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Molly Butler / Media Matters

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Fox News begged for Robert Costello's testimony in Trump's criminal hush money trial. It was a disaster.

During the past week of former President Donald Trump’s hush money trial, Fox News has been clamoring for Michael Cohen’s former legal adviser Robert Costello to be called as a witness for the defense. Leading up to the testimony, Fox figures characterized Costello as “very likable” and theorized he could be the one to “put the nail in the Cohen coffin.” 

But, as several mainstream media figures have noted, the first day of Costello’s testimony was a disaster — he was reportedly confrontational with Judge Juan Merchan, who admonished the witness both publicly and privately.

  • Costello’s behavior on the stand reportedly resulted in admonition from the judge

    • On April 20, former Michael Cohen adviser Robert Costello took the witness stand for the defense. As a witness, Costello claimed that Cohen had told him several times that Trump “knew nothing about those [hush money] payments, that he did this on his own.” He had been “called as a witness to contradict” Cohen’s claims; Trump’s team claimed Costello’s testimony would “show that Cohen had committed perjury at this trial.” Costello also testified last week at a House Judiciary Committee panel about Cohen. [Forbes, 5/21/24; The Washington Post, 5/20/24]
    • Costello’s testimony reportedly went sideways when he seemed to roll his eyes and comment on Judge Juan Merchan’s rulings. According to Politico, “At one point, seemingly fed up with prosecutors’ objections, Costello muttered ‘jeez’ and apparently rolled his eyes when Justice Juan Merchan sustained the objections.” It became so contentious that Merchan kicked journalists and other attendees out of the room to call Costello out on his behavior. [The Washington Post, 5/20/24; Politico, 5/20/24]
    • Analysts criticized Costello’s testimony as “unbelievable” and “incredibly stupid.” CNN’s Paula Reid called Costello’s behavior “unbelievable,” saying it “suggests in many ways that he is probably posturing for the defendant [Trump].” MSNBC’s Jen Psaki suggested the language the judge used with Costello was “a lot of language I would use with my children,” and MSNBC legal analyst Kristy Greenberg said, “It was incredibly stupid because any concerns that these jurors may have had about Michael Cohen’s credibility … got lost and overshadowed by just how unprofessional and uncivil Bob Costello was to the judge.” Talking about the prosecutor’s cross examination, CNN anchor John Berman said, “I think the legal term to describe what we just saw from the prosecution in its cross of Robert Costello is [prosecutor] Susan Hoffinger beat the snot out of him.” [Twitter/X, 5/20/24, 5/20/24, 5/21/24]
  • Fox News personalities hyped up Costello as an witness, saying it would be “insane” to not bring him in

    • Fox News invited Costello on multiple times to discuss the hush money case and promote himself as a potential witness. In an appearance on America’s Newsroom, co-anchor Dana Perino asked if Costello was in the defense attorney’s place, would he call himself to testify. Costello responded, “Yes, because I’m a reliable person.” [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 5/16/24; Twitter/X, 5/20/24]
    • Fox guest and former Trump attorney Jim Trusty argued that Costello is “an impossible-to-deflate New York lawyer. He would be devastating on the witness stand. There is no cross-examination that is going to shake that guy for a minute.” Trusty also praised Costello as someone who would give a “great rebuttal” to “some of the accounts and stories that Cohen gave this jury.” [Fox News, America Reports, 5/16/24
    • Fox News contributor Lisa Kennedy Montgomery theorized that Costello “could be the one person to quickly put the nail in the Cohen coffin” with his testimony. She continued, “I think that Costello would be a good person because he can bring in some specifics.” [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 5/20/24]
    • When asked if she would call Costello as a witness, Fox News host Jeanine Pirro said, “I would because I have heard Costello. He is very believable.” Pirro also said that Costello “is well respected and he made it very clear that Cohen would have said anything to get out of this.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/16/24
    • Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer said he doesn’t “know why Trump's team would not want that in front of the jury” after playing a clip of Costello alleging it was Cohen’s “idea to take care of the NDA.” Fox News contributor Andrew McCarthy agreed, saying, “I think you're right about that.” [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 5/16/24]
    • Fox News host Sean Hannity lavished praise on Costello as a potential witness, saying that what he said in an earlier interview on the network was “devastating” and that “frankly, if they don't bring him in as a witness, I think it would be insane.” Hannity also argued that “the jury needs to hear” from Costello because he is “contradicting the whole story, impeaching all of the testimony and frankly undermining the entire case of the prosecution from top to bottom here.” [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 5/16/24]
    • Former Department of Justice official John Yoo argued that “Trump should put him on as a witness.” He claimed, “The reason Bob Costello’s testimony is important — it’s almost like what we call a dying declaration in evidence law. He heard what Cohen was saying before he thought he was going to die, before he thought he was going to kill himself. In the law, that is seen as the most credible statement.” Hemmer also said, “I view him [Costello] as credible.” [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 5/16/24
    • McCarthy claimed that Costello “is a very good witness” for Trump. McCarthy went on to say that he thinks Costello “would come across very well and he would be very difficult for the district attorney's office to cross-examine.” [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 5/16/24]
    • McCarthy also described Costello as a “very important witness” who “is a very likable guy who has made a career out of charming New York juries.” McCarthy speculated that Costello is a witness who would “go over well with the jury.” [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 5/20/24]
    • Fox News host Kayleigh McEnany insisted that she found Costello “to be very authentic [and] what he is saying is, I think, really important.” [Fox News, Outnumbered, 5/16/24]