Trump cuts a lonely figure at trial as family and supporters stay home

In stark contrast to the Trump who mugs for camera crews outside the doors, in court the former president appears isolated and small, Oliver O’Connell and Alex Woodward write

Saturday 27 April 2024 00:23 BST
Donald Trump leaving court on 26 April 2024
Donald Trump leaving court on 26 April 2024 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Despite being surrounded by a cadre of lawyers and Secret Service agents, Donald Trump cuts something of a lonely figure sitting in court listening to testimony at his first trial on criminal charges.

When he arrives, behind the pair of agents and leading a pack of attorneys and others in his entourage, he is the first to sit at the defence table. He is briefly alone, staring at nothing in particular, with his hands clasped and his shoulders tight as he leans on the wide table in front of him.

When his attorneys speak privately with the judge or the prosecution, he’s left by himself. The screens that capture the courtroom around him — which are also broadcast in an adjoining room for other assembled press — make the room appear massive.

He looks small against the empty space where his attorneys would sit and the reserved but unoccupied seats behind him.

Mr Trump sinks deeper into his red cushioned chair in the courtroom over the course of the day. The shoulders of his suit jacket crumple around him.

His eyes are closed for most of the proceedings, though it’s unclear whether he’s asleep, checked out completely, or trying to focus on the testimony just a few feet away from him. He will frequently tilt his head to the side as if he’s turning his ears to hear better.

Trump often looks completely spent by the end of a day in court (EPA)

By the afternoons, his pale-skinned face will often sink towards the table in front of him. He’s livelier In the morning, chatting with his attorneys or whispering notes to them during testimony. In recent days, he has popped mints from white tins in front of him or pulled them from his right suit jacket pocket.

When the judge adjourns for the day, the former president slowly rises from the defence table, taking in a breath and looking completely spent.

Trump in the courtroom – in stark contrast to the televised Trump who mugs for camera crews outside the doors to dump all over his political rivals and the prosecutors and judges handling the cases against him – has a sunken, tired face. He trudges in and out, scanning the room briefly for the faces he despises, and looks at the ground expressionless.

Curiously, as the second week of proceedings ends, there has been no sign of any members of the Trump family attending in support of the patriarch and former president.

Several loyal aides and advisers have shown their faces — Jason Miller, Alina Habba, Boris Epshteyn, Walt Nauta — but that’s about it.

No Donald Trump Jr. No Eric Trump. Lara Trump and Kimberly Guilfoyle are so far MIA. Ivanka and Jared doubtless send their best. Barron has his upcoming graduation to think about. Where is Tiffany?

Don Jr and Eric faithfully attended and testified at the Trump Organization civil fraud trial, though to be fair they were co-defendants. Ivanka Trump also gave dutifully loyal testimony despite removing herself from the case.

The older Trump brothers have been vocal online and on cable news about the trial since long before it began, but are perhaps too busy to attend in person while they choose officials for their father’s potential next administration.

Most glaringly absent — though understandably given the trial’s focus on infidelity — is Melania Trump.

The former first lady, the third wife of the ex-president, has remained at home in Palm Beach, recently entertaining a Republican LGBT+ group at Mar-a-Lago.

Only a small group of supporters have protested Trump’s trial outside the Manhattan Criminal Court (AFP via Getty Images)

Ms Trump doubtless wants nothing to do with the trial to establish whether hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels and the subsequent alleged falsification of business records were to swing the 2016 election.

She has reportedly called the whole case a “disgrace” and “tantamount to election tampering” itself.

Nevertheless, through a quirk of court scheduling and delay tactics from her husband’s legal team, the final day of week two of the first of the Trump criminal trials fell on her birthday — a fact referenced by the former president as he headed into court on Friday morning.

Unfortunately for Ms Trump, her big day coincided with the testimony of David Pecker, former published of The National Enquirer, specifically about how he had bought the story of her husband’s affair with Playboy playmate Karen McDougal to ensure it was never published.

Soon on Friday, both women’s names were trending together on X.

While Mr Trump wished his wife a happy birthday and announced his intention to fly down to Florida in the evening to be with the former first lady (also posting a video to Truth Social celebrating her), the sentiment further underlined that he was alone.

Perhaps more discouragingly for the former president — given that he posted about it several times during this week’s testimony — his supporters didn’t show up either.

Mr Trump didn’t seem to want to admit that publicly, instead writing online that police barricades and some sort of lockdown around the courthouse in Lower Manhattan prevented “thousands” of loyal fans from protesting his trial.

Journalists covering the case this week were at pains to stress that there were no such restrictions, the streets were open, and so was the park across from the courthouse. A number of anti-Trump protesters managed to show up and marched with a banner reading: “No one is above the law.”

Given his low popularity in Manhattan, a dearth of Trump supporters was not totally unexpected.

Anti-Trump protesters outside his first criminal trial on 25 April 2024 (EPA)

However, the former president enjoys healthy support in parts of the outer boroughs of New York City and beyond in the suburbs of Long Island and parts of New Jersey. One might have expected more would show up than the six or seven seen on Friday morning hawking Trump merchandise.

The former president at one point resorted to calling for protests at courthouses across the country. Those too failed to materialise.

Not even Joe Biden showed up to debate him at the courthouse after proceedings finished on Friday as Mr Trump had demanded following the president’s declaration he’d be “happy” to debate him during an interview in Manhattan that morning.

He resorted to inviting himself to the White House as he left the courtroom.

With the trial expected to last approximately six weeks, we could be almost a third of the way through.

Perhaps some schedules might free up over the next month.

Alex Woodward reports from Manhattan criminal court

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