Here’s the thing about Donald Trump: He’s not a real mobster, just a mouthy blowhard who plays one on TV. A trust-fund preppie surrounded by bodyguards all his life — bodyguards and lawyers, not gangsters and hit men. It’s a good bet the big man himself has never so much as had a fistfight. Never even played a contact sport. He’s a country club bully and notorious golf cheat.
So when he tries to intimidate people — judges, prosecutors, witnesses, whomever — it’s always over the telephone or in ALL CAPS social media posts in the middle of the night, weasel-worded to preserve deniability.
“IF YOU GO AFTER ME, I’M COMING AFTER YOU!” he tweeted the other night after carefully behaving himself in Judge Tanya Chutkan’s courtroom. Basically meaning he’ll run his mouth in the hope of inspiring some weak-minded MAGA fool to do something foolish.
“Let’s you and him fight.” That’s how Trump rolls. Remember back on Jan. 6 when he urged the mob to march down to the U.S. Capitol to “fight like hell, because if you don’t fight like hell, you won’t have a country anymore”? He also promised he’d be marching with them. But, of course, he was a no-show; he watched the riot for hours on TV while aides begged him to act.
Trump’s idea of a fight is a scripted professional wrestling event.
Come the trial in Chutkan’s court, it will be more of the same. Because he doesn’t dare face cross-examination, Trump won’t be testifying and will need to restrain himself lest the no-nonsense jurist lock him up for contempt. No courtroom outbursts and no mugging for the cameras.
No stupid red MAGA hat.
Some must see it to believe it
Which is pretty much why this trial — arguably the most consequential criminal trial in U.S. history — must be televised nationwide (hell, worldwide), so that Trump’s deluded supporters can witness his humbling. I agree with Court TV founder Steven Brill, who argues in a New York Times op-ed that “Americans Will Believe the Trump Verdict Only if They Can See It.”
Although federal court rules currently forbid cameras, those rules are not graven in stone. The founding fathers clearly meant for jury trials to be public. That’s why courtrooms have large galleries — just not large enough, in this instance, when the potential audience numbers in the millions. It’ll be a legal Super Bowl.
“The last thing our country and the world needs,” Brill writes, “is for this trial to become the ultimate divisive spin game, in which each side roots for its team online and on the cable news networks as if cheering from the bleachers.”
The process of changing the no-TV rule begins with Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who should definitely recognize the potential harm to the judicial system’s prestige, and ultimately its legitimacy, if Trump’s trial were to devolve into a contest among cable news spin doctors.
Already, Trump apologists argue he has a First Amendment right to say anything he pretends to believe about who won the 2020 presidential election. But that’s not what he’s charged with. Trump can (and surely will, albeit not under oath) say anything he likes about that.
Conspiracy theories ‘from the mothership’
What he can’t do, however, is enter a conspiracy using fraud and deceit to prevent votes from being tabulated and certified in violation of the Electoral Count Act of 1887. Unless he goes with an insanity defense, his subjective delusions don’t matter.
Special Counsel Jack Smith has compiled scores of examples of Trump being credibly informed his allegations of fraud had been investigated and dismissed. Almost without exception, the witnesses will be Republican elected officials — Trump supporters, most of them, who, like Vice President Mike Pence, put country above party. Smith’s indictment quotes one such GOP official to the effect that “it’s tough to own any of this when it’s all just conspiracy s—t beamed down from the mothership.”
Political blogger Kevin Drum explains: “The prosecution doesn’t have to prove that Trump knew he was lying … The standard of proof stops short of requiring mind-reading: ‘Reckless disregard of whether a statement is true, or a conscious effort to avoid learning the truth, can be construed as acting “knowingly.’”
No, not everybody will be persuaded. Many in the MAGA cult are clearly beyond reason. But if nothing else, the sheer tedium of a weeks-long federal trial will wear down all but the most deluded.
As for Boss Trump’s mobster act intimidating witnesses, that’s not happening. Most have already defied him in person — there’s an audiotape of Trump threatening to prosecute Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger for refusing to play ball — and have previously testified to the Jan. 6 commission.
Tough sentences handed down against Jan. 6 rioters have also had a calming effect. Nobody’s eager to do prison time for a loudmouth politician in a baggy suit.
Americans have every right to witness this spectacle live.
Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President.”
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