Why did Trump bother showing up at his New York fraud trial?

There may be more than ego at play in the former president’s appearance

Donald Trump and New York State Supreme Court
Trump's voluntary appearance in the Manhattan courtroom this week was a departure from the last time he was on trial in New York’s civil courts
(Image credit: Illustrated / Getty Images)

Day one of Donald Trump's New York fraud trial this week offered a scene both familiar and utterly unprecedented in modern memory. While the past year of indictments and arraignments have slowly acclimated the public to scenes of the former president stalking in and out of various judicial buildings around the country, Trump's day-long perch at the defendant's table — caught briefly on camera — inside a courtroom itself was a scene "unlike anything in US history," Bloomberg reported. Trump entered the trial already "effectively branded a fraudster" after presiding Judge Arthur Engoron ruled the former president had regularly inflated his net worth and property values as part of a yearslong effort to defraud various banks and investors. 

Trump's voluntary appearance in the Manhattan courtroom this week was a departure from the "last time he was on trial in New York’s civil courts," when a jury found him liable for the sexual assault of journalist E. Jean Carroll. "Trump hinted he might attend those proceedings," The Washington Post's Josh Dawsey said, "but did not actually show up."

Why then did Trump fly to New York to sit at this particular trial, rearranging his schedule and postponing a deposition for a separate court case in order to face Engoron in person? What makes this case different, and what does Trump hope to get out of his appearances? 

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What the commentators said

Trump's decision to appear in person for this particular trial "underscores how personally aggrieved he feels by the accusations of fraud, as well as his own self-confidence that showing up will help his legal cause," The New York Times reported. While Trump has blurred the lines between his legal battles and his presidential campaign, the New York fraud case "is far more personal than political," the Times added, citing "a person familiar with his thinking." At the same time, he allegedly feels that his other court cases "have gone poorly for him when he hasn’t been present, and he hopes to affect the outcome this time," the Times' source continued.

"Something about this trial seems to have gotten under his skin," Michael Conway, former counsel for the House Judiciary Committee, wrote for MSNBC, speculating that here "it may be harder for Trump to argue he is the victim of a corrupt criminal justice system." Moreover, the fraud trail punctures Trump's "all-important patina of extravagant wealth" upon which he based much of his political career. 

But by appearing in person, Trump's gambit to capitalize on his fraud trial could "spectacularly backfire," cautioned Ewan Palmer for Newsweek, noting that the former president's intense attacks on New York Attorney General Letitia James and Judge Engoron could come back to haunt him. 

"Hello Justice Engoron, I know that I called you a 'Deranged, Trump Hating Judge, who RAILROADED this FAKE CASE through a NYS Court at a speed never before seen,'" former Deputy Assistant Attorney General Harry Litman, pretending to be Trump, quipped on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. "I was just joking."

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Risks aside, Trump's attendance at this particular trial virtually guarantees it — and he — will remain in the spotlight. In doing so, Trump "starves" his GOP presidential rivals of much-needed opportunities for attention, Raheem Kassam, editor-in-chief of conservative news site The National Pule, told the Times. "Every step of the way it drags on, it only empowers him" at his fellow candidates' expense as their campaigns approach a make-or-break moment to pose a real threat to Trump's candidacy. 

What next? 

Speaking outside the courthouse on Monday, Trump insisted his in-person attendance was because he wanted to "watch this witch hunt myself," while complaining that his decision to voluntarily attend the trial "took me off the campaign trail." Trump nevertheless returned to the courthouse on Tuesday and has also been listed as a potential witness for the case, suggesting he may take the stand to testify sometime in the coming weeks. 

Meanwhile, Trump has "used every free moment" to attack both Engoron and his various perceived enemies, Axios reported. Although Engoron "appears to have ignored Trump's incendiary rhetoric so far," the outlet also raised the possibility that federal prosecutors will succeed in landing a gag order against the president ahead of his upcoming Washington, D.C., trial "in light of his threatening statements on social media."

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