Lawsuits may offer fodder for attack ads

Published 10:34 am Friday, June 17, 2016

SAN DIEGO — The presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are both trying to prevent the release of videos that are critical to legal cases involving the candidates.

Trump’s lawyers are intensifying efforts to stop the release of video of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee testifying under oath in a fraud lawsuit about the now-defunct Trump University. They told a federal judge in San Diego Wednesday that the video could be used by the media and Trump’s opponents during the campaign.

Lawyers for a top Clinton aide used similar arguments to persuade another judge to keep video depositions sealed in a lawsuit about the likely Democratic nominee’s use of a private email server while she was America’s top diplomat.

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While the arguments are similar, judges may treat them differently.

In the Clinton case, a federal judge in the District of Columbia ruled last month that transcripts of all depositions be made public but that audio and video be sealed.

In Trump’s case in San Diego, U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel — a target of Trump’s intense, enduring scorn — hasn’t decided how much to release and whether it should include audio and video.

Late Wednesday, Trump lawyer Daniel Petrocelli expanded on why the videos should stay private, saying they could fuel a “media frenzy.” His seven-page filing raises no objection to releasing transcripts.

“Owing to the danger that a video may create in eliciting bias on the part of its viewer, the Court has a duty to prevent their disclosure because they can taint the jury pool. Undoubtedly, these videos also will be used by the media and others in connection with the presidential campaign,” he wrote.

The outcome may shape attack ads on issues that have dogged both candidates. John Geer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University who studies attack ads in presidential campaigns, said video is “great stuff” to tarnish opponents.

“It helps to make the case by having not only the words but the person actually saying them,” Geer said. “It’s not just the message, it’s the messenger. … Sometimes the transcripts will be sterile. You can’t detect sarcasm. The body language makes a difference.”

Partial transcripts have been released of Trump testifying at an all-day deposition Dec. 10 at his New York office and for three hours on Jan. 21 at a Las Vegas law office. Several news organizations are seeking full disclosure of those sessions — including video — and Curiel is expected to rule at a hearing June 30 or soon after.

Lawyers representing Trump University’s former customers in two class-action suits in San Diego argue they should be permitted to release video excerpts because they present “a more complete picture” than the transcripts.