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Donald Trump’s freewheeling, stream-of-conscious speaking style draws legal attention amid investigations

Most defense attorneys would cringe when Donald Trump talks about his legal troubles.

A recent example: The former Republican president refused to claim he hadn’t reviewed the data since leaving office during a March interview on Fox News Channel, saying he had “the right to ‘take’ sensitive documents with him to his property in Florida. During a town hall on CNN earlier this month, he claimed to have informed an election official in Georgia that “you owe me” votes in the 2020 race.

On May 10, he called a writer a “wacky job” at the same town hall, just a day after the same woman, E. Jean Carroll, won a $5 million judgment against him in a civil suit for defamation and sexual assault. Carroll revised a lawsuit Monday to hold him accountable for City Hall’s statements.

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Trump, the Republican candidate for president in 2024, has never been shy about expressing his views or engaging in debate with his opponents. The difficulty, legal experts say, is that the former president is under increased scrutiny from state and federal prosecutors, who can use the former president’s remarks against him in a variety of ways.

“Anything a defendant says, whether it’s confessions, denials, observations, nonsensical gibberish, or just plain wacky, is nothing but pure gold for prosecutors. “said Julieanne Himelstein, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Washington.

Trump is being investigated by prosecutors in states ranging from New York to Georgia.

A Manhattan grand jury indicted him in March over allegations relating to silent payments made on his behalf during the 2016 presidential campaign. A New York court has scheduled the trial to begin on March 25, at the height of the election primaries. Trump, who appeared via video conference, threw up his hands in irritation at the trial schedule and scowled at the camera.

A local Georgia prosecutor is investigating whether the former president and his allies broke the law by seeking to overturn his 2020 election loss. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis suggested last week that the indictments could take place in August. Meanwhile, a Justice Department special counsel is investigating the former president’s role in the January 6, 2021, uprising and the discovery of classified documents at Mar-a-Largo, Trump’s residence and resort. in Florida.

In recent media appearances and at rallies, Trump has made comments that could be seen as incriminating or, at the very least, complicate his legal team’s ability to push back the charges. He appeared to be in particular trouble at a May 10 town hall meeting hosted by CNN.

The former president spent nearly an hour discussing a range of issues while commenting on the investigations in a way that flies in the face of generally accepted legal advice. Not only did he re-insult Carroll and provide the Fulton County prosecutor with more fodder for his investigation, but he also gave the Justice Department an opening by claiming he didn’t remember if he showed any classified documents to anyone.

Joyce Vance, a law professor who served as a US attorney in Alabama under President Barack Obama, said on Twitter, “There were prosecutors and agents taking notes tonight.

Trump also suggested he was personally involved in the taking of files at Mar-a-Lago – “I was there and I took what I took and it’s declassified,” he said. he declares. That statement contradicts arguments made by his own lawyers, who just last month suggested in a letter to Congress that the document’s suppression was the “result of haphazard holding and wrapping.” records” rather than an intentional decision by Trump.

The statements come as the investigation into the documents shows signs of slowing down and Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith focuses on the issue of potential obstruction, digging deeper into Trump’s failure and of its representatives to return the classified documents in its possession. despite issuing a subpoena to do so.

Trump’s penchant for public statements was on full display during the latest special counsel investigation he faced. He told an interviewer in 2017 that he had “that Russia thing” in mind when he fired former FBI Director James Comey. His lawyers sought to explain that statement by noting that he also said he knew removing Comey would prolong, rather than shorten, the Russia investigation.

Lawyers have said prosecutors may not be able to use some of Trump’s comments if they are irrelevant to the charges or may be deemed prejudicial by a judge.

They also may not need to play them for jurors because other evidence is much stronger. While Trump said on CNN he told Brad Raffensperger “you owe me” votes, he was also recorded asking the Georgia election official to “find” more votes for him. The call came in January 2021 as Trump was desperately trying to overturn Georgia’s election result.

“It’s no more inculpatory than the fact that we already have a recorded phone call,” said Georgia State University law professor Anthony Michael Kreis. “It could have been more damning if we hadn’t had the actual recording of the phone call.”

Former prosecutors and defense attorneys say a client’s public comments can hamper how they present their case to a jury. This can reveal their strategy and lock them into certain lines of attack in the prosecution case. Such comments might also prompt them to do whatever they can to prevent their client from appearing on the witness stand.

For example, they said, Trump may have admitted to taking classified documents from the White House, but his lawyers wrote, “The purpose of this letter is not to say whether these documents are actually classified or have been declassified.

If Trump were ever to testify, prosecutors could use such conflicting statements to poke holes in his story, making it harder for his defense team to tell the jury a coherent story.

“It may well be that what Trump is doing is preventing him from testifying because he would be so damaged if he testified,” said Richard Klein, a criminal law professor at Touro University in New York.

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