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.
The court appearance was one that Mr. Trump was not required to make, despite his claim in a fund-raising email to supporters that he was being forced off the campaign trail. But it is one that he plans to continue using this month, banking that it will be effective in rallying his base during the primary season — and giving him a personal illusion of control — even if it risks drawing the wrong kind of attention to his legal problems for general election voters later in the year.
On Thursday, Mr. Trump is preparing to speak on his own behalf at the closing arguments in the civil fraud case brought against him and his company by the New York attorney general, Letitia James, he and others close to him said.
“I think I’m going to do the summation myself,” Mr. Trump told The New York Times last week. “I’ll do the summation because I know it better than anybody.”
Others said that was not exactly precise: His lawyers are expected to speak, and he is planning to as well, although whether he can may be up to the judge in the case, whom Mr. Trump has repeatedly attacked. ABC News reported that he was moving ahead with his plan.
Next week, he is planning to attend the second trial stemming from allegations made by a New York writer who accused Mr. Trump of raping her in the 1990s in a department store dressing room. In a previous trial, Mr. Trump was found liable for sexual abuse and defamation of the writer, E. Jean Carroll. The new trial, to set damages, begins next Tuesday, the day after the Iowa caucuses.
And he will face a choice about another looming court hearing that he may want to attend: the U.S. Supreme Court arguments on Feb. 8 over the decision by Colorado’s highest court saying he can be disqualified from the state’s primary ballot on the grounds that he incited an insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021.
Some aides had suggested to him that there was no point in attending Tuesday’s federal appeals court hearing. But Mr. Trump insisted.
He periodically whispered to one of his lawyers. The special prosecutor who has indicted him in two separate cases, Jack Smith, sat nearby.
The hearing took place just blocks from the Capitol and came days after the third anniversary of the Jan. 6 riot, in which Mr. Trump’s supporters tried to stop the congressional certification of President Biden’s Electoral College victory.
Outside, the contingent of local and federal police officers on the streets around the courthouse seemed to be larger and more vigilant than it was during the president’s first appearance on election interference charges over the summer.
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