Donald Trump‘s civil fraud trial started Monday in New York, with the former president trying to fill the void left by a prohibition on cameras in the proceedings.
Before heading into the court this morning, he spoke to the media outside the courtroom, attacking New York state Attorney General Letitia James and bashing the judge, Arthur Engoron. After a lunchtime break, Trump gave another angry statement just after he exited. And he did so again while heading back in. “I want to watch this witch hunt myself,” he said.
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Fox News carried portions of his remarks live, while CNN and MSNBC used them sparingly, often with correspondents talking over visuals of Trump speaking to reporters. CNN did do a fact check, while MSNBC ran a box in the bottom right-hand screen of the courtroom door.
The coverage gave a glimpse of how the networks might treat Trump’s criminal trials, including those in courts that long have barred cameras or audio. The former president and Celebrity Apprentice host seemed determined to have his remarks dominate coverage, given the lack of visuals or audio from the courtroom, but some of the networks have been reluctant to carry his statements given his penchant for spreading misinformation. He suggested that the judge should be disbarred and even criminally charged for “interfering in an election.”
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A coalition of news organizations last week appealed to the judge to allow camera access to the opening and closing statements in the trial, but Engoron permitted merely a brief camera spray that showed Trump sitting at the defense table, with James first row in the gallery just a few steps away. Engoron himself noted the presence of the cameras as he took off his glasses and smiled for a brief moment.
That left reporters to convey to viewers, at moments throughout the morning, what was happening inside the courtroom. On CNN, Paula Reid argued that the presence of Trump underscored why it is so important to allow cameras in the proceedings, as the public can see for themselves what is transpiring.
Yet when it comes to Trump’s first criminal proceeding, in the election conspiracy case set to start on March 4, camera access might be even more restricted than it was in the New York fraud case. Some House and Senate lawmakers, including Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), are urging the federal Judicial Conference to allow cameras, while a former Justice Department spokesman, Anthony Coley, argued on Politico that as things stand, “many will hear about [the trial] secondhand through siloed media ecosystems and from sources whose fidelity to the facts are tenuous at best.” The conference met in September and loosened some restrictions on civil and bankruptcy cases but not criminal proceedings.
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That makes it more likely that networks will depend on the firsthand play-by-play of reporters in the courtroom or the overflow. In the pretrial hearings of the D.C. federal case, reporters have been using an overflow room with an audio stream of the proceedings and where they are allowed to use their electronic devices. As proceedings take place, networks have relied on legal commentators and correspondents to fill in details and analysis.
As of now, only Trump’s Georgia trial is likely to be televised, as state courts allow camera coverage unless there is a compelling reason to prohibit them.
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In the civil fraud case, Trump, two of his children and his companies are accused of overvaluing assets and his net worth as he sought financing from banks and other institutions. Engoron ruled on much of the case last week, concluding that the former president committed fraud and removing the control that the Trumps have over a number of their New York real estate holdings. The bench trial itself is largely to determine damages.
On CNN on Monday, Kara Scannell did her best to describe a telling moment in the proceedings.
“When Donald Trump was walking out of court and he passed by Letitia James sitting there at the corner of the front row, he just glanced down at her. There was no locking of the eyes. It was more of a passing glance.” That, she said, was the first time he acknowledged her. Eric Trump, however, “stopped, turned to Letitia James, actually reached out with both of his hands to shake her hands and they exchanged some words. I couldn’t overhear. I was a couple of rows back. But it was much more of a personal exchange.”
Said anchor Boris Sanchez, “Really fascinating details from court.”
Fascinating details, but ones not caught by cameras.
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