Donald Trump has sought permission not to attend his upcoming rape trial in Manhattan until he is required to give evidence, in order to spare New Yorkers the traffic jams, his lawyer has said.
The civil lawsuit filed by the writer E Jean Carroll, who accuses the former president of attacking her in a dressing room of a Fifth Avenue department store nearly 30 years ago, is to be heard in court next week in the US District Court in Lower Manhattan.
However on Wednesday, Joe Tacopina, Mr Trump’s lawyer, wrote to the judge overseeing the trial to ask that his client’s presence at the week-long hearing be excused “unless and until he is called by either party to testify”.
If the former president did not appear in court, Mr Tacopina said that he would ask Judge Lewis A Kaplan to instruct the jury that while no litigant was mandated to appear at a civil trial, Mr Trump’s absence “by design, avoids the logistical burdens that his presence, as the former president, would cause the courthouse and New York City”.
Mr Tacopina pointed to Mr Trump’s arraignment hearing in the nearby Manhattan State Supreme Court last month, when Franklin D Roosevelt Drive was shut down for a significant period of time to allow the former president to travel to the courthouse, and streets within a three-block radius were blocked off while he was there.
Tactical plan must be developed
The lawyer said that to allow Mr Trump to appear at court, his movements would need to be coordinated each day by a secret service team hours in advance. A tactical plan would have to be developed which would mean “courthouse floors would need to be locked down, elevators shut down, courthouse personnel confined to their offices and members of the public restricted from the area”.
Roberta A Kaplan, Ms Carroll’s lawyer, criticised Mr Trump’s legal team in a response to the request in a letter late on Wednesday evening.
She wrote to the judge: “The notion that Mr Trump would not appear as some sort of favour to the City of New York — and that the jury should be instructed as much — taxes the credulity of the credulous.”
Should Mr Trump not appear, she said, “the jury may draw whatever inferences it chooses — and Mr Trump has no right to a judicial endorsement of his (flimsy) excuse”.
Ms Kaplan argued that the court was “fully equipped to handle any logistical burdens” and said his position on the matter was particularly “difficult to credit in light of his own recent activity,” which included attending an Ultimate Fighting Championship event and speaking at the annual meeting for the National Rifle Association.
He had even organised a campaign event in New Hampshire for April 27, “in other words, in the middle of the trial in this case,” she added.
“If Mr Trump can find a way to attend wrestling championships, political conventions, civil depositions, and campaign functions, then surely he could surmount the logistics of attending his own federal trial,” she said.
Mr Trump has already had a request to delay the trial by a month denied by Judge Kaplan this week, which he had asked for on grounds of a “deluge of prejudicial media coverage” over his indictment at the end of March.