The absence of cameras in Donald Trump’s New York civil fraud trial does not obscure how his Monday on the witness stand unfolded.
Cameras are infrequently present in a United States courtroom. Instead, reporters gathered inside relay the proceedings to the masses – a fact the former president was undoubtedly aware of.
Donned in a blue suit with a U.S. flag on his lapel, Trump arrived on Monday morning and addressed reporters outside the courtroom.
“These are political operatives that I’m going to be dealing with right now,” he said moments before entering the court. “This is a very sad situation for our country; we shouldn’t have this. It’s very unfair.”
The Republican frontrunner described the trial as “political warfare” (or “lawfare”, as he rejigged his phrase on the spot), adding that it was reserved for “third world countries and banana republics”.
No Change In Tone
Trump kept up his rhetoric once the Monday session began, prompting a tense day in court. Taking to the witness stand for the second time this trial, Trump gave several minute responses to yes-no questions. Adamant that he had not done any wrongdoing, the former president went on tangents which were either boastful (describing himself as a “brand”) or odd (spending a prolonged period talking about windmills off the coast of his Scottish Golf Club).
“Can you control your client?” Judge Arthur Engoron asked Trump’s attorneys at one point. “This is not a political rally.”
A tense morning with multiple reprimands from the bench ended with a recess for lunch (and another dig at Judge Engoron on Truth Social). A noticeably more subdued Trump returned in the afternoon, giving shorter answers and reiterating the Trump “brand” which steered him to an electoral victory seven years ago.
A Political Rally
Judge Engoron is determined to treat the first former president to stand trial in more than 100 years as any other defendant. In a courtroom where the final verdict is out of his hands, Trump seemed insistent to the contrary.
The Republican frontrunner has an election to win in 2024, but he also has four criminal trials to contend with too. Given his mandatory attendance as a defendant, Trump cannot simultaneously stand trial in Washington D.C. while campaigning in North Carolina. Instead, he must merge his legal battles with his political ones, and Monday was an indication of what to expect.
Perhaps in his favor is the ability to control the narrative in the courtroom. Court reporters must report the facts as they see them – there’s little room to add opinion except for descriptive analysis such as body language. The world is watching, and with political commentary reserved until after the day’s proceedings, Trump can confidently make his points knowing they’ll be relayed to the outside world.
While he may not be the most powerful person within the courtroom, Trump, at least in his view, is the most powerful person outside of it.
Shay Bottomley is a British journalist based in Canada. He has written for the Western Standard, Maidenhead Advertiser, Slough Express, Windsor Express, Berkshire Live and Southend Echo, and has covered notable events including the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.