Special counsel doesn’t want Trump trial to turn into a TV spectacle

Federal prosecutors have asked a judge in Washington DC to prohibit media organisations from televising the criminal trial proceedings in the government’s case against Donald Trump regarding his alleged involvement in efforts to overturn the 2020 election and January 6.

In a filing sent to US District Judge Tanya Chutkan on Friday, special counsel Jack Smith cited a longstanding judicial rule that bars the broadcasting of federal criminal trials and said the rule should be no different for the ex-president.

Under Rule 53 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, a court “must not permit the taking of photographs in the courtroom during judicial proceedings or the broadcasting of judicial proceedings from the courtroom.”

Mr Smith said that the rule is in place purely “to avoid the risks that policymakers have determined cameras pose to the fair administration of justice” and that it should remain for Mr Trump to be fairly prosecuted.

But several media organisations, including The New York Times, The Associated Press, NBC Universal and more, have said the unprecedented case against the ex-president is clearly in the public interest and would benefit from being broadcast.

In early October, the group sent a broadcast camera request to Judge Chutkan, saying the high-profile nature of the case would make it difficult for the court to accommodate members of every media outlet to view the proceedings thus infringing on a First Amendment right.

However, Mr Smith said the applicants’ argument lacks constitutional grounds.

The media organisations also argue that the public has a right to fully see and hear the case against the former president – who is also a 2024 candidate – because it has to do with election subversion.

In August, the special counsel charged Mr Trump with conspiring to defraud the United States, conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding, obstructing and attempting to obstruct an official proceeding, and conspiring against rights.

Given Mr Trump is the current Republican frontrunner, the case is significant going into the 2024 election.

But Mr Smith said a transcript of court proceedings satisfies the public’s need for information on the case.

He also argued that broadcasting the proceedings could “increase the potential for witness intimidation or complicate witness sequential” and the presence of cameras can affect witnesses, jurors and attorneys “in subtle ways.”

Trump Capitol Riot (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
Trump Capitol Riot (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Though Mr Trump’s team has not filed any request to Judge Chutkan regarding the presence of broadcast cameras, his defence attorney, John Lauro, has advocated in favour of televised proceedings.

“I would hope the Department of Justice would join in that effort so that we can take the curtain way and all Americans get to see what’s happening,” Mr Lauro told Fox News in July.

Mr Trump’s defence team is expected to respond to federal prosecutors’ position on broadcasts in an official filing soon, Mr Lauro told Politico.

The government’s case against Mr Trump is expected to go to trial beginning 5 March.