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Trump reels from competing court decisions as trials disrupt campaign

NEW YORK — Within the span of an hour, one court rescued Donald Trump from potential financial ruin, while another set a trial to start in the height of the campaign season.

The presumptive Republican nominee rolled with the rapid twists Monday with his usual defiance and bluster — in split seconds attacking one set of judges and praising another, ignoring reporters then suddenly pivoting to address them, brushing off heckles and welcoming cheers from onlookers along the streets.

The surreal string of turnabouts capped another chaotic day of Trump’s 2024 campaign, with almost no resemblance to the conventional activities of campaigning. Trump last held a rally on March 16 as his campaign juggled an overhaul of the Republican National Committee and has not announced where or when the next one will happen. He spent the weekend golfing in South Florida, then dropped into New York for a contentious court hearing and broad-sweeping news conference that most major networks carried live.

The unusual schedule highlighted Trump’s gambit to maximize the publicity surrounding his four separate criminal proceedings, using them to cast himself as a victim of a political persecution of a kind with his supporters who rioted at the formal certification of his last electoral defeat. That strategy helped Trump consolidate support in the Republican primary, but its effectiveness is less clear in the general-election rematch with President Biden now underway. And as much as Trump’s team is choosing to take this approach, they are also coping with the uncharted realities of overlapping, evolving court calendars, serious criminal charges, and a daunting cash crunch.

Trump’s personal financial standing is also under pressure. He caught another break on Monday as his Truth Social company won approval to start trading on the Nasdaq exchange starting on Tuesday. Trump’s stake is worth billions on paper, but he is prohibited from selling for six months.

Despite a looming Monday deadline to post a more than $450 million bond that his lawyers said he could not finance after losing a civil fraud trial against his businesses, Trump found cause to celebrate this weekend. He posted a video on his Truth Social website of himself skipping a water feature to land on a putting green — remarking, “That’s a good one to have on camera” — then cheered at receiving “THE CLUB CHAMPIONSHIP TROPHY & THE SENIOR CLUB CHAMPIONSHIP TROPHY” at his own club in West Palm Beach.

Biden trolled him on X, the website formerly known as Twitter: “Congratulations, Donald. Quite the accomplishment.”

But Trump’s social media posts took a dark turn Monday morning as he headed back to the New York criminal court for a hearing in the criminal case accusing him of falsifying business records to hide hush money payments to an adult-film actress leading up to the 2016 election. He railed against both that case and the fraud trial, calling them “Rigged,” “FRAUDULENT” and “CORRUPT.” The cases were brought by elected Democrats — Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and New York Attorney General Letitia James — but Trump has not produced any evidence of coordination with the White House.

His campaign blasted out a fundraising email: “HANDS OFF TRUMP TOWER!” And Trump posted a message he purportedly received this morning from a supporter, comparing his ordeal with that of Jesus Christ.

Trump glowered at the cameras as he took his seat in the courtroom, and he watched as the judge, Juan Merchan, grew visibly agitated with the former president’s attorneys. The lawyers were arguing to delay the trial to review records from a related federal case. The judge wasn’t having it, taking exception to their intimations of prosecutorial misconduct, perhaps even involving Merchan himself, that he viewed as unfounded. Merchan and Trump both grew visibly frustrated.

As tempers rose, the judge called a recess, and it was not hard for anyone watching to predict that when proceedings resumed, he would be ruling against Trump. The former president stormed out. In the hallway, reporters shouted his name. He stopped abruptly, turned, and seemed for a moment to consider whether to entertain their shouted questions.

Instead he said, “Thank you very much,” and left behind closed doors.

Almost immediately after his exit, news broke that Trump had won a reprieve in the other case: The appeals court granted his request to reduce his bond to $175 million, with 10 days to pay.

As the recess elapsed, Trump reappeared, now eager to engage the press. “I greatly respect the decision,” he said, promising to post the $175 million “very quickly,” while also criticizing the trial judge, Arthur Engoron.

Back inside the courtroom for his hearing in the criminal case, Trump gave a thumbs up and smiled. But soon he was frowning and shaking his head: Merchan sided with the prosecutors and ordered the criminal trial to begin April 15 — the first of a former president.

“See you on the 15th,” Merchan said as he left the bench.

In the hallway, Trump strode toward the exit, then turned heel to speak reporters after all. He said he would appeal the ruling, though trial dates are generally not appealable. “It shouldn’t be allowed to happen,” he said. “They decided to wait until now, just before the election, so that I won’t be able to campaign.”

Then, switching back to the other case, the day’s good news for him, he changed his tone. “On the other decision, it will be my honor to post,” he said. “We appreciate very much the decision.”

Soon his motorcade was rolling downtown to Wall Street, where tourists flocked from Trinity Church, Federal Hall and the Charging Bull statue, to see the next big attraction. Someone cursed Trump as he emerged from his limo. “Criminal!” someone else shouted.

In another marble lobby, much shinier than the courthouse’s and decked with American flags, Trump repeated his attacks on the prosecutors as politically motivated, and he repeatedly thanked the appeals court for reducing the bond.

“It’s criminal what they’re doing, and it’s never been done before in this country,” he said. “I don’t know how you can have a trial that’s going on right in the middle of an election. Not fair. Not fair. It’s not fair at all.”

Biden’s campaign pounced, labeling Trump “weak and desperate,” tipping their emerging lines of attack. “America deserves better than a feeble, confused, and tired Donald Trump,” Biden campaign spokesman James Singer said in a statement Monday about the presumptive Republican nominee’s day.

Trump claimed that he had ample cash to secure the bond but that he would prefer to use the money toward his campaign. A reporter pointed out that Trump hadn’t put his own money into his campaign since 2016, and asked if he would start again. Trump’s advisers have acknowledged an urgent need to catch up to the Democrats in fundraising, after the Biden campaign reported $71 million in cash on hand as of the end of February to Trump’s $33.5 million, a gap that widened from January.

“It’s none of your business, frankly,” Trump snapped. Federal law requires candidates to disclose contributions above $200, as well as their own loans and donations to their campaigns.

Though foreign contributions are not allowed in federal campaigns, Trump did not rule out taking money from foreign governments to help cover his bond. “I don’t do that,” he said. “I think you’d be allowed to possibly. I don’t know … You could do that. But I don’t need to borrow money. I have a lot of money.”

He said he still doubted the trial would go forward, but if it did: “I would have no problem testifying. I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Then he walked back outside. He waved in the direction of a vulgar taunt against Biden echoing down the skyscraper canyon. Trump waved to the overflow press, and seemed to consider taking more questions, but proceed to step into his black SUV.

“Keep fighting for us!” a man called out from behind the police line.

Trump poked his head out above the open car door. “I will,” he said.

Devlin Barrett and Shayna Jacobs in New York and Marianne LeVine in Washington contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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