When it comes to criminal cases, many lawyers advise their clients not to speak publicly about their cases.
But most clients are not former President Trump.
As Trump’s legal problems continue to pile up, the former president has remained outspoken on social media and in public, attacking prosecutors, judges and potential witnesses, all while speaking openly about the actions that set off the investigations in the first place.
“It’s a unique setting, because normally what we tell clients, of course, is, ‘Don’t say anything; don’t make any public comments,’” said John Lauro, one of the attorneys representing Trump in his Jan. 6 case in Washington, on a podcast with Florida lawyer David Markus.
“With President Trump, because of the campaign, and I would say because of his personality, it’s impossible for him not to speak out on the issues. So it does present unique circumstances,” Lauro added. “I think, in his mind, it’s sort of fair game from a political perspective to make these comments.”
Trump is unfiltered when he posts on Truth Social, and his political speeches often veer from his prepared remarks. That has already gotten him in trouble in some of his legal cases, and political advisers and legal experts warned that Trump’s tendency to speak out could land him in hot water, posing additional risks as he hits the campaign trail and mulls attending the first GOP primary debate.
“They may be able to use some of his statements against him. Given what the potential for him saying things is, it’s hard to imagine it’s going to do him any good in the trial. But I suspect that his lawyers have absolutely no control over what he’s saying,” said Alan Morrison, a law professor at George Washington University.
The risks Trump poses to himself and his legal defense have been evident in recent months.
Writer E. Jean Carroll amended her defamation lawsuit against Trump in May to include comments he made at a CNN town hall calling her a “whack job” and dismissing her allegations of sexual abuse.
Trump in a June interview with Fox News’s Bret Baier defended his actions laid out in the federal indictment over his handling of classified materials by claiming he may not have had a physical document with him when he allegedly discussed a top-secret Pentagon document with individuals at his Bedminster club. That episode was later added to a superseding indictment filed by prosecutors.
The former president last Friday wrote on Truth Social: “If you go after me, I’m coming after you!” The message came one day after a judge warned Trump in the case over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election not to influence or intimidate witnesses. Prosecutors quickly cited the post in asking for a protective order to limit what Trump can publicly say about the case.
Speaking to supporters Tuesday in New Hampshire, Trump blasted the move by prosecutors and vowed he would continue to speak out about his legal woes.
“I will talk about it. I will. They’re not taking away my First Amendment right,” Trump said to applause.
Lauro, one of Trump’s attorneys, said on the Markus podcast that he thinks judges and prosecutors “understand the dynamic in terms of there being sort of a campaign going on, and I think it’s a little bit different than our standard case where we would pull our hair out if a client commented on a prosecutor or a judge.”
While Trump has indicated he may skip the first two GOP presidential primary debates because of his large lead in the polls, officials said they could envision scenarios where Trump is put on the spot on the debate stage about his legal problems, potentially drawing him further into trouble.
They noted that former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) is a former prosecutor whose candidacy has thus far been focused squarely on getting under Trump’s skin and arguing Trump is unfit to serve another term in the White House.
And they pointed to the presence of former Vice President Mike Pence, who was a central figure in the Justice Department’s indictment against Trump for his attempts to subvert the 2020 election results, with prosecutors detailing numerous instances of Trump pressuring the then-vice president to reject the results on Jan. 6.
Pence has been adamant he had no right to overturn the election, and he has argued Trump asked him to put the president over the Constitution.
Trump and other candidates would be almost certain to be asked about the former president’s legal troubles at the upcoming debate. Former Trump campaign advisers said they saw little upside to the former president getting up on stage given both the political and legal risks.
Sean Spicer, who served as Trump’s White House press secretary, said he doesn’t think Trump cares as much about the potential legal implications of debating, though he said it’s “a legitimate argument to make.”
“You’re up there and you start tangling with these one-percenters, and it’s not just the legal pitfalls, it’s the political pitfalls,” Spicer said. “Their goal is to trip you up. So again, high risk, low reward.”