Judge Clears Court to Admonish Team Trump’s Surprise Witness

Donald Trump’s Manhattan criminal hush money trial was briefly thrown into chaos on Monday when Judge Juan Juan Merchan ordered the courtroom cleared in order to dress down a combative witness.

Robert Costello, a lawyer and former adviser to Michael Cohen, testified on behalf of Trump’s defense in a tense interrogation and cross-examination by the former president’s attorneys and state prosecutors. Throughout his testimony, Costello was visibly annoyed by the prosecution’s objections to lines of questioning leveled by Trump’s attorneys. At one point, Costello was heard saying “jeez” in response to Judge Merchan’s sustaining of one such objection.

“I’m sorry?” Merchan asked Costello, who turned red in the face and mumbled “ridiculous” before his testimony resumed.

The tension in the court exploded after Costello seemingly rolled his eyes at one of Merchan’s rulings. The judge admonished Costello, ordering the jury out of the room to “discuss proper decorum in the courtroom” with Costello.

“If you don’t like my ruling you don’t say ‘jeez,’ you don’t say ‘strike it’ because I’m the only one who can strike testimony in court,” Merchan said. “You don’t give me side eye and you don’t roll your eyes,” he added, before raising his voice and asking Costello if he was “staring me down right now.”

The exchange prompted Merchan to have the courtroom cleared entirely of the press and other observers. Court staff moved to remove those present — with the notable exception of Trump’s Republican guests — in a loud flurry as reporters raised objections to their ouster.

Trump ranted to reporters about the incident after court was dismissed. “You saw what happened to a highly respected lawyer today, Bob Costello,” he said. “Wow. I’ve never seen anything like that. Highly respected.”

The remark may have been in violation of Trump’s gag order, which prohibits him from discussing witnesses.

Eric Trump, the former president’s son who was present in court on Monday, tweeted shortly after the exchange between Merchan and Costello that “the judges treatment of Bob Costello is truly disgraceful – he will not allow him to tell his story – the same story he told Congress – as he knows it will be devastating and end this sham trial.”

Before Costello was sworn in, Assistant District Attorney Susan Hoffinger successfully petitioned to limit the scope of what Trump’s defense attorney Emil Bove could ask Costello. During his testimony, Costello struggled to keep his answers to questions succinct, and after less than an hour, Merchan dismissed the court for the day.

As Costello grew more and more bewildered with each objection, he first began to pout his face before eventually turning his body to stare at Merchan. It was then that Merchan asked to clear the room to instruct Costello on proper decorum.

Prosecutors closed their arguments on Monday with the conclusion of Cohen’s testimony, who said he first met Costello for legal advice after federal agents raided his apartment, hotel, and law office in April 2018. Cohen soon learned just how close Costello was to Trump thanks to their mutual connection of Rudy Giuliani, and testified that everything he told Costello was a lie.

Costello is the second witness Trump’s defense team has brought in to refute Cohen’s testimony. Although the defense has not ruled out Trump testifying, Costello’s cross-examination and redirect are expected to conclude tomorrow morning, and Judge Merchan has advised both counsels he expects to dismiss jurors tomorrow before summations begin next week.

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