MAGA Lawyer Gets Dismantled by His Own Damning Trump Emails

Seth Wenig/AP
Seth Wenig/AP

Donald Trump made the curious decision to put on a single relevant witness at his New York trial, opting for a MAGA loyalist tangentially involved in the porn star hush money saga—a strategy that failed spectacularly when his testimony only further incriminated the former president.

Robert Costello’s role in the Stormy Daniels affair is comedic recursion, a legal version of the Yo Dawg meme. When the feds in 2018 tried to flip then-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, Costello was the New York lawyer who tried to keep him from cooperating—a cover-up to hide the way Cohen had faked legal invoices, which was itself a cover-up of the hush money payment, which was a cover-up to stop the woman from ruining Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

For a brief moment in 2018, Costello tried to become Cohen’s lawyer and his “backchannel” to the powerful politician who might corruptly be able to protect him by sidelining the FBI investigation. The idea was to have Cohen represented by Costello, who was close friends with Rudy Giuliani, who was advising the Trump White House—a plan copiously detailed in emails.

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At this trial, the defense was hoping that Costello would portray Cohen—the case’s key witness—as a desperate liar who’d been caught by the feds after independently putting together the hush money deal without Trump’s express permission and is only now trying to pin it on his former boss.

Instead, whatever alternate narrative Costello was trying to tell was eclipsed by his miserable performance on the stand Monday and Tuesday: first getting reprimanded by the judge for showing his utter contempt for the entire trial, then later by being forced to confront his own damning words written six years ago.

Susan Hoffinger, the chief of the Manhattan District Attorney’s investigations division, questioned Costello about his emails during his cross-examination on Tuesday morning. She started by directing the jury’s attention to the way Costello flaunted his personal ties to Giuliani when he and his law partner, Jeff Citron, first met with Cohen at the New York Regency hotel on April 17, 2018.

When Costello asserted he didn’t, Hoffinger pointed to an email Costello sent Cohen two days later in which he wrote, “I told you my relationship with Rudy which could be very very useful to you.”

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“Doesn’t that mean you mentioned that to him at the first meeting?” Hoffinger asked.

“No,” Costello defiantly said.

Hoffinger then pointed to another email in which Costello told his law partner that Giuliani’s new spot at the White House made it “all the more reason” for Cohen to hire their firm, thanks to a connection “which I mentioned at our meeting.”

Costello wouldn’t budge. But he was visibly annoyed.

For an hour, Hoffinger turned Costello’s overconfidence into a weakness. The previous day, Costello had asserted that the emails “speak for themselves,” thinking they’d plainly show Cohen was in the wrong. She threw that right back at him on Tuesday morning, pointing to an April 21, 2018 email in which Costello told Cohen that Giuliani “said thank you for opening this back channel of communication.”

“And this email speaks for itself, right sir?” she asked.

Costello demurred, saying he’d be “happy” to explain what he really meant.

“That's all right, sir,” she dismissed him, moving on.

One by one, Hoffinger read through emails showing what appeared to be a quiet campaign to pressure Cohen into remaining on the Trump team. And with every pushback from Costello, the lawyer only lost more credibility—suffering the same fate he’d hoped for Cohen.

When Costello finally conceded one point, it proved to be a damaging example.

Hoffinger showed jurors how Costello had assured Cohen in an April 21, 2018 email—just as the FBI was investigating him—that he had nothing to worry about because “you have friends in high places.” Hoffinger wondered aloud, who was he talking about?

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Costello hit a fork in the road. Would he play dumb and lose the jury’s trust, or actually hint at a corrupt scheme pointing straight to the White House? He went with Option B, casually admitting he was referring to then-President Trump.

The lawyer later tried to save face by repeatedly countering any notion that he was part of a shadow pressure campaign stemming from the White House. But any hope of standing his ground was lost when Hoffinger pointed to a May 15, 2018 email in which Costello told his law partner that “our issue is to get Cohen on the right page.”

Costello donned his glasses to take a closer look at the computer screen. Yes, the words were exactly how she’d read them.

“And as you said yesterday, the email speaks for itself, correct?” Hoffinger said.

“Sometimes,” he whined.

Hoffinger seized on the former prosecutor’s insistent attempts to control the conversation and the courtroom. When Costello tried to outmaneuver her by turning every question into an opportunity to launch into a soliloquy discrediting Cohen, Hoffinger would cut him off and demand a monosyllabic answer. And every time Costello got cornered into a “yes” or “no,” he’d get flustered and turn red in the face.

When Hoffinger suggested Costello abhorred Cohen for not playing along and refusing to pay him for getting involved, the lawyer disagreed and tried to elaborate but the prosecutor cut him off yet again. And this time, the judge jumped in too.

Costello protested, once again asserting his persona as a former federal prosecutor in Manhattan, only to get shut down by the same judge who gave him a tongue lashing on Monday for acting out in court.

“There's a pending question—”

“There's no pending question,” Justice Juan Merchan interrupted.

Prosecutors ended their cross-examination of Costello by noting the way he testified before Congress last week about these same matters, a Republican ploy that Hoffinger suggested was meant to scare Cohen at the very moment he was appearing at this criminal trial.

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“And you went there to publicly vilify Michael Cohen while he was in the middle of his testimony?” she asked.

“I went there to testify,” Costello countered.

Hoffinger repeated the question.

“To intimidate Michael Cohen?” Costello asked, incredulously.

“Yes, that was my question,” she replied.

“Ridiculous! No.”

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