An Ex-President, a Senator and the Center of the (Legal) Universe

At one corner of Baxter Street in Lower Manhattan this week, former President Donald J. Trump transformed a shabby New York courthouse where he’s on trial into the backdrop for his comeback campaign. He vented to a lineup of cameras. The speaker of the House stopped by. Supporters waved purple and red Trump flags through a spring mist.

Things were far quieter just down the block, but still plenty noteworthy. There, at a different courthouse, another uncommonly high-powered defendant, Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, shuffled silently through a metal detector each morning to face his own criminal trial.

The two men — one a Republican, one a Democrat — are longtime political adversaries with far different styles and stories. Their cases share little beyond tawdriness, with one centered on a hush-money payment to a porn star and the other on alleged bribes paid in gold bars.

But in an extraordinary twist, the paths to their fates have physically crossed this week, with the prosecution of a former president playing out all of 500 feet from where another jury of New Yorkers began hearing one of the gravest cases ever leveled against a sitting U.S. senator.

New York City is no stranger to blockbuster court dramas, many of them clustered like these in a dense neighborhood of courthouses and lockups once known as the Five Points. Alger Hiss’s perjury trial in 1949 helped set the tone for the Cold War. Prosecutors picked apart the mafia and then Al Qaeda in courthouses here. There have been too many political corruption cases to count.

And yet, even by the standards of Manhattan — a tiny island where titans of business, prizewinning artists and heads of state jockey for restaurant booths and mingle at parties — the simultaneous trials have left judges, historians and court watchers alike grasping for anything close to a precedent.

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