Former Judge Breaks Down Juan Merchan’s Latest Trump Trial Actions

The judge overseeing Donald Trump’s hush money trial has been praised for his actions while reining in the potentially explosive cross-examination of Michael Cohen.

Jill Konviser, a former New York State Supreme Court Justice, told CNN that Judge Juan Merchan made the right move by stepping in and preventing Trump’s legal team from asking “irrelevant” questions during Tuesday’s falsifying business records proceedings.

Cohen, the prosecution’s star witness, took the stand in the New York courtroom for the second time on Tuesday, including a cross-examination from Trump’s legal team. Trump’s lawyers were expected to try and paint Cohen as an unreliable witness due to his history of lying, as well as suggesting the attorney was seeking revenge against his former employer and exploiting his hatred of the Republican for financial gain.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in relation to hush money he arranged for Cohen to pay adult film star Stormy Daniels to keep an alleged affair she had with Trump a secret in the run-up to the 2016 election. The money was listed in Trump’s company records as Cohen’s legal fees, which prosecutors suggest was part of an unlawful attempt to conceal the payment in order to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential race.

Donald Trump in New York
Donald Trump and attorney Todd Blanche at Manhattan Criminal Court on May 14, 2024, in New York City. Judge Juan Merchan has been praised for his actions while overseeing Tuesday’s proceedings.

Curtis Means – Pool/Getty Images

On Tuesday, Trump lawyer Todd Blanche came right out of the gate with a series of combative questions for Cohen, including confronting him about a TikTok video post in which Cohen referred to Blanche as a “crying little s***.”

Merchan then called Blanche for a sidebar to tell the lawyer: “It doesn’t matter if he has bias towards you. it doesn’t matter. The issue is whether he has bias towards the defendant. Don’t make it about myself.”

Speaking to CNN, Konviser said that Merchan was right to intervene in the line of questioning.

“Cross-examination is the beating heart of the adversarial process. So as a judge, you’re going to take a step back and let the lawyers do what they do,” Konviser said.

“If they ask an absolutely irrelevant question or something that is just beyond the pale, it’s your responsibility to stop it. Whether it’s question one, question four, or question 400. And that is precisely what Judge Merchan did.

“When a lawyer says to a witness on the stand, ‘you said unkind things about me,’ there’s no relevance to that,” she added.

Trump’s legal team has been contacted for comment via email.

Konviser also said she is “surprised how smoothly” the historic trial involving the former president is going, while noting that a New York court appeals court also agreed that the scope of the gag order imposed against Trump was warranted.

On Tuesday, a New York appellate court rejected Trump’s bid to lift the gag order over claims it violates his First Amendment rights.

The court ruled that Merchan “properly weighed” Trump’s First Amendment Rights while also ensuring that witnesses and others involved in the trial are free from “threats, intimidation, harassment, and harm” by imposing the gag order.

“Quite frankly, the only thing that’s gone off the rails is the defendant, who goes before the microphone and says whatever he wants, talks about his constitutional rights being violated when he’s wrong,” Konviser said.

“Today, the [appeals court] found that Judge Merchan did the right thing in terms of the gag order, that it was narrowly tailored, the order was justified, and he used the least restrictive means. So they out and out dismissed Trump’s claims right there.”

Cohen will return to the witness stand Thursday for further cross-examination.