A judge in Atlanta has ruled that all court proceedings in former President Donald Trump’s Georgia election interference racketeering case will be livestreamed and viewable by the public.
Judge Scott McAfee of the Superior Court of Fulton County made that ruling Thursday. The judge also ruled the use of cellphones, recording devices and laptops will be allowed in court as long as they do not “disrupt the administration of justice.”
The judge’s rulings are significant in a number of ways.
Trump and 18 other people are charged in the Fulton County case with illegally trying to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in the key swing state in order to allow Trump to stay in power despite losing to Democrat Joe Biden.
If the order holds, the Georgia trial will be the first and only one televised among the former president’s four indictments, including a federal case in which Trump alone is charged with conspiring to overturn the election results nationwide by various means.
Trump has pleaded not guilty in all four of the cases, which also include a hush money case in New York and a federal case in Miami related to his alleged illegal hoarding of classified documents that he took with him when leaving the White House in January 2021.
A televised trial will likely have significant political repercussions for Trump, who is trouncing his GOP rivals in the polls in the intensifying campaign to be the Republican nominee in the 2024 presidential campaign.
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Who else is affected?
Like Trump himself, some of his co-defendants, including his former lawyer and New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, have tried to argue their cases in the court of public opinion. Other co-defendants in the Fulton County case include former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and several Trump lawyers and legal advisers in the aftermath of the 2020 election like Sidney Powell, Jenna Ellis and John Eastman.
The indictment handed up by a Fulton County grand jury details a series of episodes where Trump urged state officials to change presidential electors, where his lawyers made false claims about election fraud to state lawmakers and where he asked Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to alter the election results.
The defendants also include local Georgians, some of whom allegedly signed a certificate falsely stating Trump had won the state and declaring themselves Georgia’s “duly elected and qualified” electors. Others allegedly tried to illegally influence state election workers and take other steps to help Trump overturn the state election results.
Why this case would be different
Federal courts traditionally prohibit the use of cameras, laptops and recording devices inside the courtroom. That makes it hard for the public to get a detailed look at exactly what is said and done during pre-trial proceedings and trials.
Some photographers were allowed inside the courtroom for a few minutes before the start of Trump’s arraignment hearing in the New York case investigated by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. That case stems from alleged payments Trump made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels at the height of the 2016 presidential election in order to buy her silence and increase his chances of winning.
Cameras are typically not allowed in New York courtrooms, according to media reports there, but news organizations have asked for an exception in the Trump hush money case given the public interest.
Why the ruling is historically significant
John Dean, the Watergate-era White House counsel turned judicial responsibility advocate, praised the judge for his rulings, saying it will provide the public with important transparency in a historically important case.“I think that I think it’s wonderful that they’re doing it; it shows how simple it can be done,” said Dean, who became a household name during televised congressional proceedings involving another former president, Richard Nixon.
“This isn’t a lot of money they’re talking about and this isn’t a lot of complexity they’re talking about, but it is a lot of democracy that is on display when you open the courts up,” Dean said. “So I think it’s a generally good move and hope it influences other courts, particularly federal courts.”
Dean urged Chief Justice John Roberts of the Supreme Court and the Judicial Conference to follow suit and consider ruling in favor of televising Trump’s two federal trials.
Dean, who has been following Trump’s cases closely and opining about them on TV, acknowledged that televised proceedings will give Trump a platform from which to speak to his political base of supporters, who have demonstrated a consistent bias in favor of believing his claims of innocence despite facts that suggest otherwise.
“How many people have mug shots they use for fundraising? It just goes without saying that he has a unique following of authoritarian personalities that love whatever he does,” Dean said. “But there’s another part of the country that is not as smitten with him and that can get an education from this, as well as some of his followers who might learn what he’s really up to.”
Trump surrendered last Thursday at the Fulton County jail and was booked and processed as a first step in going to trial. He is charged with 13 felony counts in the case related to his alleged efforts to help spearhead a “criminal enterprise” that sought to overturn his election loss in Georgia.
No trial date has been set. Several of Trump’s co-defendants defendants in the Georgia racketeering case, including Meadows and former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, have petitioned to have their cases moved to federal court, arguing that they were acting in their official capacity as federal government officials.
How will the public be able to tune in?
The public most likely will be able to watch the proceedings via the Fulton County Court YouTube channel, CNN reported. That will include all pre-trial proceedings and the trial itself stemming from Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’s sprawling investigation into an alleged scheme to overturn the state’s 2020 presidential election results.
McAfee also ruled that he will allow pool coverage of the events for television, radio and still photography. That comes in response to requests from local media outlets that are seeking to combine their resources and share camera access, according to a court order signed by McAfee.
No defense attorneys or prosecutors appeared in court Thursday to oppose the news media’s request for cameras, according to CNN.
Contributing: Bart Jansen