The Tawdry Decade of Trump Could Desensitize Any Juror

Not long after Donald Trump was criminally charged in four state and federal cases last year, many people who want to see the former president held to account expressed an understandable fear: A MAGA mole would sneak onto the jury and then refuse to vote guilty, no matter how damning the evidence.

The resulting hung jury would be just the vindication that Mr. Trump needs. But following Stormy Daniels’s dramatic testimony on Tuesday in Mr. Trump’s New York hush-money case, which delved into graphic detail about what she said was a brief, unpleasant sexual encounter with Mr. Trump in 2006, I am inclined to worry about a more mundane but similarly grave threat: call it the Desensitized Juror.

This person, a decent and upstanding citizen who treats his or her duty with appropriate gravity, could nevertheless decide that all of this tawdriness — cheating on his new wife, seducing Ms. Daniels with false promises of reality-TV stardom and so on — is just Mr. Trump being Mr. Trump. Even if hiding the purpose of the $130,000 payoff to Ms. Daniels violated New York law, the juror might think, so what? Everyone already knows Mr. Trump is a liar and a cad, a womanizer and a cheat. Is this really a serious crime or is it, like so much connected to the Trump lifestyle, just one big tabloid joke?

The tabloid element of the case has been there all along, of course, but it was never more evident than on Tuesday. Again and again, Ms. Daniels testified in much greater detail, and with more editorializing, than was asked of her. Mr. Trump’s lawyers objected often, and when they didn’t, Justice Juan Merchan stepped in himself, testily warning Ms. Daniels more than once to “just answer the questions.”

Prosecutors, who made a calculated and possibly dangerous bet in calling her to the stand, could not have been happy to watch one of their star witnesses get reprimanded over and over by the court. But the judge’s frustration was no surprise; salacious details like the ones Ms. Daniels kept offering can be especially prejudicial to a defendant. For example, Ms. Daniels mentioned that Mr. Trump had not worn a condom during their encounter. In response, the former president’s lawyers requested a mistrial. Justice Merchan denied the request, although he agreed that numerous parts of Ms. Daniels’s testimony were “better left unsaid.”

Even when she left out the details, Ms. Daniels was not always consistent in her testimony. She insisted, for example, that she was not motivated by money and only wanted to tell her story, a less-than-convincing claim given her decision to accept Mr. Trump’s payoff to keep her mouth shut. Mr. Trump’s lawyers took every opportunity they could to highlight these inconsistencies and poke holes in Ms. Daniels’s credibility.

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