The Trump Trials: One Angry Man

Former president Donald Trump is seen in court last week during the civil fraud trial in New York against the Trump Organization. (Shannon Stapleton/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)
6 min

Welcome back to The Trump Trials, our weekly update on the hectic pace of the 45th president’s many criminal and civil cases. Last week saw Donald Trump enter not one but two courtrooms, as he tried to raise his voice above the drumbeat of judicial decision-making.

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What’s ahead

Try, try again: Trump is scheduled to face his second defamation trial from writer E. Jean Carroll. That trial, in Manhattan federal court, may last about a week and is limited to deciding what additional damages Trump should pay.

  • In May, a jury concluded that Trump sexually abused Carroll in a luxury department store in 1996 and defamed her in 2022. It awarded $5 million in damages. The question to be decided now is how much more he should have to pay for a separate instance of defamation.

We are also waiting for the federal court of appeals in D.C. to rule on Trump’s claims that he cannot be prosecuted over events related to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol because he is shielded by presidential immunity and his Senate acquittal when he was impeached. More on that later.

Here’s a recap of last week’s action in all four criminal cases (and updates in the civil cases where relevant).

D.C.: Federal case on 2020 election

The details: Four counts related to conspiring to obstruct the 2020 election results.

Planned trial date: March 4.

What happened: Trump’s first court appearance of the week came in Washington, when he attended the appeals hearing over his claims of presidential immunity. The hearing produced a memorable exchange in which Judge Florence Y. Pan said Trump’s view of the law would make him immune from prosecution even if he ordered Navy SEALs to execute a political rival.

It is unusual for defendants to attend their own appeals court argument (partly because they are often in prison). In this instance, the former president appeared to be trying to have the last word, even with judges deciding his fate.

He sat stone-faced through the hearing but spoke to reporters afterward, predicting “bedlam” if the cases against him derail his bid for president. And he’d be back in court again before the week was over.

Visual story: How Trump makes his court appearances seem like campaign stops

Georgia: State case on 2020 election

The details: Trump faces 13 state charges for allegedly trying to undo the election results in that state. Eighteen people were charged alongside Trump. Four of them have pleaded guilty.

Planned trial date: None yet.

What happened last week: A lawyer for one of Trump’s co-defendants alleged in a court filing that District Attorney Fani T. Willis had an improper relationship with a private-practice lawyer she hired to prosecute the Trump case. Willis has yet to file her response to the claims but is expected to do so soon.

The allegations apparently stem from a sealed divorce case, and it’s not yet clear what the facts are, or whether the specifics of any such conduct would amount to an ethical problem, rather than a public embarrassment, for a prosecutor and her employee. Stay tuned, because the judge signaled Friday that he will probably hold a hearing on the issue next month.

Florida: Federal classified documents case

The details: Trump faces 40 federal charges over accusations that he kept top-secret documents at Mar-a-Lago — his home and private club — and thwarted government demands to return them.

Planned trial date: May 20.

What happened: Prosecutors filed notices saying which FBI agents they plan to call as expert witnesses to describe evidence found on the phones of Trump’s co-defendants, Waltine “Walt” Nauta and Carlos De Oliveira. That evidence includes not just what was on the phones, but also where those phones were at key moments. This week, we should see a motion from Trump’s side about what types of evidence they still want prosecutors to hand over to them for review.

New York: State hush money case

The details: 34 charges connected to a 2016 hush money payment.

Planned trial date: March 25.

Last week: The criminal case was quiet, as usual. But down the street, the months-long civil trial brought by the New York attorney general finally reached closing arguments, which were overshadowed by Trump denouncing the entire proceeding from the defense table.

“What’s happened here, sir, is a fraud on me,” Trump angrily told Judge Arthur Engoron, claiming that Engoron had an “agenda” against him.

“Please control your client,” Engoron urged Trump’s lawyer, to no avail.

As a legal strategy, Trump’s speech did him few favors. But in both this and the D.C. appeals court argument, the former president appears to have made the calculation that he should be where the news is, and do his best to shout down his critics, if only in the court of public opinion.

Question time

Q: In the New York civil case over his business valuations, Trump has claimed that he was denied a jury trial. Is that true?

A: Engoron has said that New York law doesn’t allow Trump to have a jury trial for the types of claims at issue in the trial. Trump’s legal team could have challenged that in court but did not pursue that path. Our colleague Shayna Jacobs reports that Engoron repeated again last week his view that the relief sought in the case was “all equitable” and therefore not properly subject to a jury trial.

Nerd word of the week:

Bench trial: A trial without a jury in which the verdict is delivered by a judge from the bench. The law says some types of legal claims should be reviewed by only a judge, but there are also a number of reasons a defendant might want to face a judge rather than a jury: Police officers accused of wrongdoing sometimes prefer to take their chances with a judge; white-collar defendants may think they have better odds with a judge reviewing complex financial statements; or their trial strategy may hinge on a nuanced legal argument.