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Trump waits out grand jury as New York braces for protests

In New York, police officers wait for instructions around a courthouse.
Police officers in New York stand by as authorities prepare for possible unrest in the event of a grand jury indictment of former President Trump.
(Eduardo Munoz Alvarez / Associated Press)
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Facing possible criminal charges, former President Trump waited in Florida on Tuesday as New York braced for disruptions that could follow an indictment there. Republican contenders in the 2024 presidential race sized up the impact a prosecution could have on a campaign in which the former president is a leading candidate.

Trump claimed over the weekend, without citing evidence, that he would be arrested Tuesday, but there was no indication that would happen.

A Manhattan grand jury did appear to take an important step Monday when it heard from a witness favorable to Trump, presumably so prosecutors could ensure the panel could consider his version of events. The grand jury is investigating hush money paid to a porn star during Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

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It was unclear whether more witnesses would be called. But a city mindful of Trump loyalists’ attack on the U.S. Capitol more than two years ago took steps to protect itself from violence that could erupt with the unprecedented prosecution of the former president.

Testimony on Monday from Robert Costello, a lawyer with close ties to key Trump aides, appeared to be a final opportunity for allies of the former president to steer the grand jury away from indicting him.

Prosecutors invited Costello to appear after he said he had information that undercut the credibility of Michael Cohen, a former lawyer and fixer for Trump who turned against him and became a key witness in the Manhattan district attorney’s investigation.

Costello provided legal services to Cohen several years ago after Cohen became entangled in the federal investigation into the hush money payments.

In a news conference after his grand jury appearance Monday, Costello told reporters he had come forward because he did not believe Cohen, who served time in prison after pleading guilty to federal crimes related to his work for Trump.

“If they want to go after Donald Trump and they have solid evidence, then so be it,” he said. “But Michael Cohen is far from solid evidence.”

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Responding on MSNBC, Cohen said Costello was never his lawyer and “lacks any sense of veracity.”

There was no indication Tuesday that Costello’s testimony had affected the course of the investigation. Cohen was available in case prosecutors wanted him to rebut Costello’s testimony, but he was told he was not needed, his attorney said.

His testimony came two days after Trump said he expected to face criminal charges and urged supporters to protest his possible arrest. Trump criticized the investigation in social media posts through the weekend, directing particularly hostile rhetoric toward Manhattan Dist. Atty. Alvin Bragg.

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New York officials were monitoring online chatter involving threats, but even as metal barricades were dropped off to safeguard streets and sidewalks, there was little sign that Trump’s supporters were heeding his calls for protests.

On Tuesday morning, court proceedings were temporarily halted by a bomb threat called in to 911, according to a court spokesperson. That delayed the start of a hearing in a separate Trump case — the New York state attorney general’s lawsuit accusing Trump and his company of a years-long fraud scheme.

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Costello briefly acted as a legal advisor to Cohen after the FBI raided the latter’s home and apartment in 2018, while he was being investigated for tax evasion and for payments he helped orchestrate in 2016 to buy the silence of two women who claimed to have had sexual encounters with Trump.

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For several months, it was unclear whether Cohen, a longtime lawyer and fixer for the Trump Organization who once boasted that he would “take a bullet” for his boss, would remain loyal to the president.

Cohen ultimately pleaded guilty in connection with the payments that he said Trump directed be made to porn actor Stormy Daniels and model Karen McDougal. Since then, he has been a vociferous critic of Trump, testifying before Congress and the grand jury.

Trump, who has denied having sex with either woman, has branded Cohen a liar.

As the New York investigation pushes toward a conclusion, Trump also faces criminal probes in Atlanta and Washington that pose significant legal peril, as well as the prospect of upending his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

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Some of his likely opponents have tried to strike a balance between condemning his potential prosecution as being politically motivated while avoiding condoning the conduct at issue.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, an expected GOP presidential candidate, criticized the investigation but also jabbed at Trump.

“I don’t know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some kind of alleged affair,” DeSantis said at a news conference in Panama City, Fla. “I can’t speak to that.”

Switching to criticism of the district attorney, he said: “What I can speak to is that if you have a prosecutor who is ignoring crimes happening every single day in his jurisdiction and he chooses to go back many, many years ago to try to use something about porn star hush money payments, that’s an example of pursuing a political agenda and weaponizing the office. And I think that’s fundamentally wrong.”

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