House Democrats push to televise Trump trial on classified documents, 2020 impeachment

About three dozen House Democrats, led by Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), are demanding the televising of the federal trials against former President Donald Trump on charges related to the 2020 election and the retention of classified documents.

In a letter to Judge Roslynn Mauskopf, who oversees the administration of federal courts, the lawmakers argued that the move would strengthen public acceptance of the outcome.

“Given the historic nature of the charges in these cases, it is hard to imagine a more powerful circumstance for televised cases,” said letter, dated Thursday. “If the public is to fully accept the outcome, it will be essential for it to witness, as directly as possible, the conduct of the trial, the strength of the evidence presented and the credibility of the witnesses.”

A spokeswoman for Mauskopf’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While cameras are common in state and local courtrooms, they are generally not allowed in federal courtrooms. The Judicial Conference of the United States, the policymaking body for the courts, has allowed some pilot programs in recent decades focusing on civil cases. Lawmakers in both parties have unsuccessfully pushed legislation to allow more transparency.

During the pandemic, court policies loosened, with some federal courts using Zoom for hearings and live streaming audio of oral arguments.

A lawyer for Trump has also suggested they want the expected trial on election-related charges in 2020 to be televised.

Last month, after Trump revealed he had received a targeting letter from special counsel Jack Smith, Trump’s lawyer John Lauro said he would welcome further transparency.

“I hope the Department of Justice will join that effort so we can pull back the curtain and all Americans can see what’s going on,” Lauro told Fox News.

Former President Donald Trump appeared in a DC courthouse on August 3 for arraignment on charges that he conspired to overturn the 2020 election results. (Video: HyoJung Kim/The Washington Post, Photo: Tom Brenner/The Washington Mail)

A spokesman for Smith declined to comment on the prospect of televised proceedings.

The federal district court in Washington, where Trump is likely to face election-related charges, has never allowed cameras.

Opponents of courtroom cameras argue that they can be disruptive, intimidate witnesses and cause judges and jurors to lose their relative anonymity.

Gabe Roth, executive director of Fix the Court, a group that advocates for more openness and accountability of federal courts, argued that televising the Trump trials would be positive because “more access to primary sources is always a positive thing.”

But Roth said the chance of that happening is “very, very slim,” in part because members of the U.S. Judicial Conference are mostly not of a generation that appreciates the widespread use of video.

“The decision makers are not people with Instagram and TikTok accounts,” he said.

Moreover, Roth said, “Courts change policy more slowly than a battleship turns right or left.”

Trump’s hearing Thursday before a federal judge in Washington was not televised. During the trial, Trump pleaded not guilty to charges that he conspired to overturn the results of the 2020 election, appearing at the federal courthouse just blocks from where his supporters stormed the US Capitol to keep him power on 6 January. 2021.

Trump also faces a federal trial in Florida scheduled for May in the classified documents case Smith brought against him.

The lawmakers’ letter to Mauskopf, who serves as director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, argued that “(i) it is imperative that the conference ensure timely access to accurate and reliable information surrounding these cases and all their cases, given extraordinary national importance to our democratic institutions and the need for transparency.”

Members of the House who signed the letter included Democratic Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, who chaired the House committee that investigated the attack on the Capitol on January 6, as well as Reps. Jamie B. Raskin (Md.) and Zoe Lofgren (Calif.). .).

Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), another of the signatories, said in a tweet that “the American people have a right to know what is being said on matters that concern us all,” adding that it is “in everyone’s best interest to know the truth.”

Connolly has previously introduced legislation that would allow Supreme Court proceedings to be televised.

Devlin Barrett, Spencer S. Hsu, and Ann E. Marimow contributed to this report.

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