Trump’s ‘surrogates’ fill the courthouse to get around his gag order

Defendant Trump’s allies can attack witnesses and jurors on his behalf while staring them down inside the courtroom at his hush money trial in Manhattan

Alex Woodward
in Manhattan criminal court
Wednesday 15 May 2024 02:34
Hush money trial ‘weaponised’ against Trump, speaker Johnson claims

Donald Trump could end up in jail or face thousands of dollars in fines if he continues to violate a gag order blocking him from publicly attacking witnesses and the jury in his hush money trial in Manhattan.

So instead, Republican members of Congress and GOP officials have responded to his distress signals and traveled to New York, where they can menace them from inside the courtroom or just outside its doors.

Jurors and witnesses testifying against the criminal defendant former president now enter a room where a growing number of lawmakers and powerful Trump allies can stare them down and say whatever they want about them, in person and online.

But the trial’s gag order explicitly prohibits Mr Trump from “making or directing others to make public statements” about witnesses and jurors and other parties in the case, and the former president’s allies are now echoing his grievances and attacks.

House Speaker Mike Johnson – the nation’s highest-ranking Republican – joined a fleet of Trump allies in Manhattan on Tuesday, a remarkable moment in American politics that pitted the GOP and its presidential candidate against the judicial system altogether.

Mr Johnson did not step one foot into the courtroom on Tuesday, but he held a press conference on the other side of the street from the courthouse to attack the man sitting on the witness stand: Michael Cohen, whose crucial testimony connected Mr Trump to the fraudulent scheme at the center of his criminal charges.

“This is a man who is clearly on a mission for personal revenge,” Mr Johnson said. “No one should believe a word he says in there.”

A thing like that, out of Mr Trump’s mouth, could land him in jail for contempt. But now, Mr Trump has his “surrogates,” defendant Trump told reporters in the courthouse hallway on Tuesday.

“And they are speaking very beautifully.”

US Rep Byron Donalds, Doug Burgum, House Speaker Mike Johnson, Vivek Ramaswamy and US Rep Cory Mills watch Donald Trump speak in a Manhattan criminal court hallway on 14 May. (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

On Monday, Republican senators JD Vance and Tommy Tuberville joined Mr Trump in court.

The next day, Republican US Reps Byron Donalds and Cory Mills and former Republican presidential candidates Vivek Ramaswamy and Doug Burgum filled the room, along with Mr Trump’s son Eric Trump and wife Lara Trump, now the co-chair of the Republican National Committee.

On Monday, Mr Vance made Mr Trump’s intentions clear: His allies are there to say what Mr Trump is “prevented from saying, which is a disgrace,” he told reporters on Monday.

Mr Tuberville was even more explicit. He told Newsmax that he went to the trial to “overcome the gag order.”

He even attacked the makeup of the jury in his remarks to reporters in a hallway just steps away from where the randomly selected group of Manhattan residents were assembled to hear the case.

“I am disappointed at looking at the American citizens – supposedly American citizens – in that courtroom,” he said on Monday.

In a press conference outside the courthouse on Tuesday, Mr Ramaswamy derided the “fourth-rate prosecutors and a fifth-rate lawyer on the stand.”

And one after one, Mr Trump’s allies attacked the judge’s daughter as if they all pulled from the same script – claims that, if they came from Mr Trump’s Truth Social or out of his mouth, would ensure him severe sanctions or jail time.

“Among the atrocities here, the judge’s own daughter is making millions of dollars doing online fundraising for Democrats,” Mr Johnson said.

“The judge’s daughter herself is also fundraising off this for people like Adam Schiff and the Biden administration,” Mr Mills said.

“His daughter is raising money for Democrats,” said Mr Donalds. “And all of the fundraising emails are about this trial that his daughter is using ... This is a travesty of justice.”

Mr Ramaswamy demanded an accounting for her “millions of dollars as a Democratic operative”.

US Senator JD Vance watches Donald Trump address reporters outside his hush money trial on 13 May. (via REUTERS)

Senator Rick Scott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton have also joined the former president in court. Like Mr Trump, his allies have baselessly asserted that the trial is a Democratic-led conspiracy to crush Mr Trump’s chances of winning the 2024 presidential election, under the direction of President Joe Biden.

But their appearances at the courthouse this week coincided with pivotal testimony in the case, making their press conferences and hallway distractions all the more obvious.

In more than seven hours of testimony over seven days, Cohen explained how Mr Trump – furious and terrified about the prospect of damning stories from women derailing his 2016 campaign – directed him to pay hush money to adult film star Stormy Daniels to bury her story about having sex with Mr Trump, then submitted fraudulent invoices to cover up reimbursements as mere “legal expenses.”

Dozens of New Yorkers line up before sunrise in the hopes of securing one of a handful of seats inside the 15th-floor courtroom. Government-issued press badges are journalists’ permission slips to use their laptops and phones in court. Members of the public, however, are forced to stow away their devices.

But if you’re a Republican elected official or high-profile GOP figure in Mr Trump’s entourage, you can fire off social media posts from just feet away from the former president, his attorneys, the judge and jury. You can skip the massive early-morning lines and head straight for the 15th-floor

Mr Trump’s attorney Alina Habba, who is not representing him in this case, as well as Eric Trump and Mr Ramaswamy routinely pulled out their phones throughout the trial on Tuesday. Mr Vance appeared to be posting on X from inside on Monday moments after Cohen appeared on the stand. “The president is expected to sit here for six weeks to listen to the Michael Cohens of the world,” he wrote.

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