HomePoliticsTrump's every step in the criminal proceedings is under scrutiny

Trump’s every step in the criminal proceedings is under scrutiny

Donald Trump has spent most of his adult life seeking the spotlight. In a frigid New York City courtroom this week, a closed-circuit camera provided perhaps the brightest light he has ever stood in front of.

Even during his overwhelming presidency, nor during his raucous rallies, Trump’s every step has been as closely monitored as during his first appearances in Manhattan before the start of his hush money trial. Every grin, turn, look and sneer he made in court was recorded by reporters and broadcast to the world to provide even a glimpse or small insight into how he handled developments in the case – the first ever criminal trial involving a former president was involved.

But behind every frown, whisper or, yes, even yawn, Trump’s team sees a clear message that the presumptive Republican nominee has an opportunity to convey: Defiance. The target? Convince the American people that the 34 corporate records falsification charges he faces are a sham designed to damage his electoral chances this fall.

“President Trump has proven that he will remain defiant in the face of this unprecedented political justice challenge, and it is clear that his support from the American people will only grow as they look to Joe Biden, [Manhattan District Attorney] Alvin Bragg and the Democrats who are staging this bogus show trial six months before the election,” said Karoline Leavitt, a Trump spokesperson.

The central premise of the charges, as Bragg alleges, is that Trump falsified documents to conceal the fact that he reimbursed his former lawyer Michael Cohen for the $130,000 he paid to adult film actor Stormy Daniels just before the 2016 presidential election – a step taken to preventively silence. to stop her from claiming she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006. (Trump denies sleeping with Daniels but has admitted to paying back Cohen, who pleaded guilty in 2018 to federal campaign finance charges related to the payment).

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Trump has pleaded not guilty to the charges and, if convicted, faces up to four years in prison.

The bulk of the week’s court proceedings consisted of jury selection, with Trump listening as potential jurors were questioned about their media diet, opinions on Trump’s presidency and ability to judge him fairly. Some were even pushed on past social media posts, such as a potential alternate juror who was questioned about a 2020 social media post in which he called Trump “the devil and a sociopath.” (He was fired.)

In Manhattan, a New York City borough he lost by 70 points in 2020, Trump found many of the judges’ answers unsatisfactory, and at several points he found himself staring down individuals. Nevertheless, a full jury and alternate jurors were selected, with Trump’s ears perking up when candidates referenced Fox News or otherwise made comments that he viewed favorably.

He crossed his arms Friday and muttered to an attorney sitting next to him as a prospective juror described him as apparently “very selfish and selfish.” But Trump smiled as the prosecutor told jurors that some of the witnesses they will call “have something you could consider baggage.”

Trump was admonished in court Tuesday by Judge Juan Merchan for his behavior toward the prospective jurors, with Merchan telling Trump and his attorney Todd Blanche, “I don’t want any jurors to be intimidated in this courtroom. I want to make this crystal clear.”

Merchan said he heard Trump say something toward a juror and that he “mumbled” and “gestured” at her.

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But nothing this week attracted more attention than Trump looking as if he was falling asleep and closing his eyes for extended periods of time, prompting speculation that he had fallen asleep. This was not a one-time event; he sat with his eyes closed at least once every day he was in court.

Trump ignored questions from the hallway about whether he took a nap, but did post on his Truth Social platform Friday that the trial, which could last weeks, is “a long, rigged, endurance contest, dealing with tedious, crooked people, they want to DESTROY OUR COUNTRY.”

Biden’s campaign took advantage of the possible snooze, have fun at Trump. The campaign seemed to take particular pleasure in calling him “Sleepy Don,” after years of poking Trump, 77, Biden, 81, as “Sleepy Joe.”

In a statement, Biden campaign spokesman James Singer blasted Trump for appearing to be turning a blind eye, but did not elaborate on the former president’s actions in court, instead praising the incumbent’s tour president through Pennsylvania this week — noting his meeting with steelworkers and stops at popular Keystone State convenience chains Sheetz and WaWa.

“Our campaign and the president are focused on the American people – not on the trials and tribulations of Donald Trump,” Singer said. “We also do not lose sleep over campaigns being won by the candidate who remains focused on fighting for the American people – undistracted by his own grievances or the pursuit of revenge and retaliation.”

“We’re proud of the week we’ve had,” Singer continued, “You’ll have to ask the Trump campaign if they’re proud of theirs.”

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But Trump’s campaign sees the spotlight on his courtroom appearances as a boon, expressing optimism that the difficult jury selection process will make voters aware of the overarching points Trump and his allies have made about the case against him: that it is illegal. Furthermore, the endless media coverage Trump received this week overshadowed Biden’s much-hyped tour of a key battleground this week, another victory in team Trump’s eyes.

Trump has been able to become more vocal outside the courtroom, posting on his Truth Social platform his belief that he is being “framed” or deploring the case as “ridiculous” when he addressed the press this week. (He also echoed others’ concerns about how “freezing” the courtroom was.)

“Donald Trump has made it clear that the charges against Bragg are politically motivated,” said Garrett Ventry, a Trump-affiliated Republican strategist. “His icy demeanor in the courtroom shows his opposition to the case, and his creative press gags outside the courtroom to enforce that strategy. Never before has a presidential candidate successfully turned charges into bumps in the polls, until Trump.”

There have been reminders that Trump is unable to act the same way inside the court as he does outside it. At one point on Thursday, Trump pulled out his phone while sitting at the defense table and appeared grumpy after his lawyer told him to put it down.

Ultimately, many of the procedures were mundane. That same day, Trump yawned as Merchan read the jury instructions. For the most part, Trump seems to have resigned himself to his new reality: one court appearance after another for weeks to come.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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