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Trump's trials update

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

It's time for Trump's Trials...

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

DONALD TRUMP: This is a persecution.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Felony violations.

TRUMP: We need one more indictment...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Criminal conspiracy.

TRUMP: ...To close out this election.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

DETROW: ...Our weekly take on the latest developments in the multiple cases former President Donald Trump is facing, all while he runs for president again. The most interesting developments this week happened in Georgia, where Trump and several others are facing multiple charges tied to their efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Four of those defendants have taken plea deals already, and those plea deals require them to cooperate with the prosecution. As part of that cooperation, the defendants sat down for lengthy interviews with the prosecutors to tell them what they know. And this week, several of those interviews, including this one of Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis, were leaked to ABC News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JENNA ELLIS: He said, the boss is not going to leave under any circumstances. We are just going to stay in power. And I said to him, well, it doesn't quite work that way, you realize. And he said, we don't care.

DETROW: To talk about all of this, we are joined again this week by senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Hey, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey.

DETROW: And Melissa Murray, a lawyer and law professor at NYU and co-author of the upcoming book "The Trump Indictments." Thanks for being here, Melissa.

MELISSA MURRAY: Thanks for having me.

DETROW: So, Domenico, what were the main headlines from these tapes?

DETROW: Well, seeing Jenna Ellis sort of flip on Trump was really notable, and saying that she'd heard from one of Trump's aides, Dan Scavino, that the boss isn't going to leave office. Really kind of a fascinating thing to show sort of Trump's state of mind and how much he really wanted to stay in power.

DETROW: Yeah. But, Melissa, Trump's legal team was pretty quick to respond to that, saying, who cares what this aide said, in a sense, because for all the other things that happened, Trump did leave office. He didn't hole himself up in the White House. He didn't try to remain president.

MURRAY: No. That's right. And you can imagine what the response to this would be at trial, you know, one, to discredit Jenna Ellis as someone who has a real incentive to play nice with the prosecution, but also someone who may not actually be that truthful herself. She was formerly a co-defendant. They will also, I think, note that this was a statement that Jenna Ellis heard from someone else, Dan Scavino. She did not hear this from Trump himself. So it doesn't actually go to provide clear evidence of Trump's own mindset with regard to staying in power or leaving peacefully. And so in that sense, it's kind of a mixed bag. It really does shed some light on all of the events that are alleged in the Georgia indictment, but it is certainly not a smoking gun or a silver bullet for the prosecution.

DETROW: Well, it's interesting, but maybe it's not quite what it seemed, right? It's a hearsay conversation with an aide who has a suspect track record (inaudible).

MONTANARO: Well, I mean, I think that it's - there's a huge difference between an actual court and a court of public opinion in how these things can be framed and looked. But the thing that was interesting to me is it's, again, you have Jenna Ellis, who was a lawyer who was close to Trump, who was involved in this process, who's flipped. And that's part of what you want to do in a RICO case is sort of make your way up the pyramid. And it really got personal and nasty when it comes to the Trump loyalists and Jenna Ellis, because Laura Loomer, who's close to Trump - failed Florida congressional candidate, conspiracy theorist - called Jenna Ellis a waste of space and a fake Christian. Ellis responded back, saying, oh, no mention of Trump Jr.'s divorce? I mean, this got really, really personal.

DETROW: Wow.

MURRAY: It did devolve very quickly. I will say, for my part, the most interesting and honestly just really alarming confession in this proffer was when Sidney Powell admitted that she didn't really know a lot about election law. And that actually was hilarious to me. I mean, girl, what? You've been talking about the election and election fraud for months. You gave a whole press conference about this, and then come to find out you actually don't know anything about election law.

MONTANARO: It is amazing to me how the threat of jail time sort of breaks the hypnosis and seems like a shot of truth serum for a lot of people.

MONTANARO: I mean, this is also the legal team, just to say, when you point that out, that as far as we can tell, possibly mixed up the Four Seasons Hotel with Four Seasons Total Landscaping. So, you know...

MURRAY: Elite legal strike force, exactly.

DETROW: Now I'm going to go down to Washington, and we're going to talk a little bit about the federal January 6 case. Our national justice correspondent, Carrie Johnson, has been reporting on the case this week, and the fact that Trump's legal team had requested to narrow references and strike references to the violence at the Capitol on January 6. But the judge in that case, Tanya Chutkan, rejected that motion late last night. Melissa, this is interesting here because Jack Smith, the special counsel, made a choice not to file insurrection or incitement charges tied to the violence of that day, right? But regardless, what happened on January 6 is a key part of his case.

MURRAY: That's right. So I think a big part of why there are mentions of the insurrection at the Capitol and why the prosecution is at great pains to keep those mentions available for trial is because they want to make the connection that we have other defendants who have been successfully prosecuted for this crime, the January 6 rioters. And this individual is also someone who should also be successfully prosecuted on this charge, this conspiracy to obstruct official proceedings. So I think that's a big reason why. I also think it's why the Trump team does not want it in. It's highly prejudicial to associate Donald Trump with the violence that so many Americans saw play out on their television screens on January 6. They don't want any part of it, but unfortunately seems like it's going to be a very big part of it.

MONTANARO: And politically, really interesting that the Trump team is sort of pushing to get the D.C. proceedings on camera, because clearly Trump wants to be able to make a political case to people going forward. We all saw a whole bunch of media organizations join in because, of course, they want to put that on television - a little bit different incentive for that. But clearly, we're seeing Trump playing this two-sided thing where he's - he has to talk in court and try to win in court, but also try to win in public opinion.

DETROW: He did waive his initial court appearance in Georgia, where court hearings are televised. And I thought that was surprising when that happened this summer. But it seems like a different course here, saying, no, we want all of this on television.

MONTANARO: Yeah. And, I mean, the timing of all of this, you know, I mean, when are all of these cases going to actually be? And we saw in Georgia, August 5 is one place where they're trying to ask for that time to be, which would be right in the middle of a campaign. And we talk about the collision between politics and the legal calendar. The Trump team was saying this is completely politically motivated because it's right smack in the middle of when his - when the general election would be happening. Right now, Trump's got a huge cushion in this primary so he can deal with these legal obstacles, very different when you're talking about how swing voters might view this in a general election.

DETROW: Yeah. That was NPR's senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro, as well as NYU law professor Melissa Murray. Thanks to both of you.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

MURRAY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.