Trump Turns Trial Into Campaign Stop 10/03 06:21
Donald Trump's court appearances are no longer distractions from his
campaign to return to the White House. They are central to it.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Donald Trump's court appearances are no longer distractions
from his campaign to return to the White House. They are central to it.
The dynamic was on full display Monday as the former president and GOP
front-runner returned to New York for the opening day of a civil fraud trial
accusing him of grossly inflating the value of his businesses.
Trump was under no obligation to appear Monday and did not address the
court. But he nonetheless seized the opportunity to create a media spectacle
that ensured he was back in the spotlight. And he once again portrayed himself
as a victim of a politicized justice system -- a posture that has helped him
emerge as the undisputed leader of the 2024 GOP primary.
The scene was much like the one that has played out over and over since the
spring as Trump has reported to courthouses and a local jail to be processed in
four criminal indictments. Once again, reporters waited in line overnight to
snag seats in the courtroom; news helicopters tracked his motorcade journey
from Trump Tower to the courthouse in lower Manhattan; and cable networks
carried the spectacle live on TV.
The appearance demonstrated how deftly Trump has used his legal woes to
benefit his campaign. The former president's Monday appearance drew far more
attention than a standard campaign rally would have offered. And it gave Trump
a fresh opportunity to rile up his base and gin his fundraising with claims
that the cases he faces are nothing more than a coordinated attempt to damage
"It's a scam, it's a sham," he said in the morning. "It's a witch hunt and a
While some rivals had once thought Trump's long list of legal woes might
dissuade Republican voters from choosing him as their nominee, his standing in
the GOP primary has only improved since before the indictments and helped him
raise millions of dollars.
While other politicians might shy away from drawing additional attention to
accusations of wrongdoing, Trump took full advantage of the cameras.
He addressed the media assembled outside the courtroom multiple times
throughout the day, railing against the case and offering commentary.
"Every lawyer would say, 'Don't talk.' Every candidate would obey the
lawyer. Trump just throws out the playbook," said former White House press
secretary Ari Fleischer.
Fleischer said that, for Trump, the lines between campaigning and the
courtroom have now been erased.
"Every day is a day on the stump, whether it's in Iowa, New Hampshire or in
the courtroom," he said, adding, "Every appearance is an opportunity to ring a
bell, strike a message, say he's the victim of a weaponized Justice Department
and he's the only one who can change Washington."
The civil fraud case, brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James,
accuses Trump and his company of deceiving banks, insurers and others by
chronically overstating his wealth by as much as $3.6 billion.
Judge Arthur Engoron has already ruled that Trump committed fraud. If upheld
on appeal, the case could cost the former president control of some of his most
prized properties, including Trump Tower, a Wall Street office building and
golf courses. James is also seeking $250 million in penalties and a ban on
Trump doing business in New York.
Trump spent the day seated at the defense table observing the proceedings,
at times leaning to confer with his lawyers.
The former president grew visibly angry during the morning's opening
statements, railing against the suggestion that he was worth less than he
claimed and blasting both the judge and James. Trump sneered at the state
attorney general as he walked past her on his way out of the courtroom during a
lunch break, cocking his head toward her and glaring.
But by the end of the day, Trump's mood had changed. He exited the courtroom
claiming he'd scored a victory, pointing to comments that he said showed the
judge coming around to the defense view that most of the suit's allegations
happened too long ago to be considered. Kevin Wallace, a lawyer in James'
office, promised to link the cited incidents to a more recent loan agreement.
Still, Trump complained that he'd "love to be campaigning instead of doing
"This was for politics," he said. "Now, it has been very successful for them
because they took me off the campaign trail 'cause I've been sitting in a
courthouse all day long instead of being in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina
or a lot of other places I could be at."
This will be the reality of his campaign going forward as he alternates
between visits to early voting states and courtrooms, including to testify
later in the New York civil trial. On Feb. 15, he will have to make an
in-person court appearance in New York ahead of a criminal trial in which he is
accused of misclassifying hush money payments made to women during his 2016
campaign. His federal trial in Washington on charges related to his efforts to
overturn the 2020 election is tentatively set to begin March 4, his New York
trial is set to begin March 25 and his federal trial in the Mar-a-Lago
documents case is set to begin on May 20.
His trial in Georgia over his efforts to subvert the results of the state's
2020 election hasn't yet been scheduled.
Plans for Trump to attend the New York trial's first days were first
revealed in legal filings last week. Lawyers representing Trump in a separate
lawsuit against his former lawyer Michael Cohen used his appearance to put off
Trump had also said in May that he wanted to attend an earlier civil trial
brought by writer E. Jean Carroll accusing him of rape, but did not end up
doing so. A jury found him liable for sexually assaulting her in a department
store dressing room.
In a post on his social media site, Trump said he wanted to appear in court
Monday "to fight for my name and reputation."
"I want to watch this witch hunt myself," he told reporters. "I've been
going through a witch hunt for years, but this is really now getting dirty."
Trump is expected to return to testify in the case in several weeks.