Trump’s history could hurt him with the jury

Time and again, former President Donald Trump teased the possibility of taking the witness stand to tell his version of the hush money tale. “I’m testifying,” he said in early April before the historic trial took off. “I mean, all I can do is tell the truth. And the truth is that there’s no case, they have no case.”

Now the defense has wrapped, the jury will soon be instructed, and Trump has never strayed from the safety of the defense table. Many legal analysts insist that was the smart play. Opening himself to prosecutorial questioning would have been a huge risk, especially since he has a long history of behavior that mirrors the accusations he faces.

Consider the three questions that form the backbone of the case: Did Trump have an affair? Did he falsify business records to hide a hush money payment? And did he do it to protect his 2016 bid for the White House – violating campaign laws?

Trump has denied the affair, but he’s also fostered a lifelong image of himself as a man with a wandering eye. Each of his three marriages has been plagued by reports of infidelity. He bragged on that infamous “Access Hollywood” tape about how he approaches women he finds attractive. “I just start kissing them,” he said. “It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.” Prosecutors showed jurors a transcript of that tape in court.

At the heart of the E. Jean Carroll case is the assertion that Trump sexually assaulted her in a department store. Trump called it a lie. A court said by making that claim, he defamed her and would have to pay more than $80 million. And as prosecutors reminded jurors, former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal has alleged a monthslong affair with Trump starting in 2006 also eventually capped off with a hush money payment. Trump denies wrongdoing there too.

None of this proves he had sex with an adult film star he met at a golf course, but it could be understandable if a juror found the accusation on brand.

The idea of Trump falsifying records to help his cause is also familiar.

Just this past February, New York state Judge Arthur Engoron ruled Trump must pay $355 million for submitting fraudulent paperwork about the value of his properties to get favorable tax and loan terms. Trump is appealing.

Lastly, would Trump break the law to win an election? He is charged right now with just that - accused of trying to pressure election officials into tossing out legitimate votes, orchestrating slates of fake electors to claim he won, pushing Vice President Mike Pence to refuse certification of President Joe Biden’s victory, and urging his followers to “fight like hell” just before they stormed the Capitol leading to damage, injury and deaths. Trump has publicly and repeatedly defended each one of those steps in the wake of the 2020 election.

Trump has every right to dispute the charges against him, and juries are routinely urged to focus only on the evidence. Judge Juan Merchan has instructed this jury specifically to avoid exposure to any outside information about the case. Legal analysts often marvel at how well jurors do that. And because Trump did not testify, these jurors may be able to push aside their knowledge of his long history.

Then again, many of the things Trump has done – and often bragged about – have been in the headlines for decades shaping how Americans see him. What’s more, even though some of these matters were only tangentially raised before the jury, legal wrangling over the Carroll case, the real estate fraud ruling and now the hush money matter has taken place in the very town that produced the jury pool and Trump himself: New York City. That heightens the possibility of jurors being aware of Trump’s legal problems and public image writ large. All of that means, even without Trump taking the stand, his public persona may not be so easily forgotten when the door to the jury room closes and deliberations begin.

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