Trump’s campaign and his legal strategy

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and his courtroom strategy are now one and the same.

On Monday night, Trump won the Iowa caucuses by roughly 30 points. The next day, he took an unusual victory lap, striding into a courtroom in Manhattan for a defamation case brought against him by the writer E. Jean Carroll, who says Trump raped her in the 1990s.

Throughout the week, the former president moved back and forth between the courthouse and the campaign trail.

He held a rally in New Hampshire then rushed to New York again for more proceedings in the case filed by Carroll. She had previously won a finding from a civil jury that said Trump was liable for having sexually abused her and for defamation when he called her story a lie.

This split-screen toggle was emblematic of how Trump intends to handle the year ahead, when he will be running for president while defending himself against multiple civil and criminal actions. On display was Trump’s desire to test how far he can push the system.

Trump is not required to be in the courtroom for the defamation trial, and his choice to be there was his alone. He has said he wants “to attend all my trials,” and when he showed up in court again yesterday, it was as Carroll took the stand to describe how he had destroyed her reputation and made her a target of his followers. But within a matter of minutes, Trump had disrupted Carroll’s testimony and risked getting himself thrown out of the courtroom.

It has become a regular tactic for him in the Carroll case and another civil proceeding in New York related to his business practices: He makes a spectacle of himself, distracts attention from the damaging or embarrassing proceedings taking place around him and casts himself as the victim.

He was more subdued when he attended a federal appeals court argument over his claim that he should be immune from prosecution for anything he did while president. But in the other cases — and for all of his complaints about being treated unfairly by the courts — he has gotten away with antics that no else could have. Almost any other defendant who has attacked judges and prosecutors as Trump has, both inside and outside of the courtrooms, would have been subjected to serious consequences.

Trump has melded the various accusations, including the New York Attorney General’s civil fraud case against him and his company, into a single lament about a “witch hunt” that he falsely claims is being orchestrated by President Biden. Portraying himself as a target of political persecution has brought him millions of dollars in political donations and rallied Republican voters to his side as he runs for president again.

On Tuesday, an aide, Boris Ephsteyn, joined him in court and tried to speak during the proceedings. Judge Lewis Kaplan, who at 79 is slightly older than Trump, stopped him.

Yesterday, when Trump returned to court, the former president appeared to be trying to see if he could bait Judge Kaplan into throwing him out of the courtroom.

According to one of the lawyers representing Carroll, Trump whispered loudly in the presence of the jury that the case was a “con job.” At another point he muttered, “Witch hunt,” the lawyer said.

“Mr. Trump, I hope I don’t have to consider excluding you from the trial. I understand you are very eager for me to do that,” Kaplan said.

“I would love it,” Trump replied.

“I know you would, because you just can’t control yourself in this circumstance, apparently,” the judge said.

Whether Trump was having an uncontrolled outburst or had planned to make a scene in the courtroom all along, he scheduled a news conference at 40 Wall Street, a building he owns, after court ended for the day. It was a reprise of his performance at the same location a week earlier when he spoke while his lawyers were making closing arguments at the civil fraud trial.

Once again he stood in front of American flags and was greeted by cheering fans in the building’s lobby. He delivered a quick speech about how unfair he found the judge and how he was the real victim.

“I, frankly, am the one that suffered damages,” he said.

Whether or not this helps Trump politically, it could easily hurt him legally. Exhibit A: The day after his remarks, Carroll’s lawyer played a video of them in the courtroom, showing his attacks on her continued.

It’s increasingly clear that if Trump goes to trial in either of his two federal cases — one in which he stands accused of plotting to subvert the 2020 election, the other on charges of illegally holding on to classified documents — he is going to put attacking what he and his allies call the deep state at the heart of his defenses.

That’s because Jack Smith, the special counsel handling the cases, intends to rely on the intelligence community and national security officials to prove the charges he has brought. Smith will likely use spies, cybersecurity officials and even a former attorney general to persuade the jury that Trump’s relentless lies about election fraud were central to his efforts to remain in power. He will use a similar cast of characters to explain to jurors just how secret — and potentially damaging — the documents were that Trump took with him from the White House.

Trump, of course, has a history of portraying himself as a victim of the Deep State, reaching back at least to his efforts to undermine the federal investigation into whether Russia sought to help his 2016 presidential campaign.

Just this week, Trump’s lawyers filed a motion saying they intended to demonstrate “that the intelligence community has operated with a bias” against Trump since at least 2019 when a whistle-blower complained about his call with Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, setting off his first impeachment trial.

The motion mirrored similar papers Trump filed in the election interference case in November, suggesting that he planned to question the expertise — and loyalty — of top prosecutors and national security officials who told him over and again that the 2020 election had been conducted fairly.

We’re asking readers what they’d like to know about the Trump cases: the charges, the procedure, the important players or anything else. You can send us your question by filling out this form.

If the Federal Appeals Court says Trump does not have presidential blanket immunity, can SCOTUS overturn that ruling? — Lisa Bowie, Two Rivers, Wisconsin

Alan: The Supreme Court can absolutely overturn an appeals court decision finding that Trump does not enjoy presidential immunity. But it’s far from clear the court would rule that way even though Trump has appointed three of its justices. It’s even possible that the court will choose not to review the appeals court’s decision at all, effectively letting it remain in place. And, of course, if the Supreme Court does consider the immunity issue, it will be of paramount importance how quickly it moves toward making a decision.

Trump is at the center of at least four separate criminal investigations, at both the state and federal levels, into matters related to his business and political careers. Here is where each case currently stands.

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