Hush-money judge rips Trump witness who scoffed at his rulings: 'You don't give me side-eye!'

  • The hush-money courtroom erupted in shouts after a Trump witness openly challenged the judge.

  • "You don't give me side-eye, and you don't roll your eyes," the judge told the witness Robert Costello.

  • The judge then kicked reporters out of the courtroom to scold Costello some more.

The judge overseeing Donald Trump's ongoing hush-money trial ripped into one of the former president's witnesses on Monday for heckling at his rulings — then cleared the courtroom of journalists to scold the witness some more.

The witness, Robert Costello, was called by the defense to attack the credibility of the key prosecution witness, Michael Cohen.

But the Nassau County lawyer repeatedly chafed at being interrupted by the judge sustaining prosecution objections, at one point muttering "jeez" and "ridiculous."

Within minutes of taking the stand, Costello was in open conflict with New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan, the judge presiding over the case.

"Mr. Costello I wanted to — I'd like to discuss proper decorum in my courtroom, OK?" Merchan said after dismissing the jury from the courtroom.

"OK, so when there is a witness on the stand, if you don't like my ruling, you don't say 'jeez,' OK?" the judge scolded.

"You don't say 'strike it,' because I'm the only one that can strike testimony in the courtroom," the judge told the witness.

"And then if you don't like my ruling, you don't give me side-eye, and you don't roll your eyes," the judge added.

"Do you understand that?" the judge asked Costello, repeating, "Do you understand that?"

"I understand that. I understand what you're saying," Costello answered.

But Costello also glared at the judge. "Are you staring me down right now?" the judge then asked him angrily.

"Clear the courtroom, please!" the judge ordered. "Clear the courtroom!"

The tumult erupted on a busy day of court, during which the prosecution rested, the defense began its case, and a revised schedule for the rest of the trial was disclosed.

Closing arguments and the start of deliberations have now been pushed back to the Tuesday after Memorial Day.

"That was an incredible display," Trump would later tell reporters as he left for the day, calling Merchan "a tyrant."

Costello appeared 'scared' as the judge threatened to hold him in contempt

The judge shouting, "Clear the courtroom!" set off a loud chain reaction in the courtroom.

Shouting court officers demanded that journalists leave — and many of them shouted back in protest as they did so. Lawyers and the front-row entourages of the defense and the prosecution were allowed to remain.

Robert Balin, an attorney representing a consortium of media organizations, including Business Insider, protested but was removed as well, with a court officer leading him out by the arm.

The video and audio feed to the court's overflow room — a second courtroom where press and members of the public watch the trial on screens — was cut off.

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Merchan castigating the witness Robert Costello about his "decorum" in the courtroom.Elizabeth Williams via AP

Alan Dershowitz, a guest of Trump for the day who remained in the courtroom, told BI that Merchan remained "furious" but then realized he "made a mistake" once he cleared the room.

"It really just showed how thin-skinned he is," Dershowitz said.

Dershowitz has been critical of the Manhattan district attorney's case, and Trump has often touted his columns in his courthouse-hallway press conferences. Dershowitz said Monday's episode demonstrated a bias Merchan harbored against Trump.

"He just lost his cool. He lost his temper. I think he regretted it," Dershowitz said. "But his real attitude toward Trump showed through."

He said he didn't notice Costello rolling his eyes at Merchan and that the witness was "scared" when the judge dressed him down.

"I mean, I rolled my eyes when he made some of those rulings, but I didn't see him roll eyes," Dershowitz said. "I mean, he was scared. Obviously, he didn't want to be held in contempt. He didn't want to have his testimony struck."

After less than five minutes, journalists were led back into the courtroom, and questioning from Trump's lawyer Emil Bove resumed.

A transcript released Monday night disclosed that while the press was out of the room, Merchan called Costello's conduct "contemptuous."

Merchan also threatened to order that Costello be removed from the stand and to strike his testimony from the record if he stared him down "one more time."

"Can I say something, please?" Costello asked.

"No," the judge answered. "No. This is not a conversation."

Costello didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Monday night.

The judge limited what Costello could testify about

Ahead of Costello's testimony, Merchan had issued rulings limiting what Costello would be permitted to testify about.

Cohen — the prosecution's key witness — had previously testified that Costello was part of Trump's "pressure campaign" to keep him from flipping against Trump in 2018. Cohen said Costello served as a "back channel" to Trump through his friend, the lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

Trump's lawyers had hoped to use Costello's testimony to impeach Cohen's credibility on this "pressure campaign" point.

But Merchan said Trump's lawyer Bove could only elicit testimony from Costello about prior inconsistent statements Cohen may have made about a limited set of meetings and calls between them.
Bove couldn't instigate a "trial within a trial," the judge ordered, by asking Costello questions beyond this limited topic.

Bove asked such questions anyway. Merchan repeatedly sustained objections from prosecutors and called sidebar conferences, which journalists couldn't hear.

And Costello repeatedly ignored the judge and tried to answer questions that had been successfully objected to.

At one point, Costello audibly said "ridiculous" from the witness stand and let out a heavy sigh when the judge told him not to answer a question.

donald trump papers todd blanche
Former President Donald Trump presenting columns supporting him while speaking to journalists in the court hallway.Mark Peterson - Pool/Getty Images

In his testimony, Costello backed up the narrative from Trump's lawyers that Cohen paid hush money to Stormy Daniels on his own, without Trump's knowledge.

"Michael Cohen said numerous times that President Trump knew nothing about these payments," Costello said. "That he did this on his own. And he did this numerous times."

Costello has been a frequent critic of the Manhattan District Attorney's case against Trump.

He spoke in front of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives committee last week on the "weaponization of government," echoing Trump's claims that the case is politically motivated.

The trial continues Tuesday morning with more of the defense case. Costello was their second witness.

The defense began its direct case by calling a paralegal who works for the Trump lawyer Todd Blanche to the stand. The paralegal, Daniel Sitko, presented jurors with a spreadsheet showing Cohen initiated the majority of calls between himself and Costello in May and June of 2018 during the alleged pressure campaign.

Dershowitz told BI that if Merchan had chosen to strike Costello's testimony from the record, the chaos of the day would've been a win for Trump.

"I think it would've been the best thing for Trump if he had been held in contempt and had his testimony struck," Dershowitz said. "I think that the court of appeals would've really looked hard at it.

This story has been updated.

Correction: May 21, 2024 — An earlier version of this story misspelled the surname of the defense's first witness. His name is Daniel Sitko, not Daniel Citco.

Read the original article on Business Insider