Donald Trump is pushing for his federal election interference trial in Washington to be televised, joining media outlets that say the American public should be able to watch the historic case unfold.
Federal court rules prohibit broadcasting of the proceedings, but The Associated Press and other news outlets say the unprecedented case of a former president on trial for trying to overturn the will of voters warrants an exception.
The Justice Department opposes the move, arguing that the judge overseeing the case does not have the authority to override longstanding national policy banning cameras in federal courtrooms. The trial is scheduled to begin March 4.
Trump’s lawyers wrote in court papers filed Friday evening that all Americans should be able to observe what they say are politically motivated prosecutions of the Republican nominee for his party’s 2024 presidential nomination. The defense also suggested Trump would try to use the trial as a platform to repeat his baseless claims that the 2020 election he lost to Democrat Joe Biden was stolen from him. Trump has pleaded not guilty.
“President Trump wholeheartedly agrees, and in fact demands, that these proceedings be televised in full so that the American public can see for themselves that this affair, like others, is nothing other than an imagined unconstitutional charade that should never be allowed to happen. It will happen again,” Trump’s lawyers wrote.
The demand for a televised trial comes as the Washington case emerges as the most potent and direct legal threat to Trump’s political fortunes. Trump is accused of illegally plotting to overturn the election results in the run-up to the violent riot at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, by his supporters.
Trump has repeatedly sought to delay the trial date in Washington until after the 2024 election. But U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who was appointed to the post by Democratic President Barack Obama, appears determined to keep it going as expected.
On Friday in Florida, U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, who is handling the separate classified documents lawsuits against Trump, pushed back several deadlines, making it highly unlikely the case could go to trial in May, as had been planned. Trump faces dozens of charges under the Espionage Act. He pleaded not guilty.
The media wrote in its request to Chutkan last month that a lack of transparency could sow distrust in the justice system. They said this was particularly dangerous in a case where “a polarized electorate includes tens of millions of people who, according to opinion polls, still believe the 2020 election was decided by fraud.”
“It would be a great loss if future generations of Americans were forever deprived of the ability to access and view the events of this trial even years after the verdict, which would greatly enhance the ability of future journalists and historians to telling with precision and meaningful analysis. this unique chapter in American history,” NBC News editorial chairwoman Rebecca Blumenstein wrote in a court filing.
Some state courts allow cameras in the courtroom. The public was able to follow the proceedings led by the judge overseeing the Georgia election case against Trump and 18 co-defendants.
Photographers were allowed to take photos of Trump in the courtroom during his civil fraud trial in New York, but the trial was not broadcast.
The Justice Department said knowing that cameras are in the courtroom can affect lawyers and witnesses in “subtle ways” and lead to grandstanding. Noting the “ever-increasing acrimony in public discourse,” prosecutors said witnesses who testify on camera may also be harassed or threatened.
“When the image of a witness is captured on video, it is not just a fleeting image, but it exists indefinitely,” the government said. “If there was an appeal and a new trial, witnesses who were subjected to intense scrutiny and harassment on social media might not want to testify again. »
The coronavirus pandemic has led federal courts to temporarily relax their rules, allowing the public to listen to many proceedings by telephone or video conference. The U.S. Supreme Court has continued to livestream its arguments since the pandemic began.
The federal courts’ decision-making body adopted a new policy in September that allows judges to provide live audio access to non-trial proceedings in civil and bankruptcy cases. This does not apply to criminal cases.
Media outlets had already asked policymakers in federal courts to revise the rules to allow broadcasting, at least in cases where there is extraordinary public interest. The advisory committee’s chairman agreed last month to create a subcommittee to study the issue, although it is highly unlikely that any changes to the rules will come before Trump’s trial.
Richer reported from Boston. Associated Press reporter Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.