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What it’s like to watch Trump’s “hush money” trial from inside the courtroom

Everyone except the judge and jury sits in front Donald Trump and his team enter the courtroom every day during his criminal trial in New York.

Reporters, other members of the public, prosecutors and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg himself must all go through security checks and be on hand and quiet when Trump approaches the room.

The group is sometimes set up before Trump’s motorcade has even arrived at the 17-story Art Deco-style building. The clerks’ radios suddenly crackle, echoing through the high, 83-year-old ceilings, announcing the arrival of a former president.

Former President Donald Trump's Hush Money trial continues in New York
Former President Donald Trump appears in court for his “hush money” trial at Manhattan Criminal Court on April 23, 2024 in New York.

Curtis Means-Pool/Getty Images

Reporters are reminded that they will be kicked out of the room if a clerk sees their phone. They continue to view their laptops, a bright sea of ​​screens displaying notes, Gmail, Slack and Twitter.

Sometimes Trump can be heard before entering the room. A ring announcer ready to take on his own fight. He speaks to the cameras and a few journalists stationed in a small enclosure about 15 meters from the courtroom. The unmistakable voice of one of the most famous people in the world, muffled by two doors, resonates.

Outside the room, Trump rages against Bragg, Judge Juan Merchan and the case. Former president goes on trial 34 counts of falsifying business records related to an alleged “hush money” payment before the 2016 presidential election. He denies the allegations and has pleaded not guilty.

Once Trump walks through the thick wooden double doors — sometimes at a rapid pace, sometimes lumberingly, always with a stone face — his demeanor changes. He is accompanied by a team of lawyers, usually also campaign staff, and of course Secret Service agents, who move to the perimeter after Trump takes a seat at the defense table.

Inside the room, he is reserved, silent. Sometimes he appears to fall asleep briefly. He occasionally chats with attorneys Todd Blanche, Susan Necheles and Emil Bove.

He stands at attention when Merchan enters the room and, like everyone else, only sits down when told to do so.

During jury selection, he occasionally craned his neck to the right to look at New Yorkers in the jury pool as they were questioned about their social media habits and feelings about Trump. He gave Blanche equal attention during his opening statement Tuesday.

Most of the time, Trump looks straight ahead. To what, exactly? The computer screen he shares with the lawyer next to him? Certainly, sometimes. But mostly he seems to be looking above that, beyond that, beyond the busy judge’s clerk, whose office gives him a front-row seat, just behind Merchan’s. Is he looking at the wall? The lower third of the wall is paneled, with the remainder painted plain white. Additionally, on the wall opposite Trump is a flat-screen television, one of four in the room. At all times, we see Merchan, the lawyers and Trump himself.

This has been Trump’s position throughout the proceedings – not just during the first six days of the trial, but also during preliminary hearings dating back to his tenure. indictment on April 4, 2023. He was warned once last week about intimidating jurors after gesturing and shaking his head while questioning a former potential juror, but was otherwise stoic .

Compare Trump’s behavior in this courtroom with his visible and audible displays of disgust that interrupted proceedings in two recent trials.

After repeated outbursts during a January defamation trial in the civil case brought by writer E. Jean Carroll, a federal judge threatened to remove Trump from the courtroom.

In this case, Trump could sometimes be heard from the gallery groaning during his testimony, and an opposing lawyer said he frequently made comments such as “It’s a witch hunt” and “this is really a scam” .

The judge said: “Mr. Trump has a right to be here. That right may be lost if he is disruptive and fails to comply with court orders.”

During another recent civil trial, a New York case in which he and others in his company were found responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in fraudulent profits, Trump has often seemed out of control. Lawyers for New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office once accused him of witness intimidation as his whispers during a real estate executive’s testimony turned to loud groans — his head bobbing a side to side, shaking in apparent denigration.

The circumstances of these civil trials were different. Trump was not required to attend and could come and go as he pleased — sometimes getting up and leaving without warning, his Secret Service entourage scrambling to keep up. The judge in the defamation trial interrupted Carroll’s closing argument to note that Trump had gotten up and left. He returned for his attorney’s closing, then left the courthouse for good about 30 minutes before the jury announced its $83.3 million judgment against him.

Today, Trump is a criminal defendant. He is required to attend the entire trial and sit quietly unless expressly authorized to do otherwise.

He requested permission to spend Thursday morning in Washington, D.C., to attend proceedings before the Supreme Court in a case related to another of his criminal cases. Mercan rejected this request.

He asked to adjourn the trial for a day in May to attend his son’s graduation. One of his lawyers made a similar request for a day in June. Merchan said maybe, tacitly attacking the Trump team’s numerous attempts to delay the trial.

“If everything goes according to plan without unnecessary delays, then I’m sure we can adjourn the hearing for one or two of those days, but if we are late, we won’t be able to do that,” Merchan said.

Trump complained to reporters outside the cold-weather courtroom on April 18. Inside, it was Blanche who had to file a complaint in his place.

Merchan’s response included an observation that court staff, lawyers, journalists and others who have spent significant time in Room 1530 have long recognized: The room has two temperatures, cold and hot.

“I’d rather be really cold than sweat,” Merchan said.

Trump must stand when Merchan or the jury comes in and out, like thousands of other defendants who have occupied the same seat.

One day, as the debates were wrapping up on Friday, April 19, Trump got up a little too early.

“Sir, can you please sit down,” Merchan said to him. The judge decides when the accused can leave the courtroom.

But if Merchan is top dog in his courtroom, there’s no doubt who’s next in the pecking order. Trump gets up and walks out with his team. He hands his phone to an assistant. The heavy wooden doors close. He’s back in the hallway and defending himself in front of the waiting cameras.

Everyone inside the room waits for the radio to crackle, this time to signal that the area is clear. In the meantime, no one has the right to stand up. Journalists are asked not to speak loudly.

As the minutes dragged on Monday, during and after Trump’s speech in the hallways, Bragg and his team of prosecutors tried to escape through a side door typically used by courtroom staff. They returned a minute later, looking frustrated and annoyed, unable to leave.

Finally, the radio chorus. Bragg, with his head bowed, quickly exits through that same side door. The rest of the piece is then allowed to unfold.

Trump left the building.


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