Trump said he ‘absolutely’ planned to testify in his hush money trial. So what changed?

Former president chose not to testify before defense rested its case on Tuesday

Ariana Baio
Tuesday 21 May 2024 21:30 BST
‘No case, no crime’: Trump speaks as hush money trial nears end

Donald Trump’s opportunity to testify in his historic criminal hush money trial came and went on Tuesday morning with the former president choosing not to take the stand to defend himself from charges connected to a $130,000 payment to a porn star.

Mr Trump’s defense team rested its case after calling just two witnesses including Robert Costello, a lawyer and Mr Trump ally who was called in to undermine Michael Cohen’s credibility.

Whether or not the former president would testify was a key question on everyone’s lips even before the trial got under way – a question that was exacerbated by Mr Trump’s past hints that he would. 

For weeks, the former president played a will-he won’t-he game with reporters on the matter.

Back in early April, he told reporters that he would “absolutely” testify.

“I don’t know, I’m testifying. I tell the truth,” he said before the trial got under way. “I mean, all I can do is tell the truth. And the truth is that there’s no case, they have no case.”

He later doubled down, telling reporters outside the New York courtroom that he wanted to take the stand.

But later, after sitting through seven days of the trial, he changed his tune, saying he would “if it’s necessary.”

“Well I would if it’s necessary. Right now, I don’t know if you heard about today. Today was just incredible,” he told Newsmax.

Former President Donald Trump, center, sits in Manhattan Criminal Court with his attorneys Emil Bove, left, and Todd Blanche on May 21
Former President Donald Trump, center, sits in Manhattan Criminal Court with his attorneys Emil Bove, left, and Todd Blanche on May 21 (AP)

“People are saying – the experts, I’m talking about legal scholars and experts – they’re saying, ‘What kind of a case is this? There is no case’.”

Legal experts previously warned that Mr Trump’s decision to testify could easily be used against him, given his history of speaking loosely.

Whether Mr Trump chose not to testify under the advice of his lawyers or for other reasons is unclear.

But it’s not necessarily surprising.

During his civil fraud trial in New York last year, he made a similar move when he backed out of testifying hours before he was expected to return to the stand.

Mr Trump had already taken to the stand once in the civil trial.

During that appearance, he struggled to maintain his composure – and resorted to admonishing the judge overseeing the case, the prosecutor, his political rivals and his own attorneys. Rather than answering questions directly, he seized on the opportunity to rant about his personal feelings about the case.

After that testy stint, he took to Truth Social to announce he would not be returning to the stand.

When the former president testified in his defamation trial with E Jean Carroll he was also given strict instructions about what he could and couldn’t say. Again, he went rogue.

Former president Donald Trump testifies as he takes the stand in the second E Jean Carroll civil trial
Former president Donald Trump testifies as he takes the stand in the second E Jean Carroll civil trial (REUTERS)

“The most important thing when someone does testify is their ability to control themselves and you’re talking about someone with a track record of the opposite of control when speaking publicly,” Steve Duffy, a jury consultant at Trial Behaviour Consulting told The Independent last month.

It remains to be seen whether or not Mr Trump made the right decision this time around.

The former president’s fate will soon sit in the hands of the jury of 12 New York residents.

After more than four weeks of evidence and testimony, both sides have now rested, with closing statements expected to get under way next week.

Mr Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records to cover up hush money payments made by his former lawyer Cohen to adult film star Stormy Daniels to buy her silence about an alleged 2006 affair in the days leading up to the 2016 presidential election. He has pleaded not guilty and denies the affair.

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