Here’s the thing about a civil trial – even something as important as a civil rape trial. There are no criminal charges involved. There is no “guilty” or “not guilty” verdict. It’s strictly a matter of a jury determining whether you owe the plaintiff damages for what you allegedly did. But if you happen to commit a crime during the course of the trial, it becomes a different story.
This morning Donald Trump used his social media site to spread false claims and absurd conspiracy theories about E. Jean Carroll, in a clear attempt at improperly influencing the trial. Carroll’s attorneys then presented those posts to the judge during the trial. The judge responded by threatening to take punitive steps against Trump if he makes any such additional posts.
The judge’s wording was vague enough that I initially wasn’t sure what he was specifically threatening. I thought perhaps the judge was trying to leave it vague on purpose, in order to let Trump’s mind race about the potential consequences, thus making him more likely to back down. Remember, the judge’s job isn’t to hand out punishment for this kind of thing. The judge’s job is to get Trump to stop doing this kind of thing, in order to protect the sanctity of the trial. If the judge can’t get Trump to stop, then it becomes the judge’s job to use penalties to force Trump to stop meddling with the trial.
The judge can assign all kinds of penalties, such as a gag order, protective order, monetary fines. It all has to be done in reasonable proportion, or else Trump could just appeal such penalties and perhaps get them overturned. The judge can’t just immediately make the most “aggressive” move possible and expect it to stick, no matter how many clueless viral tweets might claim that things work that way.
But one tweet, from someone who actually knows what she’s talking about, got me thinking. Former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance examined the judge’s words, and believes that the judge may be referring to eventual potential obstruction of justice charges:
The judge in the E Jean Carroll trial is taking Trump's derogatory social media posts from this morning seriously. His reference to other federal statutes is likely to the 18 USC 1500 series of obstruction of justice crimes. https://t.co/NQ5yqsWKBC
— Joyce Alene (@JoyceWhiteVance) April 26, 2023
This would be remarkable because, as I said, there are no criminal charges involved in a civil trial. As a baseline, the worst that can happen to Trump in this trial is that he’s forced to pay financial damages, or issue an apology, or turn over his DNA, things along those lines. But Trump’s misbehavior in this trial is prompting the judge to already seemingly threaten Trump with a potential criminal outcome – in what’s supposed to be a civil trial.
You have to screw up really badly to make that happen, and Donald Trump is indeed screwing up really badly. He seems to think that this civil trial is some kind of boardroom meeting on the Apprentice, or some other kind of game. He either has no ability to understand how trials actually work, or no ability to control himself when it comes to his trials. Either way, if he keeps up these kinds of antics, they will only help him to lose everything more quickly.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report