Another Time Trump Was Stuck in Court

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Happy Weekend! You’ve made it through a week of dramatic Stormy Daniels testimony, a brain worm and a failed attempt to oust House Speaker Mike Johnson. Today we’re covering a different trip Trump took to court — and we’ll meet an unlikely surrogate for the Biden administration’s Gaza outreach.

Donald Trump was running for president and leading in the polls. He was spending lots of time in New York. And he had a nagging legal problem that had landed him in court.

I speak, of course, of Trump’s 2015 summons for jury duty.

Not long after he clashed with Megyn Kelly on a debate stage — and made a crude comment about her in the aftermath — Trump showed up at State Supreme Court in Lower Manhattan on Aug. 17, 2015. He had a backlog of jury summonses he hadn’t responded to, and it was time to make it right.

My colleague Rebecca Davis O’Brien has been thinking a lot about this episode, in light of Trump’s current status as a criminal defendant in the courthouse just down the block from the one where he appeared nine years ago.

Rebecca was a reporter at The Wall Street Journal at the time, assigned to cover his appearance that day. She was later part of the team that broke the story of the hush-money payment to the porn actress Stormy Daniels — a central element of the sex scandal cover-up for which Trump is now on trial. But she thinks the tale of his jury duty reveals just as much about his rise as a politician and the problems he is facing now.

Rebecca talked to me about that weird day in August. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Nobody wants to be called for jury duty. And you had to go to somebody else’s jury duty. How were you feeling about that?

It was a really hot day, one of those summer days in New York when stepping onto the sidewalk feels like stepping into someone’s mouth. I was so irritated that I had to go spend all day at 60 Centre Street, and I was a little aggravated that Trump showing up to jury duty had become this media spectacle. In a gesture of protest about having to sit in this stuffy courthouse, I wore a sundress and Birkenstocks.

When did you first see Trump that day?

He pulled up to court in a stretch limo, but I was already inside the jury assembly room.

Trump came in and sat down in a dark suit and a striped tie. What immediately struck me is that he had nothing to read. He didn’t seem to have his phone with him. It was just him and his jury-service form.

Perhaps anticipating outsized interest in his presence, the clerk, Irene Laracuenta, urged everyone to mind their own business, and said: “I think we are all famous in our own right.”

But nobody was really paying attention to Trump. It was a very New York scene. People just wanted to get dismissed, and get their paper stamped and get out of there. I remember him sitting there, and looking left, looking right, peering at other people’s pages like he was cheating on a test.

Trump looked bored. He turned around in his seat, casting about — and then he looked at me and winked.

He winked?

It was strange. I remember being grateful that I had my press pass on, but maybe he didn’t see it. Then there was a break for lunch. By then, the word had spread that Trump was in the courthouse, and all these onlookers showed up. When Trump came back from lunch, there was a throng of people on the courthouse stairs. I maneuvered myself into the security line behind him.

Everyone had to go through security, including Donald Trump?

Yes. He turned around and looked down at me, and, as I began to introduce myself, he interrupted me and said, “I saw you back there. And I said to myself: She’s very beautiful, but she’s probably a reporter.”

I was taken aback. It’s not that I was offended, it was just like, What a thing to say. I also remember being acutely self-conscious of my Birkenstocks.

I pointed out that he’d had no reading material before. “That was a mistake,” he said. Now his bodyguard was holding a pile of newspapers. When we got to the front of the security line, Trump emptied his pockets, but he was only carrying a single key.

OK. So he’s back in the jury room, stuck once more, while in his life outside the courtroom he is trying to be the leader of the free world. How did he remedy this situation?

The atmosphere had begun to relax, as the pool of respondents began to feel confident they would not be called to serve on a jury. Trump took a seat in the back of the room, like a kid in the back of the classroom. Surrounded by reporters, including me, he proceeded to have an on-the-record, unguarded conversation. He held up his newspapers and pointed out stories he didn’t like or disapproved of.

Where before, he’d been bored, now he’d created a situation he could revel in. People just kept coming up to him and asking him questions. One person asked if he had tried his own golf course in the Bronx.

I remember thinking at that moment that he had a real chance of becoming president. Nobody else talks to the press like this, especially not the candidates he was running against at the time, like Jeb Bush or Ted Cruz. Trump didn’t care if he misspoke or put his foot in his mouth. I understood then why he seemed so popular — he had managed to captivate this staid, hot room, a place where no one particularly wanted to be, and make it his.

It was my first glimpse, too, at the dance that he was doing with the media. That’s actually at stake with the trial right now — his approach to media coverage is the point of the trial.

The whole jury duty routine is one in which you’re rendered kind of powerless. You can’t leave until they say you can leave. And it seems like he found a way to exert some power over that room, or at least some control. How is that different from the situation he faces now?

Technically, Trump showed up and followed the rules. He was not picked for a jury. After the jury pool was released, he complimented the court officers and the entire operation. But he still managed to make use of the leeway you get on a Monday afternoon in August, to create a bit of a scene, turning his own boredom into command of the room.

Now, he can’t do that. He can no longer hold court in court. There are real potential consequences, including jail, hanging over him. He’s restrained in so many ways, for various reasons, and he’s very angry about it. The hot summer of jury duty feels a long way away.

REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK

This morning, my colleagues Nicholas Nehamas and Reid Epstein reported that the Biden administration’s communication with Muslim and Arab American leaders, who have been deeply critical of the administration’s policies regarding Israel’s war in Gaza, has largely broken down. Two mayors with whom White House officials said they had spoken about the conflict declined to comment. A third did agree to an interview — although he’s not exactly the first person you’d think of. I asked Nicholas to tell us more.

Harvey Ward, the mayor of Gainesville, Fla., is neither Muslim nor of Arab descent. And while the University of Florida attracts students and professors from both groups, Gainesville is not typically seen as a hub of Muslim or Arab American life in the United States.

But last year, Mr. Ward sent a letter to President Biden calling for a cease-fire in Gaza and urging the release of the hostages taken by Hamas in the brutal Oct. 7 attacks. White House officials called him soon after and have stayed in touch.

“It was an odd thing to do, because who am I to tell Joe Biden how to handle international politics,” Mr. Ward said. “But it was something that my community really felt strongly about.”

Now, the White House describes Mr. Ward as one of three mayors nationwide whom it consults about the war amid a breakdown in its relationship with Muslim and Arab American leaders. (The other two mayors are Arab American — one Muslim, one Christian — from Dearborn, Mich., and Paterson, N.J.)

“It’s primarily them asking: ‘How’s Gainesville?’” said Mr. Ward, who said he’s been contacted a “small handful” of times by the White House about how people of all faiths are feeling about the war. “How are people processing all this in our city?”

Mr. Ward says he is learning more about Islam, including how to pronounce Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of Ramadan. He attended an Eid event in Gainesville last month.

“It was just this wonderful, joyous celebration,” he said.

Nicholas Nehamas

Thanks for reading! Hope your weekend is as happening as the solar storm. I’ll be back on Monday.



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