Trump trial: A reality show turned legal drama unfolds in New York – Timothy L. O’Brien

In the throes of a New York courtroom, Donald Trump faces a whirlwind of legal firestorm he desperately tried to evade. As the trial unfurls, his antics – from relentless attacks on the judge to undermining the jury process – mirror the chaos of a reality show gone awry. Surrounded by echoes of his past and the looming spectre of witnesses like Stormy Daniels, Trump finds himself entangled in a narrative he can’t control, a tale of alleged fraud and clandestine payments threatening to rewrite his legacy.

Sign up for your early morning brew of the BizNews Insider to keep you up to speed with the content that matters. The newsletter will land in your inbox at 5:30am weekdays. Register here.

By Timothy L. O’Brien

Prosecutors and defense attorneys will make opening statements today in a criminal fraud trial in New York that Donald Trump has tried mightily, and unsuccessfully, to delay.

He continuously savaged Juan Merchan, the judge presiding over the trial, and belittled the charges he faces. He mocked the jury selection process that consumed the case’s first week, and, when awake, appeared so determined to rattle prospective jurors that Merchan was forced to remind Trump that he wouldn’t “have any jurors intimidated in this courtroom.”

Trump’s allies at Fox News and on right-wing social media platforms put the court and jurors in their crosshairs as well. “This isn’t the pursuit of justice, it’s a political persecution that is tearing our country apart,” noted Vivek Ramaswamy, floating atop the flotsam of his failed presidential bid. Elon Musk, fashioning himself as a legal scholar, concurred. He told the 181.5 million people who follow him on X, the social media platform he owns, that “this case is obviously a corruption of the law.”

Jurors felt the heat. Some dropped out, saying they feared for their well-being. That’s a phenomenon usually confined in the US to mob or terrorism prosecutions, but in an era when a former president glowingly compares himself to “the great gangster” Al Capone, here we are. Still, scores of jurors were reviewed and by Friday 12 of them, along with six potential alternates, had been empaneled.

Even then, Trump’s lawyers took a final long shot. They asked a New York appellate court to delay the trial and change the venue because they felt that jury selection seemed rushed. The appellate court swatted down that effort in less than an hour. And now, with a jury seated, the fireworks start. Witnesses will testify, many of them well-known figures from Trumplandia. Trump himself may or may not take the stand.

Trump is veering from rage to petulance, and from slumber to intimidation, in the courtroom because he’s the star of a lurid Manhattan reality show he isn’t producing or directing. He doesn’t control the narrative and others are writing the scripts. And some of the scripts say nasty things about him, his sex life, his bookkeeping and his attempts to bury stories that might have derailed his 2016 presidential campaign.

The setting, by Trump’s standards, is all wrong, too. Few courtrooms are more endowed with raw “Bonfire of the Vanities” mojo than those populating New York State Supreme Court, where Trump’s trial is being held. It’s a beaten-up, old-school nexus for judges, cops, reporters and a steady stream of Manhattan legal dramas. Trump, as a younger man, used to deploy lawyers there to try to secure tax abatements and other goodies for projects he was developing. He also eagerly gobbled up tabloid coverage of celebrated clashes litigated there.

The State Supreme Court building is imposing and stolid. It isn’t glamorous and it’s about as far away from Trump Tower and Mar-a-Lago as Trump could get. It’s home to disappointments and comeuppances. It’s a place where justice is meted out, for better or for worse. And the Trump spectacle has already engulfed it in the uncomfortable and the macabre. A man peddling anti-government conspiracy theories set himself on fire in a nearby park on Friday and later died.

Trump, in his younger days, probably never imagined he’d be in the State Supreme Court dock as a former president accused of falsifying business records to mask payments to paramours who might have otherwise upended his political career. Yet here he sits, forced to observe the law.

Money seems to be getting tight, too. Apart from multimillion-dollar court judgments he’s juggling in other cases he’s either lost or is appealing in New York, his legal bills are mounting. He’s been using political donations to help defray lawyers’ fees, but recent financial disclosures indicate that the $86 million or so spent on legal costs since his presidential campaign began is straining his coffers.

Trump is also haunted by remembrances of things past. Hope Hicks, his former spokeswoman, Michael Cohen, his former lawyer and enforcer, and Stormy Daniels, a porn star, are all set to testify in the case. What they have to say may not sit well with the former president. The New York Times reported that the first witness prosecutors intend to call is David Pecker, a publisher who ran American Media Inc.’s collection of tabloids until 2020.

If Pecker is one of the trial’s opening acts, it suggests that prosecutors want to highlight how much Trump feared his 2016 presidential bid was at risk when he allegedly scrambled to make and then hide hush money payments. Pecker reportedly attended Trump Tower meetings with Trump and Cohen where the schemes were hatched. He has a story to tell, and it’s quite likely to be one Trump never wanted to be told in public, much less under oath.

And because Trump can’t control the narrative, he’s going to continue lashing out – testing the courts and the American experiment.

Read also:

© 2024 Bloomberg L.P.