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Updated May 28, 2024, 12:44pm EDT
politics

Robert De Niro and former Capitol Police officers show up outside Trump trial — to talk about Jan. 6

REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
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The News

Actor Robert De Niro led a surprise press conference for the Biden campaign outside the Manhattan courthouse where Donald Trump’s trial is taking place.

But the event seemed focused on everything but Trump’s trial, as De Niro, at one point battling both a heckler and a car alarm, laid out a broader case against Trump while drafting off the trial’s coverage.

Taking a local approach, De Niro said Trump “doesn’t belong in my city” and said New Yorkers saw him as a “two-bit playboy lying his way into the tabloids” and a “clown” in his pre-politician days.

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“This city is pretty accommodating,” he said. “We make room for clowns. We have them all over the city, people who do crazy things in the street. We tolerate it, it’s part of the culture. But not a person like Trump, who will eventually run the country. That does not work, and we all know that.”

The event focused heavily on Trump as a threat to democracy, a major Biden campaign theme, with De Niro accusing Trump of “promising to use our own military to attack U.S. citizens” and aspiring to be a “tyrant.”

January 6, where Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, was invoked often throughout the event. Harry Dunn and Michael Fanone, two former Capitol Police officers present during the riot, also spoke at the press conference, seeking to remind voters of that day and arguing that Trump is a danger to democracy.

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“Donald Trump is the greatest threat to our country,” Dunn said. “Donald Trump encouraged and continues to encourage political violence. MAGA Republicans called us, police officers, ‘traitors’ for doing our jobs on January 6. Political violence is not acceptable, yet Donald Trump champions it.”

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Shelby’s view

When the Biden campaign announced a press conference outside the trial on short notice, it raised eyebrows because the president and his team have so far largely ignored Trump’s legal issues. Apparently, they’re still hesitant to touch on them — and it’s creating some odd messaging.

There’s a variety of possible reasons for the Democrats’ unwillingness to address the topic — concern about a sitting president being seen as tilting the scales of justice, skepticism that voters are interested in the details of his cases, and fear about playing into the hands of Trump, who has cast the various indictments, lawsuits, and civil cases as a partisan effort to undermine his campaign.

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In that context, the event seemed like an effort to talk about the trial without talking about the trial. De Niro recently recorded an ad for the campaign reminding voters of the more disorderly low points under Trump, and Tuesday’s event seemed like a strained effort to fit the legal proceedings into the general category of self-interested chaos, similar to what Nikki Haley attempted in the primaries.

But the refusal to discuss the elephant in the courtroom while De Niro sparred with MAGA protestors left even some Trump critics confused.

“Yeah, I’m sorry I don’t get the whole De Niro presser outside the courthouse at all,”Ron Filipkowski, editor of the activist news site MeidasTouch and a closely followed figure in Biden’s orbit, posted on X. “Not sure who came up with that idea. Do something else somewhere else some other time.”

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Room for Disagreement

The Biden campaign argued that the press conference was a creative way to get their message out when the cameras are overwhelmingly pointed at Trump this week. One person close to the campaign told Semafor it was an effective event, as the networks took it live and all eyes were on them.

“We’re not here today because of what’s going on over there,” Michael Tyler, the communications director for the Biden campaign, told reporters outside the trial. “We’re here today because you all are here.”

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The View From The Trump Campaign

Trump’s communications team also attended the press conference, and took the podium after team Biden to give their own message: That the Biden event is proof of Trump’s claims that the trial is politically motivated.

“The Biden folks have finally done it,” Trump senior advisor Jason Miller said. “After months of saying politics had nothing to do with this trial, they showed up and made a campaign event out of a trial day for President Trump. Why? Because Joe Biden’s numbers are in the tank.”

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Notable

  • Joe Biden is expected to speak about the Trump trial after the verdict, Politico reported last week. The initial address will come “in a White House setting,” to avoid the perception that it’s political, and the potential speech would be a significant change in how Biden has dealt with Trump’s legal issues thus far.
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