Why Donald Trump is not afraid of jail, according to his lawyer

WASHINGTON – Donald Trump has no fear of going to prison, a key member of his legal team has claimed in an exclusive interview with i, as the former president insisted that he would be “very proud to go to jail for our constitution”.

“I don’t think president Trump fears just about anything,” said Will Scharf, after Judge Juan Merchan warned the 77-year-old that he could face incarceration if he continued to breach a gag order imposed against him.

Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, whose testimony this week is eagerly awaited by prosecutors, has made no secret of his desire to see Mr Trump imprisoned after the fixer spent more than a year in jail following his conviction on separate crimes relating to the former president.

Mr Cohen – whose memoir is entitled Disloyal – has repeatedly taunted his former client, and last Wednesday appeared live on TikTok wearing a T-shirt depicting Mr Trump behind bars.

Mr Trump’s lawyer, Will Scharf, left, says the former president is not afraid of anything – including jail (Photos: votescharf.com; Timothy A Clary/AFP)

The possibility that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee may end up in jail is inching closer.

Last Monday, after finding the defendant in contempt for at least 10 episodes in which he flouted the gag order, Judge Merchan warned the lawyers that an 11th outburst could send their client to jail. Mr Trump had spent more than a month engaging in ad hominem attacks against the judge’s family, jurors and courthouse staff.

Calling this “a direct attack on the rule of law”, Mr Merchan said fines of $1,000 for each transgression were having no impact. “Going forward this court will have to consider a jail sanction.”

Mr Trump told reporters at court on Friday that he was willing to be incarcerated, but condemned the judge’s threat as “unconstitutional”, and is now using it as the bedrock for a fresh fundraising campaign. Over the weekend, emails to supporters described the judge as “disgusting” and “filthy”. “I DEMAND A MISTRIAL,” Trump thundered in one.

Mr Scharf claimed the gag order was “wildly unconstitutional and overbroad”, calling it “extraordinarily vague, in a way that makes compliance difficult”.

Prosecutors support efforts to force Mr Trump’s compliance, saying his outbursts are designed to place the safety of New York District Attorney Alvin Bragg, courthouse staff, and Mr Merchan at risk.

WILDWOOD, NEW JERSEY - MAY 11: Republican presidential candidate former U.S. President Donald Trump leaves the stage after speaking during a campaign rally in Wildwood Beach on May 11, 2024 in Wildwood, New Jersey. The former President and presumptive Republican nominee held a campaign rally as his hush money trial takes a weekend break. Michael Cohen, Trump's former attorney, is expected to be called to testify on Monday when the trial resumes. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)
Mr Trump leaves the stage after speaking during a campaign rally in Wildwood Beach in New Jersey, during a break from his hush money trial in New York (Photo: Michael M Santiago/Getty Images)

They also claim Mr Trump is trying to influence the jurors, whose members have been ordered to stay off social media and avoid news coverage of the case (a difficult challenge in New York, given the trial’s ubiquitous presence across all news platforms).

The media circus is about to kick up a notch further as the trial enters its fourth week and Mr Cohen, who made a $130,000 hush payment to porn star Stormy Daniels on Mr Trump’s behalf, testifies.

Mr Scharf says the former president is innocent of the criminal charges he faces in New York City of falsifying business records to cover up the nature of the payments, made in the closing weeks of the 2016 US election campaign.

The lawyer called the trial “smoke and mirrors… a political trial with deep evidentiary deficiencies”, claiming it “amounts to a deliberate campaign of election interference, and that assertion is being borne out in court every single day”.

FILE - Michael Cohen, former attorney to Donald Trump, leaves the District Attorney's office in New York, March 13, 2023. Cohen is prosecutors' most central witness in former President Donald Trump's hush money trial. But Trump's fixer-turned-foe is also as challenging a star witness as they come. The now-disbarred lawyer has a tortured history with Trump. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, File)
Michael Cohen, former attorney to Mr Trump, leaves the District Attorney’s office in New York, 13 March. Mr Cohen is the prosecution’s central witness in the hush money trial (Photo: Yuki Iwamura/AP)

Mr Scharf – who as a member of Mr Trump’s appellate team in St Louis helps lodge appeals against rulings in this case and others – claimed Judge Merchan had conceded uncertainty about the order’s scope by proving unable to define its reach.

“If in doubt, steer clear”, was the judge’s advice to Mr Trump about his outbursts.

Mr Trump’s team, however, appear confident that prison is not on cards. “I don’t think that’s a realistic possibility,” said Mr Scharf, adding: “We’re obviously taking efforts to comply with the gag order.”

He warned a conviction “would be a serious miscarriage of justice, which we would obviously challenge on appeal”.

“This entire trial was calculated to be a media circus,” Mr Scharf added, calling the proceedings “a political trial” by prosecutors “ intent on introducing as much atmospherically prejudicial evidence as humanly possible”.

The lawyers are planning to do everything possible to discredit Mr Cohen’s testimony, whose pre-trial criticism of Mr Trump opens the door for questioning.

The team has also expressed the belief that this trial will be the only criminal proceeding that sees the former president in the dock before November’s election.

Two federal cases – one accusing Mr Trump of a conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election result, the other charging him with mishandling classified documents – have been kicked into the long legal grass. A separate criminal case in Georgia alleging election interference is also advancing at snail’s pace.

Once the New York case wraps up, Mr Scharf predicts, “president Trump is going to have the ability to campaign vigorously for office” -and is unworried about a prison sentence limiting such activities.

The lawyer casts Mr Trump’s attorneys as defenders of election integrity.

“Go back to last summer, and I think the plan was very clear: to basically get president Trump on trial perhaps as early as January, and then keep him on trial in various cases throughout the election campaign,” said Mr Scharf.

“We’ve tested these cases in various ways, both legally and factually in the courts… I think our team is winning. I think we’ve protected, in large part, the integrity of the 2024 election process.”