In the hush-money case involving former President Donald Trump, a witness defending Trump was sharply rebuked by the judge on Monday. This led to an order to clear the courtroom, leaving jurors puzzled and attendees in disbelief.

Judge Juan Merchan abruptly sealed a Manhattan courtroom in response to testimony from Robert Costello, a former advisor to Michael Cohen who has publicly questioned Cohen’s reliability as a witness for District Attorney Alvin Bragg. Having once acted as a liaison between Cohen and the White House during part of President Trump’s first term, Costello has since distanced himself from Cohen. He accuses his former ally of saying or doing anything to avoid prison, including blaming Trump for his own conviction for lying to Congress.

During questioning by Trump’s legal team, Costello became visibly frustrated when prosecutors from Alvin Bragg’s office interrupted him, leading him to raise his voice in response. This behavior drew a stern reaction from Judge Merchan, who, after ordering the jury out of the room, engaged in a tense staring match with Costello.

After the jury was cleared, Merchan addressed Costello, saying, “Mr. Costello, I’d like to discuss proper decorum in my courtroom, OK?” to which Costello responded, “Right,” according to the Daily Beast. Judge Merchan further emphasized that Costello had no right to “act out” in his courtroom, regardless of his feelings about rulings on objections to particular questions.


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“I’m the only one who can strike testimony in the courtroom. If you don’t like my ruling, you don’t give me side-eye, and you don’t roll your eyes. Do you understand that?” Merchan asked him. “I understand that,” Costello replied.

The situation escalated into a personal confrontation when Costello refused to break eye contact with Judge Juan Merchan. “Are you staring me down right now?” Merchan asked, turning back to face Costello. Following this exchange, Merchan ordered court officers to clear the room of reporters and the public, allowing him to address Costello privately, as reported by the outlet. A transcript later released by the court suggests that Merchan had a strong reaction to Costello’s assertive behavior.

“Your conduct is contemptuous right now. I’m putting you on notice that your conduct is contemptuous. If you try to stare me down one more time, I will remove you from the stand,” Merchan told Costello. The judge then turned to Trump attorney Emil Bove and warned him to control his witness. “I will strike his entire testimony; do you understand me?” Merchan told him. “Yes, Judge. I understand,” Bove responded.

Merchan cautioned Costello to provide shorter answers when asked about Cohen, as he suspected that the witness was deliberately extending the background of stories and encounters to undermine the former fixer’s testimony against Trump.

“Listen to the question and answer the question,” Merchan said. But Costello remained insistent. “Can I say something, please?” he interjected. “No. No. This is not a conversation,” the judge stated, according to the report.

The outlet reported that Costello appeared visibly upset, with a bright red face and a noticeable frown, when reporters were allowed back into the courtroom. Bove then questioned Costello about a minor role he played in President Trump’s criminal case, which involves an alleged $130,000 hush money payment directed to adult film star Stormy Daniels. However, Bragg’s team’s frequent objections overshadowed nearly every question Bove asked. Earlier in the day, Costello had been seen shaking his head, frowning, or audibly expressing frustration with “jeez” in response to the prosecutors’ objections to the defense’s line of questioning.

Later, Costello testified that Cohen repeatedly told him that he had no incriminating information about Trump and that he was nearly “suicidal” after the FBI raided his home shortly before he was charged with lying to prosecutors and Congress.

“Michael Cohen said numerous times that President Trump knew nothing about those payments, that he did this on his own, and he repeated that numerous times,” Costello testified.


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