How One Hour Encapsulated the Chaos of Trump’s Coming Trial


At 11 a.m. Monday, a New York appeals court made Donald J. Trump’s day, rescuing him from financial devastation in a civil fraud case.

By noon, the New York judge overseeing his criminal case had nearly ruined it, setting Mr. Trump’s trial for next month and all but ensuring he will hold the dubious distinction of becoming the first former American president to be criminally prosecuted.

The contrasting outcomes of Mr. Trump’s twin New York legal crises — a triumph in the civil case and a setback in the criminal one — set the former president on a winding path as he seeks to navigate around an array of legal troubles to recapture the White House.

Unfolding in rapid succession in his hometown courts, the day’s events captured the disorienting reality of having a candidate who is also a defendant. And they showed that nothing about the six months until Election Day will be easy, linear or normal — for Mr. Trump or the nation.

Rather than mount a traditional cross-country campaign in the lead-up to the Republican National Convention in July, Mr. Trump, the presumptive nominee, is preparing to work around the criminal trial that will begin April 15 and last for at least six weeks.

His schedule will be built around the four days each week that the trial is expected to take place in court, with Wednesdays expected to be an off day. One person familiar with his preliminary plans described weekend events held in strategically important states near New York, like Pennsylvania, or in hospitable areas outside Manhattan.

He will conduct radio and television interviews from Trump Tower, where he is expected to stay during the trial days and where his advisers are prepared for protests. And his team is still discussing a massive rally at Madison Square Garden this year, a prospect that appeals to Mr. Trump, who likes the idea of filling the venue in the middle of a borough that rejected him at the ballot box and in courtrooms.

Mr. Trump is also expected to bring his campaign to the courthouse. In the hallway outside the courtroom, he can be counted on to ridicule the judge, Juan M. Merchan, and the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, who brought the case. Mr. Trump might also, as he has in recent civil trials, be prone to outbursts inside the courtroom, which could alienate the jury and compound the chaos surrounding the trial.

Daniel J. Horwitz, a veteran defense lawyer who previously worked in the Manhattan district attorney’s office prosecuting white-collar cases, said Mr. Trump’s courtroom behavior could well affect the trial’s outcome.

“Jurors take their responsibility seriously and they watch everything, including how the lawyers conduct themselves and how the parties conduct themselves, including the defendant,” he said. “If the defendant acts out, either in court or outside, Justice Merchan will have to balance any possible sanction against keeping the trial moving forward fairly and impartially.”

Mr. Trump faces three other criminal indictments, in three different cities, on charges that he mishandled classified documents and tried to subvert democracy. But for now, only the Manhattan case, in which he is accused of covering up a simmering sex scandal during and after the 2016 presidential campaign, is on track to go to trial before the election.

Mr. Trump’s hectic Monday encapsulated how he has essentially collapsed the various components of his life — his political campaign, his family business, his social media site, his criminal cases and his various civil liabilities — into one flat landscape.

His day began in the Manhattan courthouse, where his lawyers were mounting a last-ditch effort to delay his criminal trial.

During a break in the hearing, Mr. Trump emerged from the courtroom and was told by aides that he had notched a significant victory in the civil fraud case brought by the New York attorney general. That case, in which Mr. Trump was accused of fraudulently inflating his net worth, had resulted in a $454 million judgment against the former president last month.

Mr. Trump was on the clock to secure a half-billion dollar bond to block the attorney general, Letitia James, from collecting the judgment while he appeals. When Mr. Trump failed, Ms. James was free to freeze his bank accounts and even to begin the long process of trying to seize his properties.

Yet the appeals court handed him a lifeline, allowing him to post a much smaller bond: $175 million. The ruling staved off a looming financial crisis and gave Mr. Trump’s team hope that he will succeed in reducing the overall judgment on appeal.

In the hallway outside the criminal courtroom, Mr. Trump thanked the appeals court and aired an assortment of grievances against his various accusers. He then returned to his spot at the defense table, victorious.

Victory was fleeting. Within minutes of reconvening the hearing, Justice Merchan finalized an April 15 trial date, rejecting Mr. Trump’s bid to delay the criminal case or throw it out altogether.

The hearing itself, not just the outcome, was painful for Mr. Trump. Justice Merchan grilled Mr. Trump’s lead lawyer, Todd Blanche, and at one point even questioned his résumé.

Mr. Trump looked on with a scowl.

Afterward, Mr. Trump attacked the district attorney’s case as “election interference,” though prosecutors say Mr. Trump was the one to interfere in an election, contending that he falsified business records to keep voters in the dark about a potential sex scandal involving a porn star. (Mr. Trump denies any sexual encounter with the porn star, Stormy Daniels).

The head-spinning hour in which the two crucial rulings dropped was not the first collision of Mr. Trump’s legal entanglements, and, because he is now all but certain to go on trial next month, it will not be the last.

In fact, the cases converged again later Monday when Mr. Trump held a news conference at his office building on Wall Street. It was one of the properties Ms. James had threatened to seize, but Mr. Trump was using it to create an appearance of grandeur for the assembled television cameras, standing in front of American flags in the lobby.

Mr. Trump alternately commended the appellate court judges in the civil case — saying he respected them for “substantially reducing that ridiculous amount of money” — and assailed Justice Merchan as a “Democrat judge.”

“The judge cannot go fast enough,” he said. “He wants to get it started so badly.”

(Justice Merchan had already delayed the trial three weeks, and it is a judge’s job to move a case along).

Mr. Trump refused to concede that a trial would take place at all, suggesting that he would be successful appealing the matter to a higher court, a move that several legal experts called a lost cause.

Mr. Trump has sought and most likely will continue to seek to promote himself as a martyr being persecuted by political opponents, which worked for him in the Republican primary but is a far less assured strategy in a general election.

On Monday, Mr. Trump’s account on his Truth Social platform highlighted what he said was a supporter’s note thanking him for the “arrows” he absorbs, and, nodding to the Easter holiday, remarked that Mr. Trump’s troubles were coming the same week that “Christ walked through His greatest persecution.”

“They have also surrounded me with words of hatred, And fought against me without a cause. In return for my love they are my accusers,” the post read, quoting Psalm 109:3-8 in the New King James Version of the Bible.

The post was ridiculed elsewhere by Mr. Trump’s detractors, some of whom have pointed out that his criminal trial will feature seamy accusations of a sexual encounter with the porn star.

Michael Gold contributed reporting.



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