Donald Trump is preparing to take a risky move in his criminal trials by testifying in his own defense.
In a Wednesday interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, Trump said that he would “absolutely” take the stand during the upcoming trials and that he “looks forward” to doing so. But legal experts say that this could be a dangerous strategy that could backfire on the former president and that it’s likely his team will strongly advise against it.
“It is obviously a high-risk strategy,” legal scholar and Fox News commentator Jonathan Turley told Newsweek. “Trump did not fare well in past depositions, particularly in the E. Jean Carroll case. Just as a good performance can secure an acquittal or hung jury, it can also seal the fate of a defendant if it goes poorly.”
Trump is facing trial for four criminal indictments, the first of which could come as early as the fall.
He has been charged in two federal cases, one concerning classified documents found in his possession at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida and the other related to attempts to overturn the 2020 election that culminated in the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot.
Trump is also facing charges in Manhattan in connection with a hush money payment made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels shortly before the 2020 election. And in Georgia, he has been indicted in another election interference case stemming from a years-long investigation led by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis.
The federal election interference trial has been set for March 4, 2024, while the Manhattan trial is expected to start March 25, 2024. The classified documents trial has been scheduled to begin May 20, 2024. Willis has indicated that she wants a trial to begin on October 23 of this year, but it is unclear if the judge will grant her request.
Asked if he would testify at those trials, Trump told Hewitt, “Oh, yes, absolutely,” adding that “I look forward to testifying. At trial, I’ll testify.”
But Trump’s lawyers may not let him get on the stand because he might say something incriminating or other remarks that could jeopardize the case, legal experts say.
“I wouldn’t trust Donald Trump within five feet of a witness box if I were his lawyer,” constitutional law scholar Anthony Michael Kreis told Newsweek. “There’s really no upshot to putting a loose cannon defendant on the stand.”
“[Trump’s] lawyers will discourage him testifying and being subject to cross-examination,” constitutional lawyer and former Trump impeachment attorney Alan Dershowitz also told Newsweek.
Dave Aronberg, state attorney for Palm Beach County, also said he doubts that Trump’s attorneys will let him testify. Trump taking the stand is like “walking into a perjury trap,” he told Newsweek. “The legal graveyard is strewn with self-assured defendants who thought they could outsmart a well-prepared prosecutor.”
Turley said the biggest risk in Trump taking the stand would be in the Mar-a-Lago case, which he said would present a “target-rich environment for the prosecution.” The lower-stakes cases are either of the election interference trials, particularly the federal one, which he said is “more confined in its scope.”
“However, that calculation would depend on the scope of the questioning after pretrial motions are resolved,” Turley said.
Trump has said that he plans to appeal the trial dates that have been set.