Trial for hush money: Trump trades bluster for silence and possibly sleep

Trial for hush money: Trump trades bluster for silence and possibly sleep

NEW YORK (AP) — donald trump He is not known for letting slights slide.

Yet for weeks, the famously combative presumptive Republican nominee has He sat silently, to the point where he sometimes seemed asleep, in a sterile Manhattan courtroom. amid a barrage of accusations and insults.

There were times when his former fixer-turned-star prosecution witness was quoted as calling him a “gross cartoon misogynist” and a “Cheeto-dusted” villain who belonged in a “cage, like an animal.” There was the graphic details told by a porn actor about the night he claims they had sex. And there were extensive descriptions of what prosecutors said was an illegal scheme to hide hush payments to save his then-weakened 2016 campaign.

Through it all, even as he and his allies attacked the case outside the courtroom, Trump has spent most of his time as a criminal defendant sitting nearly motionless for hours, reclining in his burgundy leather chair with his eyes wide open. closed. He ultimately chose not to testify in a case that made him the first former president in the country’s history to be tried on criminal charges.

Closing arguments in the case are scheduled for Tuesday, after which a jury will decide whether to make him the first former president and major party candidate convicted of felonies.

Trump’s conduct inside the courtroom has been a notable departure from the fight-at-all-costs persona that has defined him throughout decades of public life, fueling his transformation from a New York tabloid to a former — and possible future — – president.

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And it has been at least partially strategic, according to people familiar with Trump’s approach who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the case. Trump’s lawyers have warned him that behaving as he did in his previous trials, where he confronted the judges and stormed out, could damage his standing with a jury that is likely watching his every move and will determine his fate.

He seems to have come to the conclusion that behaving badly is not in his best interest, especially since he risks going to prison if convicted.

Trump has also been able to speak several times a day to a group of media camped outside the courtroom, giving him an outlet to vent his frustrations and spread his message. Faced with a gag order that prohibits him from criticizing witnesses, his campaign has gathered a large number of supporters – from vice presidential candidates to the speaker of the House of Representatives – to launch these attacks.

But the approach carries its own risks. Some former prosecutors and lawyers who have followed the case closely said that while disruptive behavior could be detrimental to jurors, there is also a risk that Trump may appear too out of touch.

“What you want is for your client to look attentive, respectful and seem like nothing bothers him, but also not sleep,” said Randall D. Eliason, a former assistant U.S. attorney who for years specialized in white-collar crimes.

EYES WIDE SHUT

Trump has repeatedly denied reports from journalists watching him via closed-circuit television that he is sleeping in court, insisting on his social media site that he simply closes “my beautiful blue eyes, at times, listens intensely and take it all in!!! “

“No, I don’t fall asleep,” he said. he told Telemundo Miami. “Sometimes I sit down and close my eyes. I hear everything perfectly. At some point I may fall asleep. But I’ll let you know when that is.”

Eliason said Trump’s behavior was “definitely” something jurors would notice and could potentially perceive as disrespectful if they felt “he’s acting like he’s not even worth their attention” or thought he was taking a nap.

“If it’s a tactic to try to make it seem like you’re not concerned about the testimony, I don’t think it works well,” he said. “I guess if you’re actually just listening with your eyes closed, meditating or whatever, it doesn’t seem so bad. But I think falling asleep would be quite disrespectful to the jury.”

On the other hand, he added, “you don’t want him to get too agitated” as he did in previous trials.

In reality, sleeping in court would be very unusual for a defendant.

“I have seen lawyers fall asleep, but never a defendant in a criminal case. Their lives are at stake, and my experience is keeping them up at night,” said Stephen A. Saltzburg, a professor at George Washington University Law School who has been writing about the case.

“It may be all an act to show, ‘Hey, this is fake, I’m not going to pay attention to it,’” he added, but that wouldn’t help either. “Because the jury has to pay attention, that doesn’t send a message that this whole jury process is respected.”

‘YOUR CUSTOMER IS ANNOYING’

Trump has not been completely sedated. During jury selection, he appeared alert and engaged, and at one point the judge reprimanded him for his visible reactions to a juror’s responses.

“(While the jury was at the podium, maybe 12 feet from your client, your client was saying something out loud…he was gesturing out loud,” Judge Juan Merchán warned one of his lawyers in April .

“I will not tolerate that. “I will not allow any juror to be intimidated in this courtroom,” she continued. “I want to make that very clear.”

Later, when Stormy Daniels was on the stand, Trump’s reaction to his testimony once again led Merchan to summon his lawyers to court.

“I understand that your client is upset right now, but he is audibly cursing and visually shaking his head and that is dismissive. He has the potential to intimidate the witness and the jury can see that,” Merchan said, according to the transcript.

But as the trial dragged on, and particularly during the testimony of his former lawyer Michael Cohen, Trump often sat repose, reclining in his chair, eyes closed, lips pursed and head tilted back or to one side. He moved from time to time, sometimes to scratch an itch. At times he appeared to fall asleep and gaped as he sat for hours in the fluorescent-lit courtroom.

Other times, he would re-engage, sitting upright, chatting with his lawyers, or doodling and passing notes. He would often flip through stacks of papers, look around the room, or sit upright with his arms crossed over his chest. He seemed especially alert and engaged during Combative testimony from defense witness Robert Costelloduring which the judge threatened to remove Costello from the stand.

But then he returned to the eyes-closed, head-back position that became his default position.

PAST OUTBREAKS

There has been a stark contrast to his behavior in his previous civil trials, when Trump stormed out of the courtroom, actively argued with the judges and made no effort to hide his disdain.

During his civil trial for business fraud, during which Cohen also testified, Trump lashed out at a court clerk from the stand, lashed out at the judge and, at one point, left the courtroom. The judge in that case. Trump fined $355 million.

And in his E. Jean Carroll defamation caseHe was reprimanded for mumbling while she spoke, told the judge he would love to be taken out of the courtroom, and stood up and walked out during Carroll’s closing argument in front of the jury.

Saltzburg said he believes Trump’s behavior in that case is one of the reasons the jury awarded him a whopping $83.3 million.

“They wanted to send a clear message and thought it would take a lot of money to do it,” he said.

In this case, said Jeffrey S. Jacobovitz, a trial lawyer with extensive experience in white-collar criminal defense, Trump’s conduct is “something that a jury would certainly notice.”

The perception that he has been sleeping “will probably have a negative effect on the jury,” he said, adding, “I think I would prefer Trump to be angry.”

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Associated Press writers Michael R. Sisak, Jake Offenhartz, Jennifer Peltz and Michelle L. Price contributed to this report.