‘Travesty in darkness’: Trump backs drive to televise his DC election subversion trial

The five-page brief to U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan makes no mention of a federal court rule in place for decades that prohibits the broadcast of criminal proceedings.

Prosecutors from special counsel Jack Smith’s team cited that rule last week to oppose efforts by a number of news outlets, including POLITICO, to win permission to cover the historic trial of a former — or current — president on criminal charges. Smith’s team also said television coverage would pose risks to the trial and potentially intimidate witnesses and jurors.

An indictment returned in August by a federal grand jury in Washington accuses Trump of attempting to defraud the federal government and obstruct Congress by knowingly spreading false allegations of election fraud, spurring his supporters to attack the Capitol on January 6, 2021 and knowingly allow the violence to unfold.

Last month, news organizations filed formal motions with Chutkan for permission to provide live video and audio coverage of the trial. The news media cited the unusual level of interest in the trial and the challenges the court is likely to face in trying to accommodate spectators in the courthouse.

Democratic lawmakers and news outlets also asked the political body for the federal courts, the Judicial Conference, to grant an exception to the broadcast ban so the Trump D.C. trial could be televised. But at a meeting last month, a committee from that conference said it lacked the authority to grant an exception and that it would take years to change the rule.

Trump’s new filing indicts Smith’s team and Chutkan, accusing them both of repeatedly violating his rights and intentionally interfering with his bid to win re-election to the White House next year. He is currently well ahead of his rivals for the GOP nomination, according to polls.

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“There is a high risk that proceeding in camera under these circumstances will serve to further undermine confidence in the United States judicial system while continuing to erode President Trump’s rights,” Lauro and Blanche wrote.

Trump, who faces four criminal prosecutions as well as several civil lawsuits, has sought in recent weeks to use those proceedings to reinforce his message to voters. The filing Friday night signaled that he hopes to use the Washington trial, scheduled to be the first criminal case against Trump to go to a jury, to rebroadcast false claims that fraud caused his loss in the 2020 presidential race .

Trump’s lawyers said he favors television coverage of the Washington trial in part because it will allow the public to “hear all the evidence regarding an election that President Trump believes was rigged and stolen.”

Trump’s post could also be seen as a confirmation of what many have long seen as a symbiotic relationship between Trump and the mainstream news media, whose ratings and readership are undeniably boosted by coverage of the polarizing former president. While Trump supported the attempt by major television networks, newspapers and online news outlets to carry a live video feed of the trial, his lawyers also took a passing shot at some members of the press, saying that denying such coverage would force members of the public to rely on “biased, second-hand accounts coming from the Biden administration and its media allies.”

Chutkan imposed a gag order on Trump and his lawyer that prohibited him from using social media or other platforms to attack the prosecution, court staff and potential witnesses, which an appeals court has now stayed. The former president has denounced the order as a violation of his First Amendment rights and an interference with his ongoing presidential campaign.

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Video coverage of the trial could give Trump and his lawyers an end run around that gag order, since it does not limit what they can say in the proceedings, during hearings or at trial.

In the prosecutor’s filing last week on the television issue, government lawyers said Trump’s lawyers asked prosecutors to disclose that Trump “did not take a position” on the media’s requests. Trump’s combative remarks on Friday night did not explain this discrepancy.