Portrait of Trump in court by an authorized cartoonist (Jane Rosenberg/Reuters)
The first appearance of a former US president was held Tuesday behind closed doors, cut off from the sea of television cameras and microphones outside.
Journalists who managed to get into the Lower Manhattan courtroom where prosecutors detailed the criminal charges against Donald Trump were able to scribble quotes and observations in their notebooks. But beyond their accounts, the only available public record of the proceedings – an event with far-reaching political consequences and unparalleled in American history – is a 32-page courtroom transcript and drawings by three courtroom cartoonists. (New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan allowed five still press photographers to document the scene, but they were removed before the arraignment began.)
In all, Trump uttered just 10 words during the hour-long hearing.
Excerpts from the transcript of the indictment in the town of New York State against Donald J. Trump. There are six lines that say, from top to bottom:
-Not guilty (Inocente)
-Okay, thank you
-I do (Yes)
Most portraits show Trump with arms crossed
Most were brief responses to procedural questions from the judge. Taken together, they read almost like a haiku, a stark contrast to the rambling speeches, combative interviews and strongman bravado that have long defined Trump’s political persona.
When the former president spoke, he only said what he had to say. His tone was moody, almost sour. He sat hunched over, occasionally listening to the whispers of his lawyers. He practically didn’t wince.
The hearing started like any other criminal hearing. The court clerk read out indictment 71543, The State of New York v. Donald J. Trump. After the prosecutors and defense attorneys announced themselves, Merchan got straight to the point.
“We are going to prosecute Mr. Trump,” the judge said, according to the transcript.
The charges were 34 crimes of falsification of commercial documents in the first degree. “How do you plead to this charge?” Merchan asked, “guilty or not guilty?”
“Innocent,” replied Trump, who was wearing a navy blue suit and bright red tie.
Trump sat quietly among his four lawyers and listened as prosecutors presented their case, which centers on his role in paying adult film star Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about an alleged sexual encounter to protect his presidential campaign. .
After laying out the charges, prosecutors turned their attention to Trump’s recent statements on the case. Before being charged, he warned that arresting him could bring “death and destruction,” and later lashed out at Merchan and District Attorney Alvin Bragg, claiming they were biased against him.
Assistant District Attorney Christopher Conroy asked the judge to enter a protective order to prevent Trump from releasing sensitive information produced during the discovery phase of the case.
Trump’s defense attorney, Todd Blanche, took issue with the prosecutor for focusing on Trump’s rhetoric. He acknowledged that Trump had “responded, and responded strongly” to the allegations, but said his words did not amount to threats or harassment.
“It is true that, as part of that response, he is absolutely frustrated, upset and believes that a grave injustice is taking place with him being in this room today,” Blanche told the judge.
“She has rights,” Blanche added. “You have the right to speak publicly.”
The judge said he was not convinced Trump’s language was “just out of frustration.” He said the defense team should tell Trump to “refrain from making statements that could incite violence or civil unrest.” He told prosecutors to do the same with his witnesses.
The grim face was permanent
After a long discussion about the next steps in the case, the parties debated whether one of Trump’s lawyers, the brash and outspoken Joe Tacopina, had a conflict of interest in representing him.
Prosecutors said Tacopina should be conflicted because Daniels – a witness in the case – once contacted Tacopina about hiring him. Tacopina said that there was no conflict because, among other reasons, she had rejected her case.
The judge turned to Trump and told him that while he was not making any findings of fact, he wanted him to know that he has an “absolute right to conflict-free representation.”
“Do you understand that right, Mr. Trump?” Merchan asked.
“Yes,” Trump replied.
Merchan continued, saying that Trump, for the time being, was free to “consult with other lawyers, run this thing for them and see how you feel about it when it’s over, okay?”
“Okay, thanks,” Trump replied.
Donald Trump spoke only 10 words
From there, the judge read Trump a series of Parker Warnings, which inform criminal defendants that it is in their best interest to be present at all phases of their case.
Merchan said he had the authority to proceed without Trump if he chooses not to appear.
“Do you understand?” he asked.
“Yes,” Trump replied.
The judge also warned that he could remove Trump from court if he became “disruptive” to the point of impairing the judge’s ability to preside over the case. Did he get it?
“Yes,” Trump replied.
Finally, Merchan noted that the trial, verdict, and sentencing could proceed in Trump’s absence if he withdrew or waived his right to appear.
“Do you understand?” the judge asked again.
A stone-faced Trump gave his latest response.
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