By Mimi Nguyen Ly
Former President Donald Trump’s arraignment won’t be televised after a judge presiding over the case declined a request from media outlets to have video cameras in the courtroom.
Five pool photographers will be allowed inside the courtroom before the arraignment begins, but they will only be allowed to take still photographs for several minutes, Acting New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan decided in a ruling (pdf) late Monday.
Any electronic devices, including cell phones and laptops, will not be allowed in the main or overflow courtrooms, Merchan wrote in the decision. But cameras will be allowed in the hallways of the courtroom building, located in lower Manhattan at 100 Centre St.
Trump, who was recently indicted by a grand jury in New York City, is set to appear in his first hearing in the case on April 4 at 2:15 p.m.
Media outlets, including CNN, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post, previously asked Merchan to allow them to broadcast the hearing.
“The gravity of this proceeding—the unprecedented and historic arraignment of a former U.S. President—and, consequently, the need for the broadest possible public access, cannot be overstated,” attorneys representing the outlets wrote in a letter to Merchan.
But Trump’s lawyers sought to keep cameras out of the courtroom and asked for the media outlets’ request to be denied. They told Merchan, per CNBC, that broadcasting the proceeding “will create a circus-like atmosphere at the arraignment, raise unique security concerns, and is inconsistent with President Trump’s presumption of innocence.”
Charges Under Seal
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg had convened the New York grand jury earlier this year. Bragg, a Democrat, had been probing a payment by former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen to adult performer Stormy Daniels. The payment was made in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election. Daniels alleged Trump had an affair with her, but Trump has consistently denied any extramarital relationship with Daniels. Meanwhile, Cohen has said he spoke to the grand jury.
The exact charges in Trump’s indictment are currently under seal but appear to be centered on whether Trump made a $130,000 payment to Daniels and documented the payment as false business records—thereby committing a state offense—to cover up or commit violations of federal campaign finance laws.
Late Monday, Trump accused Bragg of having illegally leaked the contents of the indictment ahead of the arraignment. Trump’s accusation came about half an hour after Yahoo News published a report titled, “Exclusive: Trump to be charged Tuesday with 34 felony counts, but spared handcuffs and mug shot.”
The report, citing an unnamed source “who has been briefed on the procedures for the arraignment of the former president,” said that Trump “will be placed under arrest on Tuesday and informed that he has been charged with 34 felony counts for falsification of business records.”
Michael Bachner, a New York defense lawyer and former Manhattan prosecutor, told The Epoch Times that, by law, grand jury proceedings are secret, and whoever leaked information from the Manhattan grand jury could face charges.
People who serve on grand juries, officials involved in the proceedings, and even foreign language interpreters, if used, all take an oath of secrecy, Bachner said.
“The only person who can talk about what happened in the grand jury is the witness himself, because he has a First Amendment right to talk about what he said,” Bachner said.
When reports came out that Trump faced at least 30 counts, if those were accurate, the information could have only come from someone inside the grand jury room, the prosecutor’s office, the clerk of courts office or “somebody with knowledge,” Bachner said.
“And I’m troubled by that. Grand jury secrecy is extremely important to protect the rights of the defendant.”
Bragg’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the accusation.
Separately, late Tuesday, Trump’s lawyer Joseph Tacopina told Fox News’s Sean Hannity that he plans to file “a host of” motions to dismiss, including one based on prosecutorial misconduct and selective prosecution.”
Tacopina added that the defense team, after seeing the indictment, will also consider filing other motions, such as a venue change or statute of limitations considerations.
‘Searching for Crimes’
Harvard Law School professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz previously said that Bragg is stretching the law to get Trump.
“They’re searching for crimes to get him. They’re just rummaging through the law books and doing everything they can to get him, but I don’t think they’ve succeeded,” he told The Epoch Times in an interview earlier in March.
“It’s not a righteous prosecution. It’s not a just prosecution. And I think every libertarian, whether you’re conservative or liberal, should be opposed to it,” he said.
Gary Bai and Janice Hisle contributed to this report.