Donald Trump dominated the news again yesterday – we’re talking wall-to-wall all morning – simply by showing up for court.
In fact, with less than a week till the Iowa caucuses, he’ll spend two days in court – yesterday’s D.C. appearance and Thursday’s closing arguments in the civil fraud trial in New York – although in both cases he doesn’t need to show up. (In between he’ll do that Iowa town hall on Fox.)
The three-judge federal appeals panel that heard Trump’s claim of presidential immunity – two Biden appointees and one by George H.W. Bush – were openly skeptical of the arguments offered by the former president’s lawyer.
Ironically, this comes as Joe Biden’s campaign officials are complaining to journalists brought to the Wilmington headquarters that Trump should be covered more as a candidate and less as a defendant.
And yet there’s no question that the immunity hearing is crucial. If the appellate panel upholds Trump’s claim that he’s immune from prosecution for anything that can be construed as an official act, Jack Smith’s Jan. 6 case will be dead in the water. If the panel rules against Trump, the prosecution goes forward before the election. Of course, like Trump’s appeal of the Maine and Colorado ballot bans, it will ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court.
But by his sheer presence in the downtown criminal courthouse – and speaking to reporters afterward – Trump boosted the visibility of the hearing. Just by sitting in the same courtroom as Smith, he made it part of his campaign.
And that’s been the play all along.
Each of the four indictments has boosted Trump politically, pushing his poll numbers up and denying his GOP rivals of much-needed oxygen, as Ron DeSantis has said. Trump’s loyal MAGA followers see these charges as a Democratic plot to keep him out of the White House.
The more the media spotlight follows the ex-president to the courthouses, the more he can use them as a campaign vehicle.
Fueling the drama: another swatting incident, this one at Jack Smith’s home. Law enforcement officials showed up on Christmas after being falsely told that the prosecutor had shot his wife. The judge in the case, Tanya Chutkan, was also swatted.
Trump’s attorney made the strange argument that no president can be prosecuted without first being impeached and convicted. The judges weren’t buying that, saying a hypothetical president could use the military to murder his political opponents and resign before impeachment. I’d add that he could avoid an impeachment conviction if his party controlled the Senate.
Judge Karen Henderson, the Bush appointee, said: “I think it’s paradoxical to say that his constitutional duty to ‘take care that the laws be faithfully executed’ allows him to violate criminal law.” Audio from the hearing was made available.
Biden tried to change the trajectory of his campaign with his speeches near Valley Forge and in Charleston, making harsh personal attacks on his predecessor as a liar who fomented an insurrection and is a champion of White supremacy.
But on most days, Biden is a low-key presence, taking only two quick questions from reporters with terse answers, doing fewer interviews, and news conferences are as rare as a fly-by of Jupiter’s moons. Trump, by contrast, is constantly making news. I never thought I’d see a time when a former president overshadowed an incumbent president, but here we are.
On the video channel of pillow guy Mike Lindell, Trump said: “And when there’s a crash, I hope it’s going to be during this next 12 months, because I don’t want to be Herbert Hoover.” This drew media denunciations that he was rooting for a crash – especially since the stock market just hit new highs.
Trump made a video – a virtual requirement for TV – saying that what was happening to him “only happens in third world countries or banana republics. They’re using their Department of Injustice to go after his political [opponent] and this is all him,” meaning Biden, “a hundred percent him. He’s the one that told them to do it and they obey his orders. It’s a shame.”
He added that “Joe” has to “be very careful… You don’t indict your political opponent because he opposes the corrupt election, which you know was corrupt.”
When Trump spoke for 10 minutes outside the Washington courthouse yesterday, he said they’d had “a very good day.” But he added that if he loses the appeal, “It will be bedlam in the country.”
Both CNN and MSNBC soon broke away. CNN’s Kaitlan Collins offered an instant fact check, saying there is no evidence of significant voter fraud in 2020, and that Biden is not prosecuting Trump.
Even after a contentious Pentagon news conference revealing that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has prostate cancer and that his refusal to disclose that serious illness is under investigation, the networks quickly went back to the Trump court hearing.
Another day, another news cycle, dominated by Donald Trump.