Expert Describes Why Trump’s Probation Interview Was ‘Highly Unusual’

Reuters/Brendan McDermid
Reuters/Brendan McDermid

Donald Trump sat down with a New York City probation official on Monday for a court-mandated, pre-sentencing meeting—but legal experts say the former president didn’t receive the same treatment as other recent convicts in the city.

Citing an unnamed source, the Associated Press reported around 6 p.m. Monday that Trump’s interview had wrapped up after “less than a half-hour of routine and uneventful questions and answers.”

Mayor Eric Adam’s office confirmed to The Daily Beast that Trump was permitted to attend the probation meeting through Zoom, with his defense attorney, Todd Blanche, seated by his side.

That’s not the typical procedure for most convicted felons, however, said Martin Horn, a former commissioner of the New York City Department of Corrections and Probation who now lectures at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Horn told The Daily Beast on Monday that Trump’s virtual meeting—with the added protection of his lawyer—was “highly unusual” and likely changed the dynamic of the entire encounter. He said pre-sentencing meetings are usually held in person, allowing a probation officer to ask pressing questions about a convict’s life without outside interference.

Those same questions were likely asked Monday, Horn said, but Trump had Blanche to lean on for answers from the comfort of Mar-a-Lago.

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Horn said the purpose of a probation interview is to learn about a felon’s social and criminal history, their financial situation, marital life, and of any health issues that may be pertinent when deciding a potential prison sentence. Information gathered from the meeting is given to the case’s judge, who then takes it into consideration when deciding a sentence.

Trump, like all other felons, wasn’t under oath during his meeting. That means he could have lied or fudged certain answers without immediate consequence, but those hypothetical fibs—if confirmed to be untrue—could lead Judge Juan Merchan to issue Trump a stiffer sentence for not cooperating, Horn said.

Many specifics from Monday’s meeting remains unknown, and city officials were vague when reached by The Daily Beast. Ivette Dávila-Richards, a spokesperson for Adams’ office, said all New York City convicts are permitted to request a virtual probation meeting—a policy that’s been in place since before the COVID-19 pandemic. She said claims that Trump was receiving special treatment were “ridiculous.”

“Trump is no exception,” she insisted. “He’s being treated the same as any defendant convicted of a crime.”

That policy will likely come as news to public defender groups in the city, however, who released a joint statement to the New York Daily News to grill prosecutors and the city’s probation office for allowing Trump to attend the meeting virtually with Blanche.

“All people convicted of crimes should be allowed counsel in their probation interview, not just billionaires,” read a statement issued by The Legal Aid Society, The Bronx Defenders, New York County Defender Services, and the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem. “This is just another example of our two-tiered system of justice.

“Pre-sentencing interviews with probation officers influence sentencing, and public defenders are deprived of joining their clients for these meetings. The option of joining these interviews virtually is typically not extended to the people we represent either.”

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Some have written off Trump’s probation meeting as being merely a formality because he’s already among the most vetted criminals, if not the most vetted criminal, in the world.

Horn said he disagrees with those takes, however. He said the meeting, which he estimates could span hours, will likely unearth important details about Trump’s life that Merchan is unaware of.

Trump, who turns 78 on Friday, was convicted on 34 felony counts last month for falsifying business records to cover up an affair he allegedly had with Stormy Daniels in 2006.

Trump has been given until Thursday to submit his pre-sentence report, which could include letters from loved ones who speak glowingly on his behalf, and prosecutors will have until June 27 to do the same. Those reports will also include both sides’ recommended sentences.

Prosecutors have not indicated if they’ll request Trump be sentenced to prison time, but legal experts have told The Daily Beast last month that Trump’s charges, age, and his lack of criminal history will likely mean he gets off with probation.

Reps for Trump, including his campaign spokesperson, Steven Cheung, did not respond to a request for comment about Monday’s meeting.

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Richard Serafini, a former New York and federal prosecutor, told the Daily News that the probation meeting’s purpose is to give a judge a “complete picture” of someone’s life. He added that a judge is often looking to see if the newly-convicted criminal was showing remorse for their crime or not.

“What’s usually really important is that the person shows some regret for having committed the crime, that they accept responsibility, and indicate that they’re sorry,” he said.

Trump has vehemently denied any wrongdoing in his case and gave no indication he plans to show a sliver of remorse in a meeting with a parole officer. He addressed the meeting in a fundraising email blasted out Monday, providing some insight into what he thinks about the ordeal.

“Can you believe this, Friend?” the email read. “I’m actually about to speak to a probation officer after my RIGGED CONVICTION! My only crime? Putting the AMERICAN PEOPLE, ahead of the COMMUNISTS, MARXISTS, AND FASCISTS that want to see our country DESTROYED.”

Trump’s sentencing is scheduled for July 11, just four days before the Republican National Convention

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