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Trump has already touched the ‘third rail’ in the hush money lawsuit – and it could cost him money

You can see that the criminal trial against Donald Trump is not going well for him from the simple fact that it is actually happening. His alleged co-conspirator, former fixer Michael Cohen, has already spent a year in prison for his role in paying off an adult film star to influence the 2016 election — and now he’ll testify that the former president told him to assigned.

Trump’s best hope may be that a single juror sympathizes with him and prevents a unanimous verdict. That could happen even with the strictest controls. But what if a juror voted to acquit, not based on their honest assessment of the facts, or even their own previously hidden bias, but because they feared the consequences, for them personally, of a guilty verdict?

That’s something New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan says he won’t stand for. On Tuesday, he admonished Trump for “audibly uttering something” and gestured to a prospective juror — who was about 10 feet from the former president at the time of the outburst — who had been questioned about his sharing on Facebook a video of festive crowds on Election Day 2020. The juror, a woman who was ultimately dismissed, had argued that she could still be impartial, claiming that the video was not intended as a partisan statement.

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“I will not tolerate that,” Merchan told Trump attorney Todd Blanche. “I don’t want jurors to be intimidated in this courtroom. I want to make that crystal clear.”

Whether Trump has the ability to conduct himself with dignity has been a major concern — not just for the judge, but for his own defense team. Of course, it is unprecedented for a criminal defendant to be a former US president, and there is good reason to deter someone from harassing a potential juror; no competent legal advisor could suggest that bullying in the courtroom is an effective means of achieving a desired outcome. What Tuesday’s episode suggests is that Trump obviously cannot behave like a responsible adult.

Catherine A. Christian, a trial attorney who previously worked in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, appeared on MSNBC and was asked by host Chris Hayes if she had ever seen a defendant try to use a prospective juror who could ultimately decide their fate.

“No – and I’m not making light of it – just the mentally ill,” Christian said. “That’s the only time you see criminal defendants literally acting, and then you kind of understand it.”

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There’s a reason it’s considered the “third rail” of criminal proceedings, Karen Agnifilo, a former assistant district attorney in Manhattan, told CNN.

“The third prong is someone intimidating the jury in any way,” she said, noting that “the jury must be protected at all costs and not just for safety reasons.” That means jurors only have to think about the facts of the case, not a personal interaction with a defendant — which is why no judge will tolerate this, she explained.

“Trump can make comments about the judge, about the court, about the prosecutor, but if you do anything involving the jurors, you will see a very quick response,” she said.

Although Trump was reportedly “furious” after being berated, the judge he accuses of being “corrupt” and “conflicted” was actually doing him a favor, according to legal experts.

MSNBC legal correspondent Lisa Rubin noted that during the first E. Jean Carrol case, Trump violated courtroom decorum by banging the table and making other physical gestures to express his displeasure.

“And we all know how that story ended,” Rubin said. “None of the judges were positively influenced by that performance.” They essentially concluded that he was a sexual predator.

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Trump’s behavior is likely the result of poor impulse control rather than a cynical or even nefarious strategy — because, again, no good lawyer would recommend it.

“His behavior in the courtroom — it’s very demonstrative and very emotional at times,” conservative attorney George Conway said Wednesday on “Morning Joe.” Conway said he doesn’t think Trump has “the full ability to control himself,” a fact that will cost him dearly.

Again, just look at the last time he did it in the Carrol case, Conway said.

“He actually sat in front of the jury and showed nothing but contempt for the whole process and contempt for the jury,” he said, “which dovetailed nicely with what the other side was trying to prove, which was, this is a bad guy who respects nothing and no one , including the law.”

Trump, who appeared to fall asleep every day of the trial so far, should consider remaining unconscious, former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance said on her blog. “Trump would do well to get more sleep in court if that is the best he can do when he is awake,” she wrote.

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