As Political Theater, Trump’s Court Appearance Wasn’t a Showstopper

If Donald J. Trump’s goal on Tuesday was to turn a weighty legal proceeding in Washington into a de facto campaign appearance that galvanized media attention, he fell short.

Six days before the Iowa caucuses, the former president used the arguments before a federal appeals court over whether he is immune from prosecution to hone a strategy he has deployed repeatedly over the past year and intends to use more as the political season heats up and his legal problems come to a head: standing in or near a courthouse, portraying himself as a victim.

But in this case, the federal courthouse was a relatively inhospitable setting. The security protocols and the ban on cameras in federal courthouses did not lend themselves easily to the kind of displays Mr. Trump has made at the four arraignments for the indictments he is facing, where he has commanded intensive coverage and the chance to cast the prosecutions as political persecution.

The headlines went instead to the sharp questioning by the three judges. They did not overtly acknowledge Mr. Trump’s presence in the courtroom but expressed great skepticism about his legal team’s argument that even a president who ordered the killing of a political rival could not be prosecuted unless he or she was first convicted in an impeachment proceeding.

Instead, Mr. Trump was left to hold a short appearance at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue — what had been the Trump International Hotel before he sold it after leaving office.

“I feel that as president you have to have immunity, very simple,” said Mr. Trump, standing with a handful of lawyers who had gone with him to the hearing. Saying he had done nothing wrong, Mr. Trump said there would be “bedlam” in the country if the courts did not uphold the concept of presidential immunity.

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