The Guardian (USA)

Trump hails prospect of testimony from exCohen adviser in hush money case

- Adam Gabbatt, Hugo Lowell, Martin Pengelly and agencies

Donald Trump has cheered the news that a former adviser to Michael Cohen will testify before a Manhattan grand jury investigat­ing the ex-president’s alleged role in a hush money payment to the adult film star Stormy Daniels.

Robert J Costello, a one-time legal adviser to former Trump attorney Cohen, was scheduled to appear before the grand jury on Monday and expected to give testimony “attacking the credibilit­y of Cohen’s statements”, the Associated Press reported.

Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to federal charges involving $130,000 paid to Daniels close to election day in 2016. Daniels claims she had sex with the former president in 2006, an allegation Trump denies.

Trump said on Saturday he would be “arrested on Tuesday” – a claim for which sources close to the 76-year-old said he had no evidence – but then offered a more buoyant outlook after news of Costello’s scheduled appearance.

“Just reported that the most important witness to go before the New York City grand jury, a highly respected lawyer who once represente­d convicted felon, jailbird and serial fake storytelle­r and liar, Michael Cohen, will be doing so tomorrow afternoon,” Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform.

“The informatio­n he will present will supposedly be conclusive and irrefutabl­e! Witch hunt!!!”

Costello, who has represente­d the Trump confidants Steve Bannon and Rudy Giuliani, offered to represent Cohen in 2018 as he faced charges related to the Daniels payment. The pair discussed the case, the New York Times reported, but the relationsh­ip soured after Cohen began to criticize and implicate Trump.

The AP reported that Costello recently contacted a Trump lawyer, claiming he had informatio­n that contradict­ed Cohen’s account and could prove exculpator­y for Trump.

The lawyer brought it to the attention of the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, who last week subpoenaed Costello’s law firm for records and invited him to testify.

There was more good news for Trump on Monday when Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, his closest rival for the 2024 Republican presidenti­al nomination, addressed the likely indictment for the first time.

Trump allies had called for DeSantis to speak out. Speaking to reporters at a college in Panama City, the governor mocked the notion that hush money payments to a porn star might be seen as indictable conduct. He also repeated an antisemiti­c dogwhistle.

DeSantis said Bragg “like other Soros-funded prosecutor­s, they weaponise their office to impose a political agenda on society at the expense of the rule of law and public safety”.

George Soros, a Hungarian American progressiv­e financier and philanthro­pist, is a boogeyman for Republican­s and a regular target for antisemiti­c invective.

DeSantis mentioned “Soros-funded prosecutor­s” five times in a two-minute answer.

Throughout Sunday, Trump published a flurry of all-caps posts, railing against perceived injustice.

Using a term short for “Republican­s in name only”, one post complained of persecutio­n by “COMMUNISTS, MARXISTS, RINOS AND LOSERS”. Several posts attacked Cohen.

While Trump has focused on Bragg, Cohen and others, his lawyers have focused on a defense strategy.

Outside counsel – Joe Tacopina and Susan Necheles – have reasoned that a hush money case centered on campaign finance violations could be weak after a similar prosecutio­n against the Democratic senator and vice-presidenti­al nominee John Edwards failed in 2012.

If the indictment alleges the Daniels payment violated campaign finance laws, Trump’s lawyers are expected to argue that it fails the “irrespecti­ve test” posed by the Edwards case: that Trump would have paid Daniels irrespecti­ve of his campaign, to avoid embarrassm­ent because he was a public figure.

Trump may face an uphill struggle with those arguments, given that having “mixed motives” to protect himself personally and to protect his campaign could leave him liable. The timing of the payments also suggests an urgency to pay before election day.

There is also the matter of Trump’s own comments on the Edwards case. In 2012, he told Fox News “a lot of very good lawyers have told me that the government doesn’t have a good case” against Edwards.

As former New York prosecutor Ronn Blitzer wrote for Law and Crime, “that … sentence undermines Trump’s claim that he was relying on Cohen as his attorney to know the law to steer him in the right direction” over the Daniels payment, “and that he didn’t direct Cohen to break the law”.

“[Trump] said during the Edwards case that he spoke to ‘a lot of very good lawyers’ about these very issues, which would mean he was aware of the relevant laws,” Blitzer said.

Trump’s legal team is also expected to argue that when Daniels tried to sell her story in 2011 she was told to “leave Trump alone – forget the story”, thereby proving her silence was desired long before Trump ran for president.

Trump’s lawyers made those arguments when Necheles urged Bragg to drop the case, the Guardian previously reported. But all signs indicate Bragg will move ahead in an unpreceden­ted indictment of a former president – who is also running to return to the Oval Office.

 ?? Photograph: Sue Ogrocki/AP ?? Donald Trump smiles as he poses for a photo at the NCAA Wrestling Championsh­ips in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday.
Photograph: Sue Ogrocki/AP Donald Trump smiles as he poses for a photo at the NCAA Wrestling Championsh­ips in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday.

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