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GOP politicians rush to Manhattan to line up behind Trump as hush money trial continues


GOP politicians rush to Manhattan to line up behind Trump as hush money trial continues

May 14, 2024 | 5:34 pm ET
By Ashley Murray
GOP politicians rush to Manhattan to line up behind Trump as hush money trial continues
Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, and U.S. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., watch as former U.S. President Donald Trump walks towards the courtroom for his hush money trial at Manhattan Criminal Court on May 14, 2024, in New York City. (Michael M. Santiago | Getty Images)

WASHINGTON – Republican lawmakers are taking turns supporting former president and presumed 2024 GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump in his trial in Manhattan criminal court, where he is charged with covering up payments intended to silence porn star Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 election.

Dressed alike in navy blue suits and red ties, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, viewed as a 2024 vice presidential contender, former GOP primary hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy, and U.S. Reps. Byron Donalds and Cory Mills of Florida filed behind Trump into the courtroom Tuesday morning, according to reporters present. Outside, U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, conducted a press conference.

The entourage followed appearances Monday by U.S. Sens. J.D. Vance of Ohio, another contender on Trump’s VP short list, and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, and Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird, as well as an appearance last week by U.S. Sen. Rick Scott of Florida.

Tuesday’s show of solidarity occurred as the prosecution’s star witness and former Trump fixer Michael Cohen took the stand for a second day to testify that Trump signed off on falsifying reimbursement to Cohen for $130,000 of his own money that Cohen paid to Daniels on the eve of the 2016 election.

Jurors again saw checks signed by Trump, and heard from Cohen about instructions from Trump associates to submit fake invoices for “legal services rendered.” Cohen also described a February 2017 Oval Office meeting during which he discussed the reimbursement with Trump, according to reporters at the courthouse.

New York does not allow recording in the courtroom but provides public transcripts of the proceedings.

Cohen followed high-profile and detailed testimony last week from adult film actress and director Daniels about her alleged sex affair with Trump in 2006, an event he denies.

Trump is facing 34 felony counts for each alleged falsified business record related to his repayment to Cohen – 11 invoices, 11 checks, and 12 ledger entries.

A ‘sham’ to ‘keep him off of the campaign trail’

Out on the sidewalk, Johnson – the second in line for presidential succession after the vice president – told reporters he wanted “to call out what is a travesty of justice.”

With a sarcastic snicker and gesture toward the New York County Supreme Court location on Centre Street in Lower Manhattan, Johnson lamented that he had to speak to media outside “because the court won’t allow us to speak inside the building. That’s just one of the many things that are wrong here.”

It’s worth noting that surrogates routinely make comments outside courthouses.

Johnson summed up what he called a “sham trial” as a conspiracy to stymie Trump’s reelection campaign – despite recent New York Times/Siena College polls showing the former president leading in several swing states.

“This is the fifth week that President Trump has been in court for this sham of a trial,” Johnson said. “They are doing this intentionally to keep him here and keep him off of the campaign trail, and I think everybody in the country can see that for what it is.”

The trial meets weekdays, except Wednesdays.

Trump hit the campaign trail Saturday at a rally in Wildwood, New Jersey, where he spoke for 90 minutes, criticizing the New York trial, repeating false claims that he won the 2020 presidential election, calling the “late, great” fictional cannibal serial killer Hannibal Lecter “a wonderful man,” and thanking the six U.S. Supreme Court justices – three of whom he appointed – for overturning Roe v. Wade.

‘Election interference’

Trump’s allies echoed Johnson’s earlier remarks in their own press conference later outside the courthouse, calling the trial a “scam” and “joke,” according to reporters at the event.

Ramaswamy reportedly likened the courtroom to a “Kafka novel” and called it “one of the most depressing places I have been in my life” and said the prosecution’s strategy is “to bore jurors into submission.”

In a video of the press conference he posted to X, the entrepreneur said the “justice system should be blind to politics” and accused Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg of targeting Trump for political reasons.

Burgum characterized the trial as “election interference” in the 2024 race. Meanwhile, Trump’s critics say the trial is squarely about election interference that occurred in 2016.

Mills said “what was the Department of Justice, now the department of injustice, has continued to be utilized against the American people.”

The charges for which Trump is now on trial did not originate with the U.S. Department of Justice, but rather from a New York state grand jury investigation.

Trump’s two federal cases are in a holding pattern while, for one, the U.S. Supreme Court deliberates over Trump’s claim of absolute immunity from criminal charges that he schemed to subvert the 2020 presidential election results. The second, centered on Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified documents following his presidency, has been put indefinitely on hold by federal district Judge Aileen Cannon in Florida.

The New York trial is expected to resume Thursday with further cross-examination of Cohen by Trump attorney Todd Blanche.