Donald Trump is pushing for his federal election interference trial in Washington to be televised, joining media outlets that say the American public should be able to watch the historic case unfold.
Federal court rules prohibit broadcasting proceedings, but Associated Press and other news organisations say the unprecedented case of a former president standing trial on accusations that he tried to subvert the will of voters warrants making an exception.
The Justice Department is opposing the effort, arguing that the judge overseeing the case does not have the authority to ignore the long-standing nationwide policy against cameras in federal courtrooms. The trial is scheduled to begin on March 4.
“President Trump absolutely agrees, and in fact demands, that these proceedings should be fully televised so that the American public can see first-hand that this case, just like others, is nothing more than a dreamt-up unconstitutional charade that should never be allowed to happen again,” Trump’s lawyers wrote.
The news outlets wrote in their request to Chutkan last month that a lack of transparency can sow distrust in the legal system. They said that is particularly dangerous in a case where “a polarised electorate includes tens of millions of people who, according to opinion polls, still believe that the 2020 election was decided by fraud.”
“It would be a great loss if future generations of Americans were forever deprived of being able to access and view the events of this trial even years after the verdict, which would immeasurably improve the ability of future journalists and historians to retell accurately and meaningfully analyse this unique chapter of American history,” Rebecca Blumenstein, president of editorial for NBC News, wrote in a court filing.
Some state courts allow cameras in the courtroom. The public has been able to watch proceedings held by the judge overseeing the Georgia election case against Trump and 18 co-defendants.
Photographers have been permitted to take photos of Trump inside the courtroom during his civil fraud trial in New York, but the trial has not been broadcast.
The Justice Department has said that knowledge that cameras are in the courtroom can affect lawyers and witnesses in “subtle ways” and lead to grandstanding. Noting the “ever-increasing acrimony in public discourse,” prosecutors said witnesses who testify on camera may also be harassed or threatened.
“When a witness’s image is captured on video, it is not just a fleeting image, but it exists indefinitely,” the government said. “Were there an appeal and retrial, witnesses who were subjected to scrutiny and harassment on social media may be unwilling to testify again.”
The policymaking body of the federal courts adopted a new policy in September that allows judges to provide live audio access to non-trial proceedings in civil and bankruptcy cases. It does not apply in criminal cases.
News outlets had previously asked the federal courts policymakers to revise the rules to allow broadcasting, at least in cases where there is an extraordinary public interest. The chair of the advisory committee last month agreed to establish a subcommittee to study the issue, though it is highly unlikely any rules changes would come before Trump’s trial.