Surprise final grand jury witness revealed in Manhattan criminal case against Donald Trump

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Yesterday it was revealed that there was one more surprise witness set to testify to the Manhattan grand jury that’s in the process of criminally indicting Donald Trump. Now the New York Times says that the final grand jury witness in Manhattan is Robert Costello, Trump’s former pardon dangler. Trump apparently requested that Costello testify, to try to discredit Michael Cohen. So why is the District Attorney going along with it? Because the request is likely to backfire on Trump.

Trump just gave away that his defense strategy at trial will involve using Costello as a defense witness to try to discredit Cohen. But now the DA gets to start picking Costello apart on the stand already, while locking Costello into specific testimony that he won’t be able to change at trial. If Costello’s story is ineffective or falls apart during his grand jury testimony, Costello will become useless to Trump at trial.

No Trump-friendly claims that Costello makes in front of the grand jury are going to make the grand jury any less likely to indict Trump. We’re already way past that threshold. So the DA risks nothing, and gains something, by going along with Trump’s request.

The question is why Trump is making such a randomly dumb move. Perhaps he’s so desperate to avoid indictment, he’s willing to try a last ditch plan that he knows has zero chance of helping him, because he can’t bring himself to just do nothing. We saw Trump make several such moves after he lost the 2020 election. He kept throwing things at the wall that he had to know would have literally no chance of working.

Or maybe Trump hopes that by getting Costello’s version of events out there into the ether now, he can start goading the media into attacking Cohen’s credibility. But this too would be unlikely to succeed. Cohen having asked for a pardon is something we’ve all known for years. Any questions about Cohen’s credibility as a witness will come down to the fact that he lied (for Trump) in the past, not the fact that he once sought a pardon from Trump.

There is also debate among legal experts about whether Costello will have automatic immunity for testifying to the grand jury about helping Trump dangle a pardon (which is a crime) or whether he’ll have to plead the 5th Amendment to some questions, and whether he even can plead the 5th Amendment in this kind of setting.

That’s how much of a mess this is for Trump. There’s no secret evil genius plan here. Nor should anyone be looking for one at this point. Trump, who has clearly lost a step and hasn’t made a savvy move in years, is also surrounded by wildly inept attorneys. This really does appear to be a huge mistake on their part.

The DA invited Trump to testify on his own behalf, hoping Trump would be dumb enough to say yes, and instead Trump decided to request that his deeply flawed star witness testify on his behalf. The DA has got to be laughing at how lucky he’s gotten here.

If Trump’s goal was to delay things, he’s bought himself what, two days? Congrats! He sacrificed his would-be star witness for trial, and he delayed his indictment by two whole days. Or maybe the indictment timetable – which we still don’t know for sure – hasn’t been delayed at all by this witness.

Trump and his team already made one dumb mistake by revealing that they planned to falsely accuse Stormy Daniels of extortion at trial. This just prompted the DA to interview Daniels now and get her potential trial testimony sorted. Now they’re making another dumb mistake with Costello.

It’s as if Trump is yelling “do something” and his lawyers are telling him that his best move is to shut up and prepare for trial, and he’s saying that’s not good enough, so they’re blowing through the trial defense now, just so he’ll be satisfied that they’re “doing something.”

Right wingers only respond to the perception of strength. Right or wrong doesn’t matter; are you a strongman candidate? Trump surely fears that if he gets arrested and “does nothing” to fight back and just awaits trial, he’ll look weak in the eyes of Republican primary voters, and he’s right about that. He feels that he needs to be seen as throwing punches in response to his indictment. Not just attacks on the DA (which the judge will eventually gag order), but also going on the offensive by rolling out his trial strategy now.

But even as Trump tries to stop the bleeding when it comes to primary voters seeing him as weak, he’s harming his prospects in the criminal justice system. And therein lies the problem. You can’t actually run for President and go through a criminal trial at the same time. The goals are just too conflicting.

Will this Costello grand jury gambit help Trump? No. Is it even possible for this to help Trump? No. Will it hurt Trump? Probably. But this move allows Trump to pretend he has control over the situation, that he’s fighting back, that he’s not out of options. He’s likely making this move to try to convince himself that he’s not a goner. And since this is about a hallucinatory rescue fantasy and not the real world, it doesn’t matter much to Trump that this stunt will actually hurt him.

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