Donald Trump rests defense case without taking stand at historic hush money trial

NEW YORK — Donald Trump rested his defense Tuesday without taking the stand — despite repeatedly claiming he “absolutely” would — ushering the historic hush money trial into the home stretch and paving the way for a Manhattan jury to begin deliberating as soon as next week.

Trump lawyer Todd Blanche announced that the defense had finished countering prosecutors’ monthlong case against the former president after Bob Costello wrapped on the stand shortly after 10 a.m.

State Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan informed jurors they would be off through Memorial Day to avoid a long lapse between closing arguments and deliberations.

“I think the best thing we can do is adjourn now until next Tuesday,” Merchan said. Later, he heard arguments regarding how to instruct jurors before they get the case.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday morning, Trump addressed his decision not to testify.

“Remember, I’m gagged. I’m not allowed to say what I’d like to really say,” he said incorrectly.

The judge previously told him that the gag order preventing comments about trial participants, including witnesses and jurors, did not apply to sworn testimony.

“You’d be very impressed, but I’m gagged,” Trump continued. “So why would I take the chance? We do want to defend our constitution. So at some point maybe I will take the chance.”

The presumed GOP nominee in this year’s presidential election pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records, each tied to his alleged reimbursement to Michael Cohen for paying off porn star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election to silence her claims of sleeping with a newlywed Trump in 2006.

Prosecutors allege the payments, logged as compensation for legal fees, constituted felony-level crimes as they were disguised to mask an underlying conspiracy to influence the election.

The 12 New Yorkers tasked with deciding whether to convict a U.S. president for the first time heard from 20 witnesses for the prosecution and two for the defense — Costello and a paralegal from Blanche’s firm.

Team Trump called Costello, who drew the usually even-tempered judge’s ire Monday for mouthing off in front of jurors, to try to discredit Cohen.

The New York City defense attorney, a longtime ally of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, informally advised Cohen in the spring of 2018 after the feds began investigating him. He said he independently advised Cohen, who told him Trump “knew nothing” about the Daniels payoff.

Prosecutors have posited that Costello’s desire to represent Cohen, Trump’s former fixer, was actually part of a “pressure campaign” to stop him from flipping on the mogul. Cohen, who served a stint in federal prison for crimes including breaking campaign finance laws for Trump, previously told jurors he didn’t trust the attorney and felt anything he told him would get back to the boss.

On cross-examination Tuesday, Assistant District Attorney Susan Hoffinger elicited testimony establishing he and Giuliani had known one another for half a century and asked if he brought that up while trying to pin down Cohen as a client, which he denied.

Hoffinger then pulled up emails between the two men and Costello’s law partner.

“Michael, I just spoke to Rudy Giuliani and told him I was on your team. Rudy is thrilled and said this could not be a better situation for the President or you,” read an excerpt of an email Costello sent Cohen soon after the FBI raided Cohen’s residences.

“[Giuliani] said thank you for opening this back channel of communication and asked me to keep in touch.”

Hoffinger asked Costello if the email “speaks for itself.”

“No, not quite. There are circumstances about that email, which I would be delighted to tell you,” a beet-red Costello said.

“That’s all right,” Hoffinger said, prompting laughter in the courtroom. “Let’s move on to the next one.”

Other emails showed Costello telling Cohen he had “friends in high places,” with the defense witness conceding he was referencing Trump. The jury also saw Cohen telling Costello to leave him alone around the time he pleaded guilty.

In another exchange, Costello described Cohen to his law partner as an “a–hole” who was “playing with the most powerful man on the planet.”

“Our issue is to get Cohen on the right page without giving him the appearance that we are following instructions from Giuliani or the president,” Costello wrote in one email.

On redirect with Trump lawyer Emil Bove, Costello said Giuliani first uttered the term “back channel” when Costello told him they had to keep his communications with Cohen private.

Costello denied he sought to pressure Cohen in 2016 or intimidate him last week when Costello voluntarily testified before the House of Representatives, where he described Cohen as a liar. He admitted that Cohen never signed a retainer and that he was peeved for never being paid for advising him.

Hoffinger asked Costello if he lost control of Cohen when Cohen got another lawyer and copped to committing crimes for the president.

“No! I answered no!” Costello fumed.

During his testimony, Cohen said that Trump gave the green light to the Daniels payoff as part of a conspiracy devised in August 2015 to boost Trump’s campaign for president.

Trump denies he reimbursed Cohen for illegal work and says any efforts to bury allegations were intended to protect his family and brand — not his presidential candidacy.

Among those who accompanied Trump to court Tuesday were former acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, comic Joe Piscopo and Donald Trump Jr. Outside court, a cyclist heckled the Trump scion, yelling, “Don Jr., we hate you in New York.”

Trump’s middle son disparaged Cohen as “arguably the least credible witnesses in the history of, I don’t know, witnesses,” and defended his father’s decision not to testify.

“He didn’t ask me to come here,” Don Jr. said. “I came here, and I damn sure saw it myself. It’s a circus in that courtroom.”