If Trump Trial Isn't Broadcast Live, a Plea to Record It for Posterity

A request to broadcast one of Donald Trump's federal trials made an intriguing backup argument, one rooted not in the news cycle but in ensuring a complete historical record.

If Trump Trial Isn't Broadcast Live, a Plea to Record It for Posterity

News organizations filed two documents this month asking a federal court in Washington to permit live television coverage of President Donald J. Trump's trial on the charges that he had conspired to undercut the 2020 elections. They are facing a steep uphill battle.

The Supreme Court, in particular, has been wary about cameras in courtrooms for many years.

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One of the applications

, the corporate parent of NBC News made an interesting backup argument. It was based on the text of a major roadblock for live television coverage.

Rule 53 of Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure


The application stated that Rule 53 permits the court to record proceedings for posterity.

The rule prohibits "the broadcasting from the courtroom of judicial proceedings." NBC's request focuses on the last three letters, arguing that audio and video from the trial can be distributed other than through broadcast 'from courtroom'.

This argument, which relies on the plain language of the provision is consistent with the textualism mode of statutory interpreting that conservatives often embrace. NBC argued relaying a courtroom video feed to its studios and then broadcasting to the public after a short delay would not violate the rule.

This argument may seem too clever to some. It does, however, point out a fundamental issue: the judge who is overseeing the case.

Tanya S. Chutkan

The court could authorise the creation of audiovisual recordings and their release in due time, responding not to claims of the news cycle, but to historical records. This would not appear to be broadcasting in the courtroom.

Rebecca Blumenstein (NBC News' president of editorial and a former vice managing editor at The New York Times) asked Judge Chutkan for the judge to do this.

"At a minimum, I urge the court to permit video recording of proceedings, for historical posterity," Ms. Blumenstein stated in

A sworn declaration

NBC submitted the following with its application. It would be a huge loss to future generations of Americans if they were unable to view and access the events of the trial, even years after the decision. This would greatly improve their ability to accurately and meaningfully analyse this unique chapter in American history.

Second application

The Times and a coalition including other news organizations pointed out that the courtroom of Judge Chutkan 'is already set up to record and broadcast criminal proceedings.

The application stated that the district court courtrooms are equipped with cameras which can be used to livestream proceedings to overflow rooms and media rooms. In fact, the court streamed President Trump's August 11 arraignment to two media rooms, one for the media and the other for the public.

This shows two things. Not all courtroom coverage is broadcast, and creating an historical record would only require minimal effort. The video can be released in a few days, weeks, or even at the conclusion of a trial.

There are some loosely similar precedents.

After leaving office in 1990

Questioned about President Ronald Reagan

In the trial of an ex-aide, a videotaped testimony was used. After the jury had seen the video, the judge allowed it to be played.

Publicly available


In 1998, President Bill Clinton

Give grand jury testimony

Over closed-circuit TV, he spoke about his relationship to a White House Intern. A month later Congress

Released a recording

The testimony.

NBC's application stated that 'this time', a former president is being tried for alleged misconduct while he was in office. Therefore, the need for direct and immediate access by the public to proceedings is at its height. Americans and history should not miss the opportunity to watch this historic trial. It involves allegations of conduct that go to the core of our democracy.

The Supreme Court of the United States has announced its 2010 schedule.

Plan blocked

You can also find out more about the following:

Stream the trial

Courthouses across the country are preparing to hear a case challenging Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex weddings. Details are not important; the court didn't address the First Amendment, and a majority reserved judgement on whether cameras should be allowed in courtrooms.

The unsigned opinion stated that 'the question of whether courtroom proceedings ought to be broadcasted has caused considerable debate in the country'. "Reasonable minds disagree on how to resolve this debate, and the conditions and procedures that should be followed for such broadcasts. Here, we do not express any opinions on the appropriateness of broadcasting general court proceedings.

It is important that the trial be recorded for posterity.

Last year, the review was denied

In a final call, it was made accessible on

A federal court's channel on YouTube

For citizens and historians.