The most troubling aspect of Trump’s war on the verdict

Minutes after Donald Trump became the first American president, former or current, to be convicted of a crime, he lumbered slowly down the center aisle of the courtroom to leave Courtroom 1530. And almost as soon as he emerged on the other side of the doors, he began to wage a war on the verdict that has continued virtually nonstop since.

But what’s most problematic about Trump’s post-verdict revenge isn’t its constancy. It’s his blatant, multiple lies about a case that I and dozens of other journalists have tracked for the 14 months since his indictment. From poring over each filing and order to attending the entirety of every trial day, I saw it all — including the verdict.

It’s difficult to choose which of Team Trump’s lies is the most pernicious.

Given that, it’s difficult to choose which of Team Trump’s lies is the most pernicious. Is it the former president’s assertion that the judge improperly blocked his “reliance on the advice of counsel” defense? (Spoiler alert: Trump’s team declined to invoke that defense.)

Is it his insistence that this case could and should have been brought seven years ago, despite his attempt to convince the Supreme Court that the Manhattan district attorney was not even entitled to seek documents from him during his presidency? Maybe it’s his post-verdict portrayal of himself as a “political prisoner”? Or is it his claim that he didn’t know what the charges were — and that the verdict wasn’t required to be unanimous?

To my mind, it’s none of these. Trump’s “big (trial) lie” is that Judge Juan Merchan’s rulings precluded him from testifying or so much as speaking about the case.

Let’s start with the notion that he was prevented from testifying. According to Trump, he desperately wanted to testify, but “the theory is you never testify … because they will get you on something you said slightly wrong.” But of course, lapsed recollections or misconceptions about dates, times or who else was or was not at an event — the sorts of mistakes that prosecution witness David Pecker might have made — are hardly the stuff that perjury charges are made of.

Trump’s decision against testifying — a choice that, as Merchan repeatedly advised him, belonged to him alone — was more likely borne of serious concerns about the scope of cross-examination. Merchan ruled, well before the defense presented its case, that Trump could be questioned about the two jury verdicts on E. Jean Carroll’s defamation claims, Judge Arthur Engoron’s decision in the New York attorney general’s civil fraud case, and even certain settlements. Why? Because they could bear on Trump’s credibility, just as Michael Cohen’s guilty pleas and American Media’s non-prosecution agreement were appropriately considered by the jury in assessing Cohen’s and Pecker’s credibility, respectively.

It’s one thing for a lawyer to argue a client’s position based on dubious claims; it’s another for that lawyer to put a client on the stand knowing he will swear to the same.

Trump’s lawyers also very well could have feared that their client would testify under oath to demonstrable falsehoods, including that the payments to Cohen were always intended to cover legal fees. It’s one thing for a lawyer to argue a client’s position based on dubious claims; it’s another for that lawyer to put a client on the stand knowing he will swear to the same.

But what about the gag order? Didn’t that play some role in silencing Trump at or during trial? Not one bit.

As Merchan patiently reminded Trump in open court, the gag order pertained only to extrajudicial statements, meaning those made outside of court. But more importantly, Trump certainly knows full well that even the most stringent interpretation of the gag order doesn’t preclude him from talking about the core of the district attorney’s case or his defenses thereto — or about the three main characters he says have been in cahoots against him: Merchan, Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg and President Joe Biden.

That Trump — who literally cannot stop talking about the case — has the audacity to claim that the judge has made it impossible to talk about the case? Among the array of increasingly rehearsed lies Trump is telling, that might be the most pernicious.