Trump’s fraud trial media strategy gives glimpse of what’s to come

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Incendiary rhetoric, performances for the cameras and gripes with the judge seem all but certain to be hallmarks of former President Trump’s hush money criminal trial, which is expected to take place in New York City early next year.

The battle will play out just steps from the state courthouse where Trump’s civil fraud case is unfolding — and which may be offering a glimpse of what’s to come.

Two of Trump’s lawyers on the upcoming hush money case, Susan Necheles and Todd Blanche, were spotted taking notes at the fraud case and conferring on the defense side of the courtroom.

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Some of the civil fraud case witnesses could also appear in the hush money trial.  

In the hush money case, Trump faces 34 charges of falsifying business records linked to payments amounting in a combined $280,000 made to former porn actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal to cover up allegations of an affair. While hush money itself is legal, prosecutors charged Trump over how he reimbursed his then-fixer, Michael Cohen, who paid the women.

In a surprise, Trump last week this dropped his months-long bid to move the criminal case to federal court. Although doing so would not have made the indictment subject to a presidential pardon, moving courts would’ve broadened the jury pool beyond deep-blue Manhattan and doomed the chances of the proceedings being broadcast. 

A federal judge previously rejected Trump’s efforts to move courts, ruling the case was not sufficiently connected to his role as president, causing Trump’s counsel to appeal. But Tuesday, his lawyers without explanation filed documents voluntarily dismissing that effort. 

Necheles and Blanche did not return requests for comment. 

Moving ahead in state court changes the dynamic in several respects, including the possibility that Trump’s trial will be televised. 

Media outlets, including Nexstar Media Group, the parent company of The Hill, have mounted attempts to enable Trump’s criminal trials to be broadcast, without much luck. 

In Washington, D.C., where the former president faces federal charges over his efforts to subvert the 2020 election results, Trump and his legal team sided with media outlets and “demanded” the trial be televised.  

“The prosecution wishes to continue this travesty in darkness. President Trump calls for sunlight,” Trump’s legal team wrote in a court filing Monday. “Every person in America, and beyond, should have the opportunity to study this case firsthand and watch as, if there is a trial, President Trump exonerates himself of these baseless and politically motivated charges.” 

But as opposed to Trump’s federal cases, where the broadcasting requests are viewed as a long-shot bid, given the long-standing rules prohibiting recordings of any federal court proceeding, the matter remains an open question in the New York Supreme Court. 

Media outlets unsuccessfully attempted to broadcast Trump’s New York arraignment, though the judge did permit still photographers inside the courtroom for a few moments, enabling the now historic photo of Trump sitting with his attorneys. 

trumparraignmentpic1 Getty 040423

Broadcasting was allowed in the hallway outside the courtroom, but Trump declined to respond to questions from reporters. However, he has taken a different approach throughout the ongoing fraud trial — where the court has implemented similar media rules — in recent months.  

Instead of blowing off reporters, Trump has basked in the limelight.  

At the start of each day of trial, a handful of photographers and videographers shuffle into the courtroom to make a flurry of images depicting the scene — a stern-faced Trump and his battle-ready counsel, a smiling judge beside his controversial clerk and an overflowing gallery seated behind New York Attorney General Letitia James (D).  

The former president and his entourage — before, after and sometimes in between the trial proceedings — make fiery speeches outside the courtroom decrying as a political enemy the judge, his clerk, James and anyone else prosecuting him. 

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That energy has sometimes spread to high-profile witnesses. After Cohen testified against his former client, the ex-Trump lawyer and “fixer” told reporters he’d continue to “fight” against Trump, asserting that the former president “will ultimately be held accountable.” Eric Trump also remarked to the cameras after his testimony that the “witch hunt” against his father for “political purposes” is “disgusting.” 

With easy access to reporters and cameras, courthouses have become impromptu campaign stops for Trump, who has maintained his strong lead in the 2024 GOP presidential primary. 

Facing legal headwinds, Trump has attempted to win his cases in the court of public opinion, portraying his four criminal indictments and several civil cases as evidence of a system biased against him, regularly railing against judges, prosecutors and court staff. 

In Trump’s civil fraud case, the sole decider of his business empire’s fate is Judge Arthur Engoron, who is presiding over the bench trial with no jury. 

Engoron and Trump have strongly butted heads throughout the fraud trial, with the former president describing the judge as “Trump hating,” “Radical Left” and “complicit” in purported prosecutorial misconduct. Trump’s legal team filed for a mistrial earlier last week on the sole basis that Engoron and his principal law clerk had “tainted” the case with bias. Engoron dismissed the motion.

Trump’s rhetoric toward Engoron and his clerk in legal filings and the courtroom is intensified on his Truth Social account, where he rails against their oversight near-daily.  

Although a jury will hand down a verdict in Trump’s hush money case, dropping the effort to move courts means Trump’s trial will be overseen by Judge Juan Merchan, whom the former president has repeatedly criticized. Trump had even sought Merchan’s recusal from the case.

The dropped effort contrasts with Trump’s criminal case in Georgia, where he opted against trying to move his charges to federal court after expressing confidence in the state judge. 

“This decision is based on his well-founded confidence that this Honorable Court intends to fully completely protect his constitutional right to a fair trial and guarantee him due process of law throughout the prosecution of his case in the Superior Court of Fulton County, Georgia,” wrote Steve Sadow, Trump’s lead attorney in the case. 

Now, all eyes are on whether Trump will do the same when he makes his next court appearance in the hush money case Feb. 15, when Trump will attempt to get the case thrown out without a trial.  

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