Michael Cohen’s Former Legal Adviser Disputes His Trump Trial Allegations
Michael Cohen’s Former Legal Adviser Disputes His Trump Trial Allegations

By Jack Phillips

A former lawyer who once advised Michael Cohen testified in Congress on May 15 that some of Mr. Cohen’s testimony could be false in the ongoing Trump trial in New York.

Robert Costello, a former prosecutor who had worked for Mr. Cohen and former President Donald Trump, told a House Republican-led panel that the former president had nothing to do with Mr. Cohen’s plans to pay Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about allegations of a 2006 affair that the former president has denied.

When questioned by Republican House lawmakers, he disputed Mr. Cohen’s recent claims in court including that President Trump was concerned only about his 2016 campaign for president, which prosecutors have alleged.

Mr. Costello said that Mr. Cohen had said that he didn’t “want to embarrass Melania Trump,” which President Trump’s attorneys have maintained.

“That’s why I decided to take on this on my own,” Mr. Costello recalled Mr. Cohen telling him. He also asked Mr. Cohen if President Trump “had anything to do with it,” meaning the payments to Ms. Daniels, to which Mr. Cohen replied: “No,” according to Mr. Costello.

Mr. Costello then claimed that Mr. Cohen told him that none of President Trump’s companies knew about his payment to Ms. Daniels and that Mr. Cohen took out a loan to pay her on his own.

“This guy thought that he should be attorney general of the United States,” Mr. Costello said of Mr. Cohen, adding that he wanted to get back into President Trump’s “inner circle” by paying Ms. Daniels on his own.

“There has to be a motivation,” he said.

President Trump has been charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records in the case, with prosecutors alleging that he used that payment to interfere with the 2016 election outcome. He has pled not guilty, saying the charges are an attempt to derail his 2024 presidential campaign.

Mr. Cohen was contacted for comment on May 15.

During his testimony this week, Mr. Cohen told the court that there was an alleged backchannel set up for him to communicate with President Trump via Mr. Costello, who would relay information to the former president.

“It’s all back channel, sort of I-Spy-ish,” Mr. Cohen said. “Never mentioning President Trump, just using code words.”

“Since you jumped off the phone rather abruptly, I did not get a chance to tell you that my friend has communicated to me that he is meeting with his client this evening and he added that if there was anything you wanted to convey you should tell me and my friend will bring it up for discussion this evening,” Mr. Costello said in an June 2018 email that was displayed in the court.

The emails, prosecutors alleged, suggested that Mr. Costello told him that Mr. Cohen shouldn’t speak to federal officials. Mr. Cohen also in court said that he believes Mr. Costello became President Trump’s de facto messenger, delivering instructions to “stay in the fold, don’t flip, don’t speak.”

“The back channel was Bob Costello to Rudy to Rudy to President Trump,” Mr. Cohen said on the stand on May 14.

Mr. Costello has not publicly responded to those claims.

Jurors also saw an April 2018 email in which Mr. Costello said he had spoken with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

“You are ‘loved,’” Mr. Costello wrote. “lf you want to call me I will give you the details. I told him everything you asked me to and he said they knew that. There was never a doubt and they are in our corner.”

He told him that he should “sleep well tonight, you have friends in high places.”

Mr. Cohen earlier testified that President Trump ordered him to pay Ms. Daniels in 2016 and then approved a plan to reimburse Mr. Cohen through multiple invoices that prosecutors say were illegal.

Prosecutor Susan Hoffinger walked Mr. Cohen through a series of invoices and checks that Mr. Cohen said were falsely marked as paying to retain him for legal services.

“There was no retainer agreement, was there?” she asked. “No, ma’am,” Mr. Cohen replied.

Attorneys Robert Costello (L) and David Schoen (C), and Steve Bannon, former adviser to former President Donald Trump, at the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse in Washington on June 15, 2022. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Under New York law, falsifying business records can be elevated from a misdemeanor to a felony if the crime helped conceal another offense. In President Trump’s case, prosecutors have argued the payment was effectively a secret contribution to his campaign, violating federal and state laws.

The Manhattan trial is considered less consequential than three other criminal prosecutions the former president faces, all of which are mired in delays. The other cases charge President Trump with trying to overturn his 2020 presidential defeat in Georgia and in Washington, D.C., and mishandling classified documents after leaving office. He has pled not guilty to all charges.

During cross-examination, Trump lawyers repeatedly suggested that Mr. Cohen, who spent time in prison on perjury charges, isn’t a reliable witness due to his checkered past and previous convictions.

A former Trump aide, Hope Hicks, testified earlier this month that Mr. Cohen would often go rogue and act on his own accord despite what the 2016 campaign officials wanted.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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