The special was filmed in the Moot Court of John Jay’s New Building, where a group of students served as a mock jury while Candidate for Illinois Attorney General Renato Mariotti and renowned criminal defense lawyer Alan Dershowitz acted as the prosecution and defense. After listening to opening statements and discussion, which included Executive Director of the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity Jennifer G. Rodgers and President of the Brennan Center for Justice Michael Waldman, students were invited to share their opinions on whether they believed the Trump Campaign really colluded.
“At times it was challenging to make a decision,” said Jasmine Awad, a junior majoring in Criminal Justice. “Sometimes, I agreed with the defense and other times I agreed with the prosecution.”
Though “collusion” is the word most often used to describe Mueller’s investigation, students learned that collusion itself is not a federal crime. Rather, the actual legal issue is conspiracy, and what Mueller is investigating is whether or not the Trump Campaign conspired with Russians to violate federal law.
Micah Bryant, a senior majoring in Criminal Justice, said he hadn’t realized there was such a distinction. “Both sides had convincing arguments on whether collusion actually expanded into conspiracy,” he said. “It was great to have access to these great legal minds going back and forth,” he added, referring to Mariotti and Dershowitz.
Experiencing the trial exposed students to other intricacies of the Mueller investigation. Students learned about the different potential federal laws violated, the ramifications of providing false statements to federal investigators, as well as what constitutes obstruction of justice. “Now that I’m more familiar with the legal standards, I’m looking at this differently,” said Veeana Singh, a junior majoring in Political Science.
Charles Davidson, Director of the Pre-Law Institute and Center for Post-Graduate Opportunities at John Jay, said that he was unsurprised at how enthusiastic students were to learn more about the Russia investigation. “Our Pre-Law Institute students are deeply concerned about the pressing legal issues and political controversies facing our nation,” he said.The filming also provided a unique opportunity for students to learn about the inner workings of a courtroom. For Dean Estimable, a sophomore majoring in Criminal Justice, that experience is invaluable. “I had only seen trials on TV shows,” he said. “It was great to learn more about how the process actually works.”
Alondra Cuevas, a senior majoring in Political Science, agrees that seeing the moot performance helped make the investigation less abstract. “Before this, I hadn’t thought about the issue in the context of a courtroom,” she said.
Students not only enjoyed learning more about the practice of law, but also having a behind-the-scenes glimpse at how television shows are made. Cataydra Brown, a junior majoring in Law and Society, hadn’t realized so much went into filming an hour-long show. “It was interesting seeing the production of it as well as all the cameras on set,” she said. “We kept having to do certain parts over.”
After the filming, Ari Melber, whose background includes years of practicing First Amendment law as well as serving as a legislative aide in the U.S. Senate, gathered with students to answer any questions they had following the taping. Students eagerly asked about media and production, as well as additional clarification of legal processes, and Melber thanked students for participating.
“A trial isn’t made up of people who have a political axe to grind. A trial requires real people with an open mind who deliberate with each other,” Melber said. “From what I saw, you all did a good job.”
Watch the full episode on MSNBC.