By Zachary Stieber
Former President Donald Trump wants his upcoming federal trial televised, siding with media outlets.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) opposes the effort.
Lawyers for President Trump said the unprecedented nature of the proceedings warrants their being televised.
“For the first time in American history, an incumbent administration has charged its main, leading electoral opponent with a criminal offense,” the lawyers wrote in a Nov. 11 filing to U.S. District Judge Tonya Chutkan, who is overseeing the case.
“President Trump calls for sunlight. Every person in America, and beyond, should have the opportunity to study this case firsthand and watch as, if there is a trial, President Trump exonerates himself of these baseless and politically motivated charges,” they added later.
President Trump is slated to go on trial in March 2024 on charges that he illegally interfered with the 2020 presidential election and the resulting transfer of power.
Media outlets recently asked Judge Chutkan, appointed under President Barack Obama, to allow cameras in the courtroom, arguing that the public has the right to access criminal trial proceedings based on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Richmond Newspapers Inc. v. Virginia.
In that case, the ruling said, “The right to attend criminal trials is implicit in the guarantees of the First Amendment.”
The outlets also pointed out that in a 2010 ruling, four justices said that no parties had been able to present evidence that the presence of cameras in the courtroom “inherently has an adverse effect on [the judicial] process.”
Since then, multiple high-level officials, including Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, have come out in favor of broadcasting trials.
The outlets also claimed real-time broadcasting would “be a critical step in stemming false conspiracy theories” about the case.
President Trump’s trial in Georgia is already scheduled to be broadcast.
Special counsel Jack Smith, who is prosecuting the former president after being appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland, opposes televising the trial.
He pointed to federal rules prohibiting cameras from federal courthouses and rulings that have found the rules constitutional.
Mr. Smith also said a ban on broadcasting the trial “does not burden speech or implicate the First Amendment in any way” because reporters and other members of the public can still attend the trial.
“The fact that the trial is open to the public and the media, which can “attend, listen and report” to the larger public, fully satisfies the constitutional right of access,” he said, citing a previous court ruling.
Mr. Smith provided additional citations from the U.S. Supreme Court, including a 1965 ruling that said it was a “misconception of the rights of the press” to conclude that “the freedoms granted in the First Amendment extend a right to the news media to televise from the courtroom.”
A committee formed to study the matter recommended in 1994 that broadcasts of civil proceedings be allowed, but the Judicial Conference of the United States concluded that cameras in courtrooms could intimidate some witnesses and jurors and rejected the recommendation.
President Trump’s team said that the trial happening behind closed doors risked undermining confidence in the justice system and negatively affecting him.
“President Trump absolutely agrees, and in fact demands, that these proceedings should be fully televised so that the American public can see firsthand that this case, just like others, is nothing more than a dreamt-up unconstitutional charade that should never be allowed to happen again,” they wrote. “Furthermore, President Trump is entitled to present his positions in this case to the American public, including his sacred obligation as president to investigate and address fraud and other irregularities in the 2020 presidential election. Therefore, the court should grant the motions and allow the movants to broadcast the proceedings of this matter.”