May 16, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Why Trump's attorneys keep filing motions that are destined to fail

Former President Trump appears in court for his trial at Manhattan Criminal Court on April 23 in New York City. Photo: Curtis Means-Pool/Getty Images

Lawyers representing former President Donald Trump in his historic hush money trial have filed a flurry of legal requests that a New York judge has shot down. But whether they succeeded or not wasn't really the point, experts say.

Why it matters: The aggressive legal strategy, meant to both keep Trump happy and win in the court of public opinion, is a product of the unprecedented criminal trial of a former president as he campaigns for reelection.

The big picture: The legal team of the presumed Republican presidential candidate has utilized several delay tactics in his four criminal cases, seeking to punt his pending trials until after the November general election.

  • This "has been a singularly successful strategy on the part of the defense," criminal defense lawyer Richard Serafini, a former federal and Manhattan prosecutor, said in a phone interview.

Behind the scenes: Trump wants aggressive tactics, former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani told Axios.

  • The former president "has reportedly been unhappy with [his attorney Todd Blanche] and some of the others that he believes were too soft," Rahmani, president of West Coast Trial Lawyers, explained.
  • So even if arguments for mistrials, gag order changes and subpoenas have little chance of success and are declined by the presiding judge, the lawyers are trying to appease their client, Rahmani said.

Between the lines: Even if Trump is convicted, his team is still playing to win with public opinion.

  • "The way that they're going about it may have more to do with who the client is," Serafini said. "There may be a political aspect to that, for the public to see."
  • Rahmani echoed the sentiment, saying that while Trump is in the middle of a presidential election, his supporters want to see him punch back.
  • "Trump has always been a fighter, so they're fighting for the court of public opinion as much as the courtroom," Rahmani said.

Zoom out: If Trump is convicted, he will likely appeal, as he's done several times in all of his legal cases.

  • So his attorneys want to preserve these arguments for the appeal, according to Rahmani.
  • It's also not necessarily hurting Trump's legal team to keep pushing with these arguments, Rahmani said, because they are taking place outside the presence of the jurors.

State of play: Judge Juan Merchan nixed two mistrial motions in two days, declined to narrow a gag order to allow Trump to speak about a star witness and blasted a bid to subpoena a prosecutor, and a federal appeals court Tuesday separately rejected another attempt to end the gag order.

  • Despite those setbacks, Trump's legal team has kept pressing forward.
  • "The prosecution is laying out what is really kind of a typical or standard white-collar case," Serafini said. "The real issue that almost always comes down in these cases is, 'what's the knowledge of the defendant?'"
  • He noted the case revolves not around whether Trump had a relationship with adult film actor Stormy Daniels, but the fact that there was money paid to her and the question of why it was paid and who knew about it.

Worth noting: While Merchan has threatened Trump with jail time for violating the gag order in the case, experts say it is unlikely.

  • "I didn't think he was going to do it earlier, and I especially don't think he will do it now that [Michael] Cohen has talked about Trump on social media," Rahmani said.
  • There will likely be repeated fines for violations instead, per Serafini.
  • "Though Merchan said he won't modify the order, he is being more lax in enforcing it," Rahmani said. "I don't think Merchan has the stomach to take the unprecedented step of jailing a former president."

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