Trump on Trial

In the courtroom with Trump, an artist's front row seat to history

Court sketch artist Elizabeth Williams has illustrated many court room scenes in her decades of work. It wasn't her first time drawing Donald Trump.

Sketch artist Elizabeth Williams captures the moment Donald Trump grimaces at a prosecutor in a NYC courtroom.
Sketch artist Elizabeth Williams captures the moment Donald Trump grimaces at a prosecutor in a NYC courtroom.

It was not Elizabeth Williams' first time in a courtroom sketching the now-former President Donald Trump. 

Examining his every move and etching some of the visual moments in time in her mind for additional drawings she would complete later. 

She took a moment to speak about the 56 minutes she spent in a Manhattan courtroom on Tuesday observing Trump as he was appearing for an arraignment. 

Years of the former president's political, business and personal life surfaced once again. Investigators and lawyers have examined nearly every granular detail they say they have evidence of, trying to prove the 34 counts of crimes they've put on his name, in an attempt officially solidify the alleged crimes on his record. 

A drawing can capture a moment that a photograph just can't, Williams argued on Tuesday as she spoke by phone while finishing up some drawings requested by the Associated Press -- her employer for this job. 

"I got him not pleading guilty; he didn't look too pleased," she said, referencing a sketch she had finished earlier showing Trump looking up and to his side at the prosecutor, possibly grimacing even by the looks of the drawing. 

"I've got binoculars on him, and I'm not even that far away from him," she said. "He was visually emphatic about pleading not guilty."

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As she studied her subject -- this time one of the most famous politicians in the world -- she said she had to hang on his every move as he sat there stoically studying the prosecutor.

"He was kind of studying, in the way he does, visually, the prosecutor as he was making his case," she said. 

"That sort of disdained look," Williams said. "He was pretty quiet, you know."

She said agitated would be the wrong word to describe Trump's demeanor in court. Maybe disconcerted, she pondered. 

"There wasn't any big 'aha moment,' or anything like that, you know what I'm saying? It was a pretty quick hearing," Williams said, as the sound of pastel or pencil could be heard quickly rushing over the sketch paper in the background. She continued to work just after she was rushed out of the courtroom by a Secret Service sweep. 

The Manhattan courtroom Williams was in during the arraignment was immediately locked after the parties departed, leaving Williams no choice but to dash over to another quiet part of an entirely different court building in New York to finish her work, she said.

She knows these courtrooms well. It's her city. She's been a New Yorker for decades, and she still remembers vividly that other time she was in court with Trump. 

It was the early 1980s and Trump bought the United States Football League's New Jersey Generals franchise for a reported $9 million. Or it could have been $5 million, Trump reportedly said later. 

He would lead other franchise owners in a plan to sue the NFL to try forcing a merger.  

The U.S. Supreme Court eventually upheld the original ruling on a previous judgment on the case's merits, with just $1 awarded to Trump and the other USFL owners. 

So it didn't appear to be the first time Williams saw Trump displeased in court. 

Williams' website is a fascinating depository of historic artistic accounts of some of the most stressful and worst moments in the lives of a list of very high-profile Americans. 

The website includes illustrations of Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein during his sexual assault trial next to others like one of Ghislaine Maxwell, the confidant and partner of convicted pedophile financier Jeffrey Epstein.

She was in the courtroom with R&B singer R. Kelly as he was tried and later convicted of coercing minors to criminal sexual activity among other charges. 

She was in court when Mexican drug kingpin Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán was tried, and the list goes on. Some names that went down in infamy, like "Bernie" Bernard Madoff -- and other cases that were important corporate changes of the wind, that altered the course of capitalism. She co-authored a book of courtroom illustrations, chronicling some key moments in American legal history. 

Williams started her career as an artist in Los Angeles, as a fashion illustrator. "Nobody can make money doing that!" she said. 

So she came to New York to study and work. 

When she's not sketching some of the biggest legal moments in history, she sometimes takes jobs sketching weddings. 

She said weddings are much harder than courtrooms because all the subjects are moving and not seated. 

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Some of the details are mundane. On Tuesday in court with Trump, she described how the judge talked to him about returning to the courtroom on his own recognizance. And how the former president should tone down the language on social media as the proceedings continue. 

The judge asked Trump if he understood, she said. Williams recalled, "And he said emphatically, 'Yes I do.'"

At times he addressed the court, and at other times he "didn't do anything, you know?"

Williams said a big moment was when Trump said the words "not guilty." The words did not come from the mouth of his legal representation. 

"That's the picture," she said. "That's him saying 'not guilty,' because sometimes the lawyers will say it for them."

When the judge spoke to Trump about his social media use, urging him to tone down inflammatory remarks, Williams said she didn't really notice a reaction to that. 

She says he was more focused on the prosecutor. A look of disdain, as she said. Not really intimidation. 

"The photographers didn't get that look. That's why I'm there," she said. "People tend to freeze up in front of a photographer, but they don't in front of an artist. It's odd."

She said she has been doing this for four decades. "That tends to be the way that goes," she said. 

After it was over, Williams "went out the back." 

After finishing the rest of the drawings, she planned to go home and have dinner with her husband. 

Then it's on to the next big case. One you'll be seeing in the news soon.