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New York Times
17 Feb 2024
Andrea Bernstein

NextImg:Opinion | How Trump Turns His Courtroom Losses Into Wins

In New York on Friday, a State Supreme Court judge, Arthur Engoron, ordered Donald Trump and his company to pay the staggering sum of $355 million for lying, over and over, with stunning audacity, about the value of his assets. The ruling comes just weeks after a jury, in a defamation case brought by the writer E. Jean Carroll, ordered Mr. Trump to pay $83.3 million — also for lying. That’s on top of two previous jury findings: Mr. Trump’s company was found guilty of 17 felonies, including fraud, and an earlier Carroll civil jury ordered him to pay $5 million for sexual assault and another act of defamation. Mr. Trump is appealing all the verdicts.

That a candidate nearly certain to win the Republican presidential nomination carries the stain of having been found by judge and jury to lie fluently is stunning enough. But even more so is the continuity between how, in the past months, Mr. Trump has practiced exactly what he’s on trial for right in front of us, in the courtrooms, in a way that once again has benefited his brand. Even after Mr. Trump had begun to lose, and face real financial and business consequences, he was working out a way to benefit, or at least try to benefit, from the verdicts, and from the entire process of being placed on trial.

Shortly after Engoron’s ruling hit the docket, one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers, Alina Habba, said he would appeal. “This verdict is a manifest injustice — plain and simple,” she said. “It is the culmination of a multi-year, politically fueled witch hunt that was designed to ‘take down Donald Trump.’” She added “Countless hours of testimony proved that there was no wrongdoing, no crime, and no victim.”

I’ve now watched two cases where Mr. Trump sat at the defense table, day after day, through testimony that was excruciatingly boring, in the business fraud trial, and just plain excruciating, in the Carroll case.

In the mornings before Mr. Trump’s business fraud trial, journalists lined up for hours outside the civil courthouse. A sizable number stopped at the courtroom hallway, creating a crowded press scrum, to catch a few minutes of Mr. Trump’s time on the way in or out. For these press opportunities, the erstwhile TV star set up his shot; he usually stood behind a barricade—conjuring up prison bars—outside the door of the courtroom, and spoke to supporters — saying some version of “I should be right now in Iowa and New Hampshire, in South Carolina. I shouldn’t be sitting in a courthouse.”

He had no obligation to be there, and the barricades were for his protection. But the picture of Mr. Trump behind the barricades ran repeatedly, on news sites all over the world. His fund-raising emails mentioned the court appearances; he talked about them on the campaign trail.

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