Sun, Apr

Get Set For ‘All Trump All the Time’ as the Courtroom Drama Unfolds


GELFAND’S WORLD - Monday, March 25, 2024 may go down in history as the beginning of the end for Donald Trump. Morning brought a momentary victory for him, in that the requirement to post a bond of $464 million in the New York civil case was partially set aside. Trump will only have to post $175 million, and he was given an additional 10 days to do so. But within a few minutes on the same morning, Trump was told by a different judge that he will go on trial for his crimes. 

The latest news affects not only Trump the man, but Trump the candidate. Assuming that jury selection begins on April 15 and that the trial gets underway shortly after, we can foresee a radical restructuring of the nightly news for the following month or more. Right now, those viewers who have been following the criminal proceedings have heard the term "hush money trial" repeatedly, but they haven't been hearing a lot about the case itself. The prosecution has to prove not only that hush money was paid to the actress Stormy Daniels, but that the payment was in furtherance of crimes. That's where those 31 felony indictments come in. 

It is not clear at the moment how that legal argument will play out in front of a jury. Up until now, the Trump campaign and his criminal defense have done their best to muddy the waters. Trump himself has repeatedly called the case "a hoax." It is hard to argue that Stormy Daniels was not paid a sizable sum, but will a jury buy into the assertion that the payment was the first element in what were to become multiple felonies? 

The case will involve the testimony of Michael Cohen, the convicted lawyer who served time for his offenses, and now is coming back to bite his former employer. The defense will point out that Cohen is an admitted liar and felon, but felons testify in criminal trials all over the country on any given day, and juries routinely accept their testimony. So it is up to the prosecution to pick a jury that will believe Cohen and will reject Donald Trump. It is up to the defense to do the opposite. 

As of April 15, the nation will be inundated with news stories about jury selection. Many of us will be reminded of the television show Bull, in which a master psychologist helps lawyers to find exactly the right jury to match the needs of his client. In real life, things are not quite so scientific as Dr. Bull asserts, but for those of you with time on your hands and a certain level of historical curiosity, there is a 1936 essay on How to Pick a Jury by none other than Clarence Darrow, which you can find here. But I should warn you that Darrow's views won't be considered politically correct in the present day. Some of you may find some amusement in Darrow's difficulties with that new type of juror who had just recently found her way into the courtroom, the female. 

In any case, there is no question but that the prosecution of Donald Trump depends on finding a jury that is willing to consider the facts without regard to its personal political views. The advantage to the prosecutors is that there are fewer MAGA types in New York jury pools than you might find in, say, Oklahoma City. 

It may be that the criminal case against Trump will all but be decided by halfway through the first day of the trial, but it will nevertheless go on, and perhaps for five or six weeks. The nightly news and the weekend political shows will be consumed with the trial news. The prosecution will attempt to present some salacious new item each day, so as to build its case not only in the minds of the jurors, but in the minds of the American people. 

Donald Trump says it is all a hoax. It is of course expected that the defendant will make his best case, not only to the jury but to the public. But we the public are entitled to consider the defendant's arguments as the trial evidence accumulates. We are entitled to ask -- in political discussion and in the pages of the internet -- whether the accumulating evidence tells us convincingly that this is no hoax, but a legitimate criminal prosecution. 

If this trial is allowed to take place, it should have an effect on the American voters. Not all voters, because Trump will continue to have his followers, but those who will start to wake up to politics through the trial's news coverage. For this reason, the news commenters on television and in the mainstream media should continue to contrast Trump's protestations that it's all a hoax with the facts that will be playing out day to day. 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected].)