The appearances by Donald Trump in court are no longer a distraction from his campaign to return to the White House. They are fundamental to this.
The dynamic was on display Monday when the former president and Republican Party favorite returned to New York for the opening day of a civil fraud trial that accused him of vastly inflating the value of his businesses.
Trump was not required to appear Monday and did not address the court. But he still took the opportunity to create a media spectacle that would ensure he was once again the center of attention. And he once again presented himself as a victim of a politicized justice system, a position that helped him emerge as the undisputed leader of the 2024 Republican primaries.
The scene was much like one that has played out again and again since the spring, when Trump appeared in court and at a local jail to be arraigned on four criminal charges. Once again, journalists lined up through the night for seats in the courtroom; news helicopters continued their caravan route from Trump Tower to the courthouse in lower Manhattan; and cable networks broadcast the show live on television.
The appearance demonstrated how skillfully Trump has used his legal problems to benefit his campaign. The former president's appearance on Monday attracted far more attention than a standard campaign rally would have offered. And it gave Trump a new opportunity to rile up his base and accelerate his fundraising with claims that the cases he faces are nothing more than a coordinated attempt to damage his campaign.
"It's a scam, it's a farce," he said in the morning. "It is a witch hunt and a shame."
While some rivals once thought Trump's long list of legal problems could deter Republican voters from choosing him as their candidate, his standing in the GOP primary has only improved since before the indictments and helped him raise millions of dollars. .
While other politicians might avoid drawing attention to allegations of wrongdoing, Trump made the most of the cameras.
He addressed media gathered outside the courtroom several times throughout the day, criticizing the case and offering comments.
"Every lawyer would say, 'Don't talk.' Each candidate would obey the lawyer. Trump just throws out the playbook,” said former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer.
Fleischer said that, for Trump, the lines between the campaign and the courts have now been blurred.
"Every day is a day on the stump, whether it's in Iowa, New Hampshire or in the courtroom," he said, adding: "Every appearance is an opportunity to ring a bell, to convey a message, to say that you are a victim of an armed attack. Department of Justice and he is the only one who can change Washington.”
The civil fraud case, brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James, accuses Trump and his company of deceiving banks, insurers and others by chronically exaggerating his wealth by up to $3.6 billion.
Judge Arthur Engoron has already ruled that Trump committed fraud. If upheld on appeal, the case could cost the former president control of some of his most prized properties, including Trump Tower, a Wall Street office building and golf courses. James is also asking for $250 million in fines and a ban on Trump doing business in New York.
Trump spent the day sitting at the defense table watching the proceedings, occasionally leaning in to confer with his lawyers.
The former president became visibly angry during the morning's opening remarks, criticizing the suggestion that he was worth less than he claimed and criticizing both the judge and James. Trump mocked the state attorney general as he walked past her on his way out of the courtroom during the lunch break, tilting his head toward her and glaring at her.
But by the end of the day, Trump's mood had changed. He left the courtroom claiming a victory, pointing to comments he said showed the judge agreed with the defense's view that most of the lawsuit's allegations occurred too long ago to be considered. Kevin Wallace, an attorney with James' office, promised to link the cited incidents to a more recent loan agreement.
Still, Trump complained that he “would love to campaign instead of doing this.”
"This was about politics," he said. “Now, it's been a big success for them because they took me off the campaign trail because I was sitting in a courtroom all day instead of being in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina or a lot of other places I could be.” defeat."
This will be the reality of his campaign going forward as he alternates between visits to early voting states and courtrooms, including to testify later in the New York civil trial. On February 15, she will have to appear in person in court in New York ahead of a criminal trial in which he is accused of misclassifying money payments made to women during his 2016 campaign to keep her quiet. His federal trial in Washington on charges related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election will tentatively begin on March 4, his trial in New York will begin on March 25, and his federal trial in the Mar-a-Lago documents case begin to. will begin on May 20.
His trial in Georgia for his efforts to subvert the results of the 2020 state election has not yet been scheduled.
Plans for Trump to attend the opening days of the trial in New York were first revealed in legal filings last week. Lawyers representing Trump in a separate lawsuit against his former attorney Michael Cohen used his appearance to postpone a deposition.
Trump had also said in May that he wanted to attend an earlier civil trial brought by writer E. Jean Carroll accusing him of rape, but ultimately did not do so. A jury found him responsible for sexually assaulting her in the dressing room of a department store.
In a post on his social media site, Trump said he wanted to appear in court on Monday “to fight for my name and reputation.”
"I want to witness this witch hunt myself," he told reporters. "I've been going through a witch hunt for years, but now this is really getting dirty."
Trump is expected to testify again in the case within several weeks.