HomeTop StoriesA 'freak show' on the outside and solemn on the inside

A ‘freak show’ on the outside and solemn on the inside

In a courthouse located between Tribeca and Chinatown, the former president said Monday morning Donald TrumpAttorneys for the prosecution had been feuding with the prosecution over the procedures for a hush-money case that could send an ex-commander in chief to prison for the first time in American history.

Judge Juan Merchan told attorneys he was getting a little irritated by the “details.” With a pool of 500 potential jurors lined up, he wanted to get started on the process of choosing 12 of them.

The judge also gave Trump his “Parker warnings,” including that he could face jail time for contempt if he were absent without leave at any point during the trial. Trump betrayed little emotion and said he understood.

Outside, in a sunlit park across the street, idiosyncrasy reigned over pedantry.

A handful of pro-Trump protesters — some wearing costumes, others carrying signs, one temporarily lowering the top of her dinosaur-themed swimsuit before writhing on the ground in performative ecstasy — lent their support to the former president and presumptive Republican nominee .

The presence of high-profile spectators accentuated the carnival-like nature of the gathering: Jordan Klepper of The Daily Show, former Republican gubernatorial candidate Andreas Giuliani and filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi, a daughter of former House Speaker Nancy PelosiD-California.

“I never miss a freak show,” said the younger Pelosi, a longtime resident of nearby Greenwich Village.

The unlikely tandem of Klepper and Giuliani offered a clear insight into a set of truths about this trial: the charges are simultaneously the least consequential of the series pending against Trump, and as fundamental to democracy as the question of special treatment – either targeting or protection – can be avoided in the case of such a powerful figure.

Giuliani, the son of the former New York mayor, senses an opportunity Rudy Giuliani, agreed to talk on camera with Klepper, a master of man-on-the-street interviews that make the subjects look silly. After all, the coin of the realm in Trump’s domain is defending the great man in tough television interviews.

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But the younger Giuliani, himself a former Trump White House official, was so concerned about the outcome — and sufficiently aware of the art of video editing — that he asked an aide to make his own recording of the full interview.

Additional cameras rarely provide extra protection, and this case was no exception. Pelosi couldn’t help but watch the scene unfold.

Klepper wasn’t interested in the high-stakes process inside. Many Democrats are more tense about the other charges Trump faces: He has been indicted in federal and Georgian courts over efforts to overturn the 2020 election, and in another federal court over charges that he illegally withheld classified documents.

What Klepper wanted to know — with Andrew Giuliani tantamount to a stand-in for his father — was whether Trump’s rhetoric would lead to violence. The former president recently said in a fundraising email that all hell would break loose during his trial. Before the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, Trump told his supporters, “If you don’t fight like hell, you won’t have a country anymore.”

Andrew Giuliani noted that the crowd outside the courthouse was definitively peaceful. Then he continued.

“I was also in Washington, DC on January 6,” said Andrew Giuliani. “I was with President Trump. I remember him talking about peaceful protesting.”

That was the moment Klepper was waiting for.

“Some people were talking about peaceful protest,” Klepper said. “Some people also talked about ‘trial by fight’ on January 6. Do you know anyone who talked about that?”

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It was Rudy Giuliani who had called for a “trial by combat” during the Trump rally before the sacking of the Capitol. His son refused to identify him. The interview then became more, well, combative.

“Oh, funny guy,” Andrew Giuliani said dismissively, “let’s put a brain in it.”

Almost lost in the discussion was the message Andrew Giuliani wanted to convey: that Democrats are trying to take Trump “off the campaign trail,” which amounts to “the death of our Constitutional republic.”

Like most satire, Klepper’s interview was revealing.

It recalled that the hush-money lawsuit has far less to do with whether Trump is fit to serve as president than with the cases of election interference and classified documents — even though it carries the serious potential consequences of a major… party candidate is convicted of a crime during the long run of a presidential campaign.

Trump’s critics argue that his attempt to silence porn actress Stormy Daniels amounts to an illegal advantage for his own 2016 campaign. He should not be above the law, they argue, just as his allies argue that he is wrongly is targeted for political purposes.

The spontaneous exchange on camera between Andrew Giuliani and Klepper, two figures deeply involved in American politics, also reflected and underlined the extent to which the right and the left are talking past each other.

Neither suggested the trial is important because it will determine whether Trump committed crimes.

Klepper tried to avoid that question. Andrew Giuliani used the trial as a foil for the argument that Trump is being prosecuted.

It might be easy for spectators to forget that the jurors will make a decision as simple and prosaic as whether one man broke the law by falsifying documents, and as consequential as whether a former president and the current candidate must be held accountable.

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Republican strategist Matthew Bartlett, who was not present at the trial, said the political landscape may not change based on the outcome.

“Ultimately, I’m not confident that this trial over a 2016 transaction will have a substitute effect on what voters want in terms of policy and a vision for the future of the country,” he said.

Outside of the first day of the trial, it looked like a Ringling Brothers production. In the courtroom, across Center Street, the solemn nature of the work ahead was evident.

As the first group of 96 potential jurors entered the courtroom through metal detectors around 2:30 p.m., filling every available seat, Trump craned his neck to take a peek. He later stood and turned to acknowledge them when he was named as a defendant.

During the lengthy proceedings, the former president sometimes suggested disinterest or exhaustion by closing his eyes.

Most of the jurors sat silent and expressionless. Merchan emphasized his desire to shield their identities from the public, even going so far as to warn rival legal teams not to reproduce lists of their names. More than half of them were fired when they raised their hands to say they could not be impartial in this process.

A dismissed prospective juror was overheard in a hallway saying, “I just couldn’t do it.”

Finding twelve adults who have no particular feelings for Donald J. Trump, and the will to endure a multi-week trial, is no easy feat. That process will continue in Merchan District Court. For the rest of the world, the ‘freak show’ on the outside rolls along.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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