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Trump claims he wants to testify at his trial. No one else thinks he should.

On the eve of his criminal trial, Donald Trump told reporters in Florida that he would take the stand and testify if necessary. “All I can do is tell the truth,” Trump proclaimed.

That boast is about to be put to the test, as Trump and his defense team decide in the coming days whether to present him as a witness.

But among legal experts and even Trump’s political allies, there’s already a unanimous verdict: He would be a fool to testify.

His Republican backers say the New York trial is a sham and prosecutors haven’t proven their case — so why bother? Former prosecutors say he would open himself up to all sorts of damaging questions, from whether he had sex with porn star Stormy Daniels to alleged fraudulent business practices and inquiries about his honesty that could be political and legal landmines.

And several pointed to the simple fact that he’s Donald Trump.

“He’s somebody who’s not controlled, who is going to be all over the place,” said Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor and legal analyst.

As Trump’s historic criminal trial winds down, with closing arguments delivered as soon as next week, one of the biggest questions remaining (besides the jury’s verdict) is whether the former president will take the stand in his own defense. While there may be some political benefits to Trump testifying, including boasting to his supporters that he wasn’t afraid to tell his side of the story, the legal risks, many say, are too high.

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), a former attorney and close Trump ally who attended the trial last week, said, speaking generally, that it’s tough “especially if you have a loquacious client.”

“They want to respond to everything and that’s not always the best thing,” he said. “Quite frankly, there are times where you look at it and say, ‘There is no benefit to a client testifying.’”

Trump, who has violated a gag order 10 times and has been threatened with jail time if he defies it again, is notorious for speaking his mind even when it’s not in his best interests. When Daniels testified for the prosecution earlier this month, Trump was cursing loudly enough that Justice Juan Merchan told the former president’s lawyer to tell him to cool it.

In a federal defamation trial in January, where the writer E. Jean Carroll sued over remarks Trump made denying her rape allegation, the former president testified for about three minutes. During the short time on the stand, he answered five questions with direct replies and without incident.

But when Trump took the stand and testified for four hours during a separate civil fraud trial last November, he lost his temper and attacked the judge overseeing the case, saying: “It’s a terrible thing you’ve done. You know nothing about me.”

“Anybody testifying for their own sake, it doesn’t play out well,” said Rep. Mike Bost, an Illinois Republican who Trump endorsed in February. “He’ll have plenty of time after the trial to say what he wants once they remove the gag order — and he will.”

Trump has been deposed in numerous lawsuits over the years, including briefly in connection with lawsuits brought by former FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page against the Justice Department and bureau leaders.

But Trump has also repeatedly declined other chances to testify in matters that pose political and legal risks. He briefly flirted with, but ultimately opted against, testifying to the Jan. 6 select committee despite a subpoena. And he also refused while president to be interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller, who declined to try to compel Trump’s cooperation.

Trump’s spokesperson declined to comment.

From a legal standpoint, defendants have an absolute right not to testify, and juries are instructed not to draw any conclusions if they don’t. In closing arguments, prosecutors are unable to comment on a defendant not testifying.

Sarah Krissoff, a former federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York who is now in private practice, said there are benefits to Trump testifying. From the witness stand, he’d have a chance to tell his own story which could be riveting to the jury. It would also humanize him, she said.

But there are also many drawbacks, namely that prosecutors would gain an opportunity to cross-examine him on a host of topics, depending on what the judge allows.

“And Trump has so much baggage here — his own story about these events has shifted over time, so he will be painted as a liar by the prosecution,” Krissoff said. “It will be very hard for him to maintain a calm and cool demeanor, and the jury may simply not like him.”

Barbara McQuade, a University of Michigan law professor and former U.S. attorney, also emphasized the downsides of allowing Trump to testify, especially that the jury would likely learn about the Carroll defamation case. Other unrelated cases could also come up, including that Trump and his company were found liable in civil court for inflating their assets to benefit themselves financially.

Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.), who last week attended the trial to support the former president, said that there’s not much point to having him testify. The defense team, she said, “hit a home run” when they cross-examined Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen. And, there’s a sense that the trial is essentially wrapped up.

“I don’t think he really needs to at this point. I think it’s kind of over,” she said. “We just need a fair jury. We should be able to get one person on that jury.”

Betsy Woodruff, Alex Isenstadt and Anthony Adragna contributed to this report.

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Author: POLITICO