A silent Trump together with his eyes closed and a convicted liar on the witness stand – two experienced observers of Trump's criminal trial discuss what stands out

Sex, money and power – all three topics were addressed over the course of Michael Cohen's three days of testimony and cross-examination Criminal trial against former President Donald Trump. Trump is accused of illegally covering up a hush money payment to a girl alleging she had a sexual encounter with Trump; Cohen, referred to as Trump's former “fixer,” says he carried out the plan at Trump's behest.

The Conversation's senior politics and democracy editor Naomi Schalit interviewed John E. Jones IIIthe president of Dickinson College and a retired federal judge appointed by President George W. Bush, and David E. Clementson, political communications scholar on the University of Georgia and political deception specialist. The men talked about how the jury might perceive Trump – those closed eyes could possibly be an issue, says Clementson – and whether Trump's defense made Cohen, a convicted liar, untrustworthy. The cross-examination, Jones says, “doesn’t come off as well as it could be.”

How do you’re thinking that Trump shall be viewed by the jury?

David E. Clementson: As a researcher, I conducted Experiments Testing the results of a politician's behavior. What interests me is that Trump often is that keep your eyes closed within the courtroom. It's this one easy non-verbal clue that would have a big impact on the trial and the jury.

There is a saying, “You can't not communicate.” Take, for instance, an individual on an airplane who closes his eyes when he sees the flight attendant coming down the aisle. He doesn't do or say anything – and yet he actually says quite a bit, like, “Don't talk to me.” Don't hassle me. I don't need a drink. I don’t need peanuts.”

It could possibly be a technique by Trump's lawyers to inform him to take a seat there together with his eyes closed. Otherwise, he would probably respond with not less than non-verbal ridicule through the proceedings. And that may backfire and make you seem guilty.

But keeping your eyes closed is also dangerous and maybe disastrous because people think you're primary deceptive is if you don't make eye contact and look away. This statement is intercultural, cross-linguistic and cross-ethnic. If jurors think Trump is averting his gaze, they probably think he’s deceptive.

But if the jury thinks he's communicating together with his eyes closed, just like the person on the plane who closes their eyes, it may be an exception to the rule that you might have to make eye contact to look honest. This stands out as the case if the jury feels that his mockery of the proceedings is justified.

John E. Jones III: I've read that Trump's tendency to maintain his eyes closed is a way of controlling himself so he doesn't act out. And remember, he acted consistently through the trial of E. Jean Carroll. I’m convinced, having spoken to countless jurors after trials and verdicts, that jurors don’t like parties who don’t respect the method. It makes them very uncomfortable. They are inclined to see the judge as their friend, their protector. When the judge is kicked by one party, it upsets the jury. Because of the structure of the court, they see the judge as an ally.

Michael Cohen made a vital statement this week. He is approved previously lied under oath. How should a jury and the general public evaluate his testimony?

Clementson: Cohen is reportedly one of the best witness the prosecution has, yet he is definitely discredited. We comprehend it out Social psychology and communication research This credibility largely relies on whether the audience thinks that a speaker is representing his or her own perspective or not. When a speaker presents his or her own genuinely held opinion, she or he is seen as honest and unbiased, in addition to sincere and persuasive.

But if the audience thinks that he’s controlled by external circumstances, if he’s pressured by an external situation, then he won’t be perceived as honest and convincing. Cohen illustrates this external pressure that controls his words and actions. According to his own statement, he was Trump's biggest fan; he claimed to do and say what he was told. Then he turned against Trump, so even jurors who hate Trump are prone to be suspicious of a jilted lover who was once in love with Trump.

A man in a blue jacket, red tie and with his hands folded sits at a table with the police behind him.
Former President Donald Trump appears in Manhattan Criminal Court in New York on May 16, 2024, during his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments.
Mike Segar Pool/Getty Images

Jones: The philosophical query, in my view, is: Can a one who repeatedly lies about countless topics figuratively change his perspective and begin telling the reality? The jury has to take care of this.

The prosecution's challenge on this case, from a judicial and legal perspective, is to corroborate Cohen's statements. I believe they did an excellent job of pre-confirming what Cohen said, as has been written about again and again. Now the cross-examination that has taken place in recent days is meant to point out not only that he’s a liar and that liars proceed to lie, but in addition that he detests Donald Trump. And as David Clementson says, he’s the kind of scorned lover in that this informs his statement.

I don't think the cross-examination comes off in addition to it could because I believe it's a bit vague in nature.

I believe the likely end result of this case at this point – given every little thing I've seen and particularly with Cohen being the ultimate prosecution witness – will either be a conviction or a partial conviction, or it is going to be a case where it The matter is a hung jury. Unless the defense pulls a rabbit out of the hat.

What does it mean for each the jury and the general public, and for the credibility of what is going on on this courtroom, that Trump will most certainly not testify?

Jones: This implies that you might have an entire series of unrefuted statements. And in fact the judge will inform the jury that the burden is on the prosecution and that it’s a burden that never shifts and that there is completely no need for the defendant to testify. The judge makes this really clear within the instructions each before and after the trial.

As a trial judge, I’d really pressure the jury in my instructions regarding a defendant's right to not testify. This is crucial to our legal system and they have to understand this and particularly that they can’t accuse a selected defendant of this because the burden of proof lies with the prosecution. And I believe most jurors have that in mind.

But because it's a matter of human curiosity, the jury would probably wish to know what Trump's version of the facts is. It's all the time a really difficult decision for the defense. It's a kind of cost-benefit evaluation based on what you get out of your defendant's testimony versus the downside. The drawback here is gigantic.

Clementson: Trump cannot testify. Point. He's an excessive amount of of a loose cannon. Everything to lose, nothing to realize.

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