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Should Trump take the stand in his ‘hush money’ trial? Here’s what legal experts say

Miami Herald

For weeks, former President Donald Trump has sat uncharacteristically silent during the proceedings of his “hush money” trial in New York, the first-ever criminal trial of an ex-president.

Soon, though — after the prosecution rests its case — he will have the opportunity to take the witness stand and speak at length before the Manhattan jury.

But will he?

Trump, who is under no obligation to testify, has signaled his willingness to take the witness stand.

“I would testify, absolutely,” he told reporters on April 12. More recently, he told Spectrum News he would “probably” testify.

Legal experts, though, have cast doubt on the likelihood that the former president will open himself up to questioning.

“I bet dollars to doughnuts he will not take the stand,” John Blume, a professor of trial techniques at the Cornell Law School, told McClatchy News.

“My guess is his attorneys are advising him not to,” Sharon Fairley, a professor from practice at the University of Chicago Law School, told McClatchy News. “It’s a pretty rare thing when a defendant actually does take the stand.”

This is because any benefits that defendants — and Trump in particular — could reap by serving as a witness are outweighed by the risks, which are significant, experts said.

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If he were to take the witness stand, Trump would be at risk of divulging unnecessary information that could potentially damage his case, Fairley said.

It’s crucial for his defense that he “doesn’t expound anymore than is absolutely necessary,” Fairley said. But, “I think when you look at the way he likes to communicate, he does not show any ability to sort of limit himself in that way.”

His free-wheeling speaking style will pose a particular challenge during the cross-examination, the period when the prosecution is able to ask questions, Phillip Hamilton, a criminal defense attorney in New York, told McClatchy News.

“Cross examination is about confrontation,” Hamilton said. “And him being confronted by the prosecutors and challenged on his narratives is going to be bad because it will open the door, I think, to him fighting back with them.”

While pushing back against prosecutors, Trump could bring up a subject that the judge had previously limited prosecutors from discussing, such as his other criminal or civil cases.

If that happens, it would open the door for prosecutors to file a motion to cross-examine Trump on those issues — which they could use to try to damage his credibility, Hamilton said.

“So as a defense attorney, I would have an anxiety attack the entire time that he would be subject to cross examination because he cannot be controlled,” Hamilton said.

Additionally, there’s also the possibility that Trump could perjure himself — or knowingly make false testimony — while on the stand, Fairley said.

“Of course, that’s a crime, and that could expose him to additional criminal liability,” Fairley said.

It’s also important to remember that Trump has three other criminal cases pending against him, and his public testimony in New York could be used against him in those trials, Hamilton said.

“That’s the other biggest reason why, as his attorney, I would advise him not to take the stand,” Hamilton said. “You don’t want to say anything here that can end up compromising your cases in Atlanta, Florida or D.C.”


There are some potential upsides for Trump should he take the witness stand, though, experts said.

By testifying, he could “maybe save some face,” Blume said.

It would signal to his supporters that he doesn’t have anything to hide, Hamilton said.

Though, he noted, Trump has already stated he believes the process is rigged against him, an idea that many of his supporters believe, polls have shown.

Additionally, it’s possible that Trump could compellingly rebut the prosecutor’s argument that he falsified business records to cover up “hush money” payments to Stormy Daniels — thereby violating election laws, Hamilton said.

He added, Trump could say, “The last thing I ever needed was for my wife or family to hear about this stuff, especially while I was running for president…I did this to protect her, to protect my family; I did this to protect my business reputation.”

But, “in reality,” experts believe it’s unlikely Trump would be able to confine himself to such a specific script.

Because of the risks and few rewards, “I just don’t see it happening,” Blume said. “But, you never know with him.”

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