Clip: How Trump’s legal setbacks affect the 2024 election

Feb. 16, 2024 AT 8:41 p.m. EST

Former President Trump was dealt another legal blow Friday when a judge ordered him to pay over $350 million in damages in the New York civil fraud suit. How are the latest developments in Trump’s multiple ongoing trials affecting his 2024 campaign strategy?

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Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Franklin Foer: Perry, you've been deeply immersed in this. Can you just step back and give us a sense of the landscape right now? Because I admit, it looks to me as if this was not a great week for Donald Trump, the first criminal trial of a former president supposed to begin. He's now on the hook, apparently, for more than $300 million in damage to the civil suit. But Axios the other day ran a piece saying that it wasn't as bad as it looks. What's your view?

Perry Stein, Justice Department Reporter, The Washington Post: Yes, it has certainly been a big week this week for all these. There're four criminal trials. I think that there is an argument to make that it could have been worse for Trump, depending on what he wants.

I mean, one of his goals, right, is we know one of his tactics has been to delay these trials. He wants them to go after the presidential election. Georgia, we're seeing kind of a sideshow right now as Trump and some of his other co-defendants are trying to get the prosecutors disqualified over what they say is an improper relationship.

Now, that took multiple days or hasn't even been closing arguments. It's played out like a mini trial in and of itself. So, if he succeeds in that, like that election will be delayed. And even if he doesn't, there's a lot of now people may view the prosecutors differently.

New York, we know now that's the criminal state trial dealing with the Stormy Daniel payments, alleged hush money payments. Now, that is going to trial, March 25th, they say. Now, he probably, ideally doesn't want any trials to go before the election.

But if he had to get one -- I mean, I think legal experts that I've spoken to say, hey, this is the one. I've heard someone call it the runt of the cases, the runt of the litters. Why? Because it's, I mean, when you're talking about a presidential candidate who's facing election interference charges, mishandling of classified documents and hush money, alleged hush money payments from many years ago. I mean, I think this one may look better. And we know that when those charges came, they were the first ones. They rallied the Republican base around him.

Franklin Foer: Can you just -- you've done fascinating reporting about Trump's legal team, because the memory that I have of Trump's lawyers is that there were people who are now being charged in Georgia, that there were conspiracy theorists, there were people who were, you would consider, top-drawer lawyers. But that's not, I think, what you found when you started to look at the team that's now representing him.

Perry Stein: Yes, that's the question. I've been really curious. Like are his lawyers good? Who are these people? I mean, these are some of the most consequential trials, definitely some of the most high-profile ones of our time.

And what I found is he's got a solid legal team. They're veteran lawyers. I mean, they're well-respected lawyers. I think many people, not just Trump, would want them as their defense attorneys. I mean, some of them have worked for -- Todd Blanche has worked for SDNY for a lot of years high up there. So, he's worked on some pretty big cases.

And I think what you saw was -- I mean, look at Georgia. A lot of Trump's former lawyers have been charged. I mean, they're part of this MAGA world. They're people that have sometimes boosted in some of his conspiracy theories. A lot of those people, though, there's still some, have been weeded out and kind of shoot off center stage. So, what you're having now is, I mean, I think he has a solid legal team.

Franklin Foer: So, just give a sense of the broad legal strategy that he's pursuing. I mean, you've mentioned delay is one of the primary tactics. And how does that strategy, the legal strategy, correlate to the political strategy? Are they working symbiotically or is there any way, in which they're at cross-purposes?

Perry Stein: Yes, I mean, I think that, look, delaying is a strategy a lot of defendants use. That's not just Trump, but he seems to use that a lot. But you do -- I mean, as part of my reporting, I learned, I mean, the lawyers do talk with the campaign, not in a like necessarily sinister way, but in a way that's like, okay, he has all these gag orders. Are his social media posts going to violate the gag orders? Do the lawyers need to do that, but also -- read over those? But also to, yes, see if his legal strategy is lining up with what he's saying on the campaign.

For instance, you hear him say all the time, like I am kind of a victim here. The Justice Department, the establishment wants to go after me. That's what he's saying on the campaign. That's also what he's saying in part. He has lots of filings in all of his cases, but in some of them, you are seeing that this is selective prosecution. This is people who are going after me because, you know, he's using a lot of times. This is the Biden administration going after me. We know that Biden appoints Mayor Garland. They claim that they have no coordination, but that is what Trump's claims are, both on the stump and in his legal filings.

Franklin Foer: Carl, I just want to step back for a moment. So, it's the first -- we have a trial date set. It's going to be the first time a former president is tried in a criminal proceeding. And it's going to happen simultaneously to a presidential campaign trial. Just pause to reflect on this moment, because it's so unlike anything that we've seen in American history.

Carl Hulse: Yes, I mean, nothing like this, obviously, and we don't know what it's going to lead to. Now, so far, we haven't seen any decrease in his political strength with his people, right? The people who are on board with Trump are on board all the way through this because they believe he's a victim of a selective prosecution.

The question is going to be -- this is an election about independents in certain states, right? So, how are they going to respond to testimony at a trial when you have an actual trial, or do people get to the end and say, if Trump were to be convicted, we can't have a convicted president?

So, I think this really has to play out. But I will say, I don't think the people who are the hardcore Trump, that part of the Republican Party, they're not going anywhere with Trump. This actually motivates them. But I think because the election is going to be cited somewhere else, we have to see how that goes.

Franklin Foer: But just talk for a second about the way that Donald Trump is kind of quarterbacking all of this -- the legal stuff and the way that he thinks processes it through the political lens. I mean, it's -- one of the oddities of this is that rather than stumping, he's going to be in court for much of this period.

Perry Stein: And, you know, so far, right, as a criminal defendant, he has to be there when his trials are going but he doesn't really have to be there for his pre-trial proceedings. But what you've seen, and I have to imagine, I mean, I don't know that his lawyers always want him to be there but he has been. You know, he was at the appeals hearing for immunity. He was in Florida, there was a closed door hearing and he was there this week. So, he's going there and then he's going outside and talking about it. So, he's making this a big part of his campaign.

Franklin Foer: He can't resist actually being in the courtroom and inserting himself in the legal melodrama.

Perry Stein: Yes, I think that's right. I mean, something that struck me, I remember at the appeals court hearing, this is over presidential immunity, afterwards nearby he did a press conference and he said, bedlam is going to break out if, you know, this goes -- you know, this happens. And then the next couple days you saw the word bedlam in a legal filing.

So, I'm not saying that his lawyers are taking all the cues from him at all. They seem to be good lawyers, but there is -- he is the client.

Franklin Foer: Laura, do you think that there is this moment that we will reach where Trump's strategy of profiting off of his legal woes by consolidating his base, and will that -- will we reach a moment where that strategy will exhaust itself?

Laura Barron-Lopez: I think that if he is convicted of one of these crimes that he's charged with, that it could definitely impact independents, swing voters. I've talked to plenty of them. They've said that they don't like that he's facing these crimes. They've said that his repeated lies about election interference and lies about the 2020 election is something that they don't want to hear from a presidential candidate. And so they think that he poses a threat to democracy and they don't want to vote for someone like that.


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