NPR's Andrea Bernstein. Thank you so much, Andrea.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Andrea Bernstein
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