I Was In The Courtroom When Donald Trump Was Found Guilty. Here’s What You Didn’t See.

The description I’ve settled on when people ask what it was like seeing Donald Trump in court every day for seven weeks is that it was like watching a cartoon character come to life.

I was in the courtroom pretty much every day of the trial, chronicling the proceedings on HuffPost’s live blog from my spot on the unforgiving wooden benches that felt like church pews.

Security protocols in the courthouse meant that reporters were barred from coming close to the former president — we had to sit still while he moved between rooms so as not to pass him in the hallway, and the aisle seats in the public gallery were blocked off to put more distance between him and the people sitting there. He was no ordinary defendant, to be sure.

So when he sauntered up and down the aisle, reporters watched him carefully. The man most Americans have only seen on their TV and phone screens walks with a slight stoop, arms usually dangling, face usually steely — although he occasionally found somebody in the gallery to single out with either a greeting or a glare. (He was particularly pleased to see Fox News pundit Jeanine Pirro, a staunch ally, seated in court one day. He was particularly displeased by MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell.)

On the day of his verdict, Trump left looking flushed. His face, already such a unique tone, was darkened.

The case revolved around whether he’d falsified business records connected to a scheme to repay his former fixer, Michael Cohen, for a hush money payment to the porn actor Stormy Daniels, which Cohen made just before the 2016 presidential election.

Everybody in the courtroom felt the whiplash just after 4:30 p.m., when New York Supreme Court Judge Juan Merchan announced the jury had reached a decision and just needed a little more time to fill out their verdict sheet. Minutes earlier, he’d gathered all the parties to say he was going to dismiss the jury for the day.

At the word “verdict,” there was a gasp. Merchan, in his soft voice, told the courtroom to refrain from making any outbursts.

The jury came back in, and the foreperson stood. The courtroom held its collective breath.

An officer of the court went down the list, asking for the jury’s verdict on Count 1, Count 2, Count 3, and so on.

“Guilty. Guilty. Guilty,” came the responses in swift succession, the juror’s tone signaling they weren’t going to suddenly switch it up. Thirty-four “guilty”s in all. A historic verdict.

For the news media, though, there was an extra layer of drama: All day, the courthouse Wi-Fi had barely been working. The walls of the 1941 building are so thick that they make connecting to 5G hotspots more difficult. But by some act of God, the connection held as the foreperson read out the verdict, before it promptly failed again. Tensions between reporters and New York state court officers flared as some tried using their phones, which are not allowed to be visible.

As we sat there — shellshocked — Merchan praised the jurors for their service and told them he would thank them all individually later in private. He denied a motion from Trump attorney Todd Blanche to toss the verdict, siding with prosecutors who said there was plenty of evidence to convict the defendant in the case. He set the date for the sentencing hearing: July 11.

And soon we were shooed out of the courthouse by court officers, who’d had the unfortunate task of joining us over the course of the trial while standing the entire time.

The reporters, sardined into elevators, appeared somewhat stunned. More than one person offered a “wow.”

Across the street, a circus had materialized, with lights, cameras, microphones and a mess of cords and cables stretching the whole length of the block, as helicopters circled overhead. In the park that faces the courthouse, the spectacle had attracted curious onlookers, who recorded the scene on their phones. Several protesters carrying handmade anti-Trump signs appeared overjoyed upon hearing the leading Republican presidential candidate is now a convicted felon.

The intense interest in the trial also gave me pause. Merchan had told the jurors they were now free to talk about the case with anyone they liked, including the media. I doubted whether anyone would want that kind of attention. But I don’t know the jurors. Throughout the proceedings they remained a somewhat inscrutable presence in their box. All 12 of them, with six alternates, focused on the evidence that was being laid out for their benefit. They took notes — one alternate filled three notebooks’ worth — and studied their screens when exhibits appeared there. They did not look at Trump when they filed in to give their verdict.

The judge ordered the media not to reveal too many identifying details about the jury, for their safety. But curiosity about them — people who were chosen for their apparent lack of fervent opinion about such a divisive figure — is understandable. Many of them said they enjoyed outdoorsy hobbies, and either avoided the news or mainly read the headlines.

Every day the jury departed the courthouse in a van with darkly tinted windows.

The judge’s safety was another question. Trump has a special ability to criticize someone and allow his most fervent supporters to translate his words into real threats, and he has now focused his ire on Merchan.

On Friday morning, Trump called him a “devil.”

“He looks so nice and soft. People say, ‘Oh, he seems like such a nice man.’ No, unless you saw him in action,” he said of the judge, at a press conference the former president convened to complain about the trial.

Trump remains under a gag order, which ostensibly prevents him from making negative comments about figures in the case while he awaits sentencing, although he repeatedly toes the line and sometimes crosses it. I can’t help but wonder what he will say when the leash comes off.

It’s been an exhausting and wild ride helping to write, as they say, the first draft of history. But I’ll be back in the courthouse come July.



Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *