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Trump attended trial to "play victim and raise money": Legal analyst

Former President Donald Trump‘s rare appearance in a New York City courtroom for his civil fraud lawsuit trial may benefit him in several ways, according to a legal expert, while an ex-New York assistant attorney general said Trump “embarrassed himself, whined in front of the cameras and begged for money from his supporters.”

Trump is facing a $250 million suit filed by New York Attorney General Letitia James, who has accused the former president, his sons Eric and Donald Trump Jr., and The Trump Organization of inflating the value of the company’s assets for financial gains. Trial began on Monday for the case, although Judge Arthur Engoron has already ruled that Trump and his partners overvalued several of his properties on financial statements.

After day three of trial, MSNBC legal analyst Lisa Rubin offered insight into why Trump, who has been notably absent during other court proceedings, may have chosen to attend this week, noting first that the New York case allowed Trump to dip out on a deposition in Florida court for a lawsuit he filed against his former lawyer, Michael Cohen.

“But the more likely explanation, I think, is that Trump believed he could achieve a number of other, short-term goals simply by showing up,” Rubin wrote in an analysis for MSNBC.

“First, he was able to physically show his contempt for—and potentially rattle— witnesses, the judge, prosecutors and [James] herself just by being there,” she continued.

Observers at the trial Wednesday noted that the former president was caught glaring toward James while exiting the courtroom. Rubin said that Trump, who often takes to Truth Social to attack his critics, doesn’t need social media “if, through your presence alone, you can scare the full range of trial participants in person and without saying a word.”

Rubin also noted that Trump’s appearance in court allows him to “spin” the lawsuit to the media, and that may be a distraction to the trial itself. The former president has maintained his innocence and deemed any legal challenges against him as part of a “witch hunt” to upset his reelection plans.

“But perhaps most importantly, Trump came to court to play victim and raise money,” Rubin said. “The leading GOP presidential candidate told reporters that he was ‘stuck here’ defending himself when he’d rather be campaigning in Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina.”

However, as Rubin wrote, “Civil trials do not require the presence of a defendant, period.” Trump also left Wednesday’s trial after the lunch break.

“Like clockwork, the Trump campaign sent another fundraising email within the hour of Trump’s departure, accusing James of ‘inventing crimes out of thin air,’ weaponizing the justice system against Trump, and conspiring with other ‘Marxists’ to prevent his return to power,” Rubin added.

Former New York Assistant Attorney General Tristan Snell also wrote in a post to X, formerly Twitter, that Trump’s attendance this week “was just a publicity stunt,” arguing similarly as Rubin that his presence offers “no legal purpose” in the case.

“He did not win any legal arguments. He embarrassed himself and got a gag order,” Snell added. “He whined in front of the cameras and begged for money from his supporters. Self-pity. Sad.”

Trump is expected to be called as a witness as the trial plays out, although his testimony is unlikely to influence the court’s decision, which has already settled on the bulk of James’ lawsuit, former federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann said earlier this week.

Newsweek has reached out to Trump’s press team via email for comment Wednesday night.

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