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What happens if a former president is jailed


The woman at the center of the allegations against former President Donald Trump took the stand today in his New York hush money trial. Adult film actress Stormy Daniels testified to the details of the hush money payment at the heart of the case. Daniels took the stand one day after Judge Juan Merchan told President Trump that if he violates the gag order in the case one more time, he'll face consequences. But what exactly would that look like for a former President and presumptive Republican presidential nominee? To discuss, we've called up Ty Cobb. He's a former federal prosecutor and special counsel to the Trump White House 2017 to 2018. Ty, welcome to the program.

TY COBB: Thank you very much - nice to be with you, Juana.

SUMMERS: We should just start by pointing out that you have now become a critic of former President Trump, but you've also seen up close how Trump responds when he's challenged. What do you think today was like for him in court?

COBB: I think it was miserable, particularly having to listen to the demeaning details that the prosecution pursued, trying to get into the nitty gritty of the actual encounter as opposed to merely establishing the encounter, which I think were the ground rules going in.

SUMMERS: Do you care to venture a guess for us on what the conversations between former President Trump and his lawyers might have been after Stormy Daniels' testimony today?

COBB: Yes. I think, as people, I think, have accurately suggested, that those conversations were Trump venting angrily about what he'd heard and why it was allowed and urging his lawyers to vehemently object and asking, how could this possibly happen in America and to him? You know, he typically plays the victim and the enraged victim when things don't go his way, and I'm sure there was a lot of that going on at lunch. And I think his lawyers tried to turn that into as professional an objection as they could. I think they did effectively put forth a mistrial motion. The judge appropriately rejected the motion.

SUMMERS: I covered former President Trump's campaign for a time. And so I know that we've often seen Trump react in situations like this one by going on social media, attacking people like Stormy Daniels. But this is different because Judge Merchan has said that if the former president violates this gag order again, he will spend time in jail. Do you think that Trump can stay quiet in this situation?

COBB: I don't personally, but we'll have to see. I think it'll be very difficult for him. I don't have any doubt that, at some point between now and the end of the trial, he will violate the gag order again. And depending on how egregious that violation is, I don't have any doubt that the judge is prepared to give him some time, whether it's an hour, whether it's several hours, whether it's overnight remains to be seen. But I don't think the judge will hesitate to put Trump in the lockup.

SUMMERS: I mean, I know we use this word a lot when it comes to conversations about this trial, but this would be incredibly unprecedented. What do you think that that could look like for a former president, not to mention a presumptive Republican presidential nominee, if former President Trump did indeed see jail time for continuing to violate that gag order?

COBB: Well, I think it's part of the continuing tragedy that is Trump for America. I think it would be another sad milestone in the recent history of the degradation of the presidency and sad choices that the country has made and is presented with in terms of leadership these days.

SUMMERS: I do want to ask you about one of the big moments that happened in court today when Stormy Daniels testified about her alleged sexual encounter with former President Trump, the hush money payments that then followed. What did you make of her testimony and how the prosecution is presenting their case?

COBB: So I think the prosecution overreached today. I think the judge made it clear that he agrees with that. I think a lot of this detail probably did not add much to the trial other than to, you know, demean the former president and embarrass him. I think, you know, the rules of evidence are pretty clear that that's not kosher. I think the judge was uncomfortable with it, as he indicated in the dialogue during the mistrial motion, but it doesn't rise to the level of a mistrial.

On the other hand, in combination with a lot of the other evidence of other acts and salacious details that have come in through the trial, it will add to the defense the strength of the defense's appeal. But whether that appeal is successful or not, you know, will occur long, long, long after the election, assuming Trump is convicted, and not have any impact on the election and, ultimately, not really have any impact on Trump.

SUMMERS: That was former Trump White House Attorney Ty Cobb. Thank you.

COBB: You bet, my pleasure - nice to be with you, Juana.

SUMMERS: Elsewhere in the program, the latest developments on the Trump hush money trial, including more on the testimony of adult film actress Stormy Daniels. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tyler Bartlam
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Tinbete Ermyas
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Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.