WASHINGTON (CN) — Donald Trump’s criminal trial in Washington over his attempts to maintain his grip on power, culminating in the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, mark a defining moment in American history akin to Watergate scandal — which is why a coalition of media organizations have requested the proceedings be televised in some form.
Special counsel Jack Smith and the former president have opposing views on the idea of allowing cameras in the trial, scheduled to begin March 4, 2024, with each party filing briefs over the holiday weekend.
John Lauro, Trump’s lead lawyer in Washington, supported the media’s request in a Friday night filing, claiming that the government thus far has tried to keep the case’s proceedings secret and denied the public the ability to review the facts of the case for themselves.
“The prosecution wishes to continue this travesty in darkness,” wrote Lauro, of the firm Lauro & Singer. “President Trump calls for sunlight.”
It has been the general practice of federal courts since the adoption of a federal rule on criminal procedures in 1946 to bar photographing and broadcasting court proceedings; it is up to a judge to allow such recordings.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan has followed tradition so far. Members of the public have lined up at the federal courthouse in Washington to gain entry to her courtroom or an overflow courtroom where the proceedings are livestreamed.
James Pearce, assistant special counsel, urged the Barack Obama-appointed judge to reject the media's request and ignore Trump’s reply, which he said cited no case in support of his position, in a brief filed Monday.
“Instead, decrying the alleged unfairness of the unequivocal and constitutionally-sound broadcast prohibition that has governed federal criminal trials — no matter the defendant — for decades, the defendant’s response is a transparent effort to demand special treatment, try his case in the courtroom of public opinion, and turn his trial into a media event,” Pearce wrote.
Pearce warned of a “carnival atmosphere” wherein Trump can distract from the four criminal charges brought against him by making in-court statements aimed toward viewers at home, rather than the judge or jury.
He pointed to Trump’s testimony from the witness stand in his Manhattan civil fraud trial last week, where he is accused of inflating the values of his properties to get better loan conditions.
Trump spent most of his testimony railing against his enemies, including those in the same room as him like Judge Arthur Engoron and New York Attorney General Letitia James. He said that the fraud at issue in the case “is not the court, not me,” and repeatedly called James a “political hack” who brought the case to further her own political ambitions.
While the Manhattan trial has been widely covered by media outlets, it has not been televised, which Pearce argues would only be further motivation for Trump and his lawyers to make “improper statements … to provoke a public reaction.”
The media coalition made up of organizations including the Washington Post, ABC News, the Associated Press, C-SPAN, Politico and the New York Times, in conjunction with NBC News and MSNBC, who filed their own motion, urged Chutkan to make an exception for the historic trial.
“NBCU News Group brings this application to ensure that present and future American generations see and hear this even more momentous occasion — the first time any U.S. president, former or current, will go on trial as a criminal defendant,” attorney Theodore Boutrous Jr. wrote in an Oct. 11 motion.
The decision is ultimately Chutkan's: A committee that handles potential changes to the federal courts’ criminal rules decided on Oct. 26 that it could not alter the existing rules.
The Advisory Committee on Criminal Rules declined the request from media groups and 38 Democratic House members to change the rules or create an exception to televise Trump’s trials in Washington and in Florida, where he is accused of mishandling classified documents after leaving the White House.
Each courtroom in the E. Barrett Prettyman federal courthouse in Washington has cameras that primarily are used to facilitate virtual hearings, to allow parties attending via Zoom to see the judge or to stream high-profile cases to the media and public overflow rooms.
NBCU News Group asked Chutkan to allow the use of the court's cameras or a pool camera shared between media organizations. The media coalition requested she allow news outlets to record and telecast the proceedings, or that the court either livestream the trial on YouTube or publish recordings at the end of each day.Follow @Ryan_Knappy
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