Trump has shared tales of courtroom spectacles with supporters. The reality is much more subdued

By Steve Contorno, CNN

(CNN) — An email Monday night from Donald Trump – subject line: “My farewell message” – carried a fateful warning to his backers.

“Tomorrow is my GAG ORDER hearing,” it read. “If things don’t go our way, I could be thrown in jail.”

Ominous? Certainly. Dubious? Yes, that too.

Trump faced little risk of ending up behind bars Tuesday. Rather, the prosecution in his hush money trial wanted the former president to pay a modest $1,000 for violations of a court order against attacking witnesses, the district attorney and others involved with his case. They suggested 10 fines. At the end of Tuesday’s hearing, the judge had held off on making a decision for now.

Throughout the first six days of his trial, Trump’s dramatized retellings of his legal peril have veered considerably from the events actually unfolding in and around Manhattan’s criminal courthouse. In social media posts and in fundraising pitches, a frantic Trump shares tales of courtroom spectacles and plots against him, untethered from the subdued – and sometimes sleepy – rhythms of the criminal justice system in motion.

In one fundraising email on the first day of his trial, Trump claimed he “stormed out” of the proceedings. Reporters in the courtroom observed no such animations during the former president’s exit, but that didn’t stop Trump from repeating the falsehood in an email Friday.

He has informed supporters that he’s held several “emergency” news conferences – a term he has used to describe the even-keeled remarks he delivers to cameras nearly every time he enters and leaves the courtroom.

These embellishments have helped Trump raise $5.6 million online during the first week of the trial, according to a source familiar with his fundraising. But they belie court appearances that are most notable for how unremarkably Trump has behaved while required by Judge Juan Merchan to sit through the trial from his Manhattan courtroom. The stakes of his case – the first criminal trial of a former president, taking place amid a presidential campaign – have demanded that Trump accept a bit part in his own story as the legal proceedings unfold around him.

Trump is accused of falsifying business records to cover up hush money payments made to Stormy Daniels, an adult film star and his alleged mistress, in an effort to conceal information from voters before the 2016 election. The trial has moved rather rapidly – though also laboriously. It will continue on Thursday with more testimony from the prosecution’s witnesses.

Trump has mostly filled the mundane moments the only way a defendant is generally allowed: with silence. He bites his lips, stares ahead and peeks at the jurors. He nodded approvingly when one prospective juror mentioned reading some of his books. With the courtroom quiet Tuesday, Trump flipped through a pile of papers loud enough to hear the pages turning.

Twice he appeared to doze off – though in his version of events, relayed on his Truth Social platform, he was “PRAYING not sleeping!!”

In the civil proceedings for the defamation case against him brought by former magazine columnist E. Jean Carroll, Trump’s audible reactions drew admonishment from the judge. But in this trial so far, Trump has spoken infrequently. At one point last week, he looked at his aides in the gallery and could be heard saying, “It’s freezing.”

On the second day of jury selection, Trump gestured and spoke in the direction of a juror. Unnerved, Merchan told Trump’s lawyer to quiet his client down.

“I will not have any jurors intimidated in the courtroom,” Merchan said. Trump has avoided similar outbursts since.

That is not to say Trump’s legal team hasn’t clashed with Merchan inside the courtroom. Tuesday’s proceedings grew heated as Merchan considered whether to hold the former president in contempt.

“You’re losing all credibility with the court,” an increasingly frustrated Merchan told Trump lawyer Todd Blanche after one testy exchange over the former president’s social media posts about a juror.

But the typically verbose Trump quietly took his lumps. He barely reacted as prosecutor Christopher Conroy accused the former president of violating the gag order and continued to stare straight ahead as Blanche defended him. He turned down a bottle of Fiji water from an aide and passed a note to one of his lawyers.

In other words, a far cry from a fundraising email the night before that declared, “ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE IN 24 HOURS.”

But by Tuesday morning, Trump had moved on to another grievance, this one alleging that police had turned thousands of his supporters away from protesting outside the Manhattan courthouse.

Unlike the protests allowed to take place at Columbia University, Trump wrote on Truth Social, “Lower Manhattan surrounding the Courthouse, where I am heading now, is completely CLOSED DOWN. SO UNFAIR!!!”

In another post, Trump said that “people who truly LOVE our Country, and want to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, are not allowed to ‘Peacefully Protest,’ and are rudely and systematically shut down and ushered off to far away ‘holding areas.’”

There’s little evidence of any such public displays of encouragement for the former president around 100 Centre Street. Protesters are allowed outside the courthouse, and contrary to Trump’s assertion, traffic has moved around Lower Manhattan in spite of the heightened security.

On Monday, reporters outside the courthouse had spotted a single Trump supporter with a flag.

CNN’s Kate Sullivan, Kristen Holmes, Jeremy Herb, Lauren del Valle and Kara Scannell contributed to this report.

The-CNN-Wire
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