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Will Trump’s “sham” talk go unchecked?

Former U.S. President Donald Trump gestures as he makes a statement to the media outside the court room at a Manhattan courthouse, during the trial of himself, his adult sons, the Trump Organization and others in a civil fraud case brought by state Attorney General Letitia James, in New York City, U.S., October 2, 2023.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump gestures as he makes a statement to the media outside the court room at a Manhattan courthouse, during the trial of himself, his adult sons, the Trump Organization and others in a civil fraud case brought by state Attorney General Letitia James, in New York City, U.S., October 2, 2023.

REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

While former President Donald Trump appeared fairly calm in a Lower Manhattan courtroom on Monday during the first day of his civil fraud trial, outside the chambers he was anything but.


He started off the morning telling reporters at the courthouse the trial is “a scam and a sham” and a "continuation of the single greatest witch hunt of all time” that amounts to “election interference.” He also called New York Attorney General Letitia James a “racist.”

By lunch, he was calling Judge Arthur Engoron a “disgrace,” “an operative” for the Democrats, and a “rogue judge” who should be disbarred. He also elaborated that Attorney General James was a “corrupt” and “terrible person.”

Given that this is a bench trial, through which Judge Engoron alone will decide just how heavy a hammer might fall on Trump’s finances, the former president’s PR strategy appears … questionable. Trump stands to lose the ability to conduct business in New York state and could face a $250 million penalty. That’s a big hit, even for a (putative) billionaire, and Trump has plenty more legal expenses to look forward to in 2024, on top of running a presidential campaign.

But are any of Trump’s verbal attacks going to cost him in the courtroom?

Not likely, according to Harvard Law School Professor Emeritus Laurence Tribe. In fact, they could help with his money problem.

“His unhinged statements attacking Justice Engoron, [Attorney General] Letitia James, and the trial itself will undoubtedly help him raise money and solidify his following among the hard core of the MAGA contingent but will have no effect on this civil trial,” he says. Even if Engoron and James find the attacks unpleasant, Tribe says, they will not increase Trump’s chances of incurring the heaviest possible penalties.

And despite Trump’s vitriolic language, Tribe says nothing constitutes actionable libel as his aspersions are “statements of opinion, not demonstrable false allegations of fact.”

The trial is set to run for three months but may end earlier. Trump said he may attend more days of the trial, but that could get old, fast – after all, he has a few other court dates to look forward to in the year ahead:

Jan. 15, 2024: The trial for author E. Jean Carroll’s defamation case against Trump opens. Trump is alleged to have defamed Carroll by destroying her reputation after she revealed he had sexually assaulted her in 1996, for which a jury found him responsible for sexual abuse in May. He’s already been found liable, and this trial will determine damages.

*March 4, 2024: The date Trump’s trial for allegedly attempting to overturn the 2020 election opens. This is the Jan. 6 case brought by special prosecutor Jack Smith.

March 25, 2024: Trump goes on trial for allegedly directing his underling Michael Cohen to make hush money payments to Stephanie Clifford, a pornographic actress who performs under the name Stormy Daniels after Trump had an affair with her in 2006. Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations related to this case in 2018 and was sentenced to three years in prison.

May 20, 2024: The trial over Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified documents is due to start. This is the one where he allegedly crammed thousands of documents into what appeared to be a gold-plated bathroom, among other allegations of stealing and hiding classified government papers.

TBD: Trump’s trial in Georgia over allegations he attempted to pressure state officials into submitting false election results during the 2020 election. There’s been some scheduling issues as two of the codefendants split their cases from Trump’s in order to secure a more speedy trial. Remember that phone call where Trump tells state officials he needed them to find 11,780 votes? That’s this one.

*Correction: An earlier version of this article stated prosecutors were seeking a Jan. 2 start date for Trump's trial for allegedly attempting to overturn the 2020 election. In fact, Judge Tanya Chutkan has since set a March 4 start date.

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