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May 30, 2023

Trump ally attempts to undercut Michael Cohen with testimony in hush money probe

A key Trump ally testified before a grand jury Monday and tried to discredit earlier testimony from Michael Cohen in a hush money probe that could lead to the first indictment of a former president.

Robert Costello, speaking to reporters after more than two hours of testimony, said he told the truth about the New York County district attorney’s star witness — that he can’t be trusted.

“If they want to go after Donald Trump and they have solid evidence, so be it. But Michael Cohen is far from solid evidence,” said Costello, a former legal adviser to Cohen. “He is totally unreliable.”

Cohen, who was one of Trump’s lawyers at the time of the payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, fired back in an interview with Ari Melber on MSNBC: “So many things he said were untrue.”

Costello, who has represented Trump allies Rudy Giuliani and Steve Bannon, told reporters after his testimony that he met with Cohen in April 2018 when Cohen was being investigated for a number of potential crimes, one of them relating to the hush money payment to Daniels that is now focused on Trump. Daniels claimed she had an affair with Trump, which Trump has denied. Cohen paid her $130,000 to keep quiet in the closing days of the 2016 presidential election.

Cohen in 2018 pleaded guilty to a federal campaign violation in relation to the payment, which he says he made at the request of Trump, who had him paid back.

Costello told reporters that when he spoke to Cohen in 2018, Cohen said that he’d made the payment on his own and that it was his idea, not Trump’s. “Michael Cohen did this on his own,” Costello said.

“I said, ‘Why would you do that?’ He said: ‘Because I wanted to keep this secret. Even secret from my own wife,’” Costello said, noting that Cohen had taken out a loan to make the payment. He said Cohen told him: “I didn’t want Melania [Trump] to know. I didn’t want my wife to know.”

Costello added that he’d handed over more than 300 emails involving his discussions with Cohen, as well as notes from his discussions with federal prosecutors who ultimately decided not to charge Trump in the case.

Cohen dismissed Costello’s post-testimony remarks, saying their conversations were never as detailed or as involved as he made them out to be.

“I don’t know what he’s talking about. He’s making up so many stories here,” Cohen said, accusing him of using the Trump strategy of trying to “muddy the waters.”

Cohen added that prosecutors from the Manhattan district attorney’s office had summoned him to the Lower Manhattan courthouse to rebut Costello’s testimony but then told him he wasn’t needed.

Trump touted Costello’s coming testimony Sunday on his social media site, Truth Social, calling him THE MOST IMPORTANT WITNESS TO GO BEFORE THE NEW YORK CITY GRAND JURY.”

Costello said Monday that Trump didn’t ask him to testify before the grand jury and that he did so only because he felt he had an “ethical obligation.”

Costello’s interactions with Cohen were previously detailed in former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on possible obstruction by Trump and his allies in the 2016 election. It noted that after Trump tweeted on April 20, 2018, that Cohen would never “flip” and testify against him, Costello reached out with a supportive email saying he’d spoken to Giuliani about him.

“Costello told Cohen the conversation was ‘Very Very Positive[.] You are ‘loved’ … they are in our corner. … Sleep well tonight[], you have friends in high places,'” the email said, according to the Mueller report.

The grand jury appears to be in the final stages of its investigation.

Trump said on social media over the weekend that he expected to be arrested Tuesday, and he called on his supporters to protest.

New York police officers installed metal barriers and mounted cameras at the courthouse Monday morning.

A small group of demonstrators showed up in Lower Manhattan early Monday evening for a protest organized by the New York Young Republicans.

The organization’s sergeant-at-arms, Troy Olson, mocked the possible charge against Trump: felony falsification of business records. “After six, seven years of a weaponized system, all the cultural media institutions of American life against one man, this is the best that they can come up with?” Olson said. “He’s going to be leading by more in the polls after this.”

The group’s executive secretary, Vish Burra, Rep. George Santos’ director of operations, said, “If Trump gets arrested, I think there’s going to be a lot of upset Americans, and that disappointment and that outrage is going to be well justified.”

The low turnout at the rally, where it appeared members of the media outnumbered the roughly two dozen protesters, was most likely the result of Trump supporters’ feeling intimidated, a demonstrator said.

“There’s a huge silent majority for President Trump, more so than you know. They are afraid to speak out,” said Susan Miller, a longtime MAGA protester. “They’re afraid antifa will beat them up. They’re afraid they’ll lose their jobs. They’re afraid their landlord will throw them out or they’ll be arrested.”

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