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Trump gets by with a little help from his friends during New York hush money trial

Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., vice president hopeful and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, House Speaker Mike Johnson, former GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy and Rep. Cory Mills, R-Fla., joined the former president in court Tuesday morning.
Curtis Means/Daily Mail/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., vice president hopeful and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, House Speaker Mike Johnson, former GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy and Rep. Cory Mills, R-Fla., joined the former president in court Tuesday morning.

NEW YORK — Former President Donald Trump has to appear in a Manhattan criminal courthouse four days a week. He has complained about the proceedings and how they impact his 2024 campaign efforts. So, he's bringing friends to make the days a little better.

From Texas to Florida and Ohio to Alabama, Trump's allies have made a trip to New York to attend part, or whole days, of Trump's historic criminal trial. This is the first criminal trial against a sitting or former U.S. president.

Trump has solidified his status as the leader of the Republican Party. As he runs for president for a third time as the party's top contender, he utilizes the courtroom as just another stop on the campaign trail, even as it has kept him out of the traditional campaign arena.

His campaign regularly sends out fundraising emails, falsely boasting that he has "stormed" out of the courtroom after unfavorable rulings and he brings his closest allies to the courtroom itself.

Still, all guests volunteer to come to court to support their friend, President Trump, and are not invited by the campaign, according to a Trump campaign official.

The biggest crowd came on Tuesday, when House Speaker Mike Johnson, Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., Rep. Cory Mills, R-Fla., vice president hopeful and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and former GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy flanked the former president. Standing behind Trump as he spoke to reporters outside the courtroom, the guests enjoyed Trump's praise.

"I do have a lot of surrogates and they are speaking very beautifully," Trump boasted. "They come from all over, and they're highly respected and they think this is the biggest scam they've ever seen ... Election Day cannot get here soon enough."

Johnson, who came into the courthouse with Trump and the others, did not enter the courtroom itself andinstead delivered remarks outsidein defense of his friend, Trump.

"The system is using all the tools at its disposal right now to punish one president and provide cover for another," Johnson said. "They're using this trial as a hook. It's so corrupt and everybody knows it."

The entourage arrived on the second day of Michael Cohen's witness testimony. Once also a staunch Trump "protector," he testified to Trump's knowledge and involvement in hush money payments made to an adult film star and the reimbursements paid to Cohen that constitute 34 felony charges of falsified business records.

Ohio U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance speaks during a press conference in Collect Pond Park on Monday, the 16th day of the hush money trial of former President Donald Trump in the Manhattan borough of New York City.
/ José A. Alvarado Jr. for NPR
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José A. Alvarado Jr. for NPR
Ohio U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance speaks during a press conference in Collect Pond Park on Monday, the 16th day of the hush money trial of former President Donald Trump in the Manhattan borough of New York City.

These are also not his first high-profile political guests. To kick off Cohen's testimony, Trump came with the company of Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-N.Y., Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall and Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird.

Trump again said his guests came "to show up, they view this as a scam," noting that among his guests were some legal experts, including acknowledging Bird as one of them.

Outside the courtroom, Vance said he was there to show up and support "for a friend."

"What's going on inside that courtroom is a threat to democracy," Vance said, accusing the "sham trial" of being politically motivated.

Meanwhile Tuberville called the courtroom "depressing" and said it is putting Trump through "mental anguish," reiterating that he was here for his friend.

Last week, Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., came for the morning of the second day of questioning for adult film star Stormy Daniels. Later on Fox News,Scott also said he supported his friend and called the trial political persecution. Before that, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton joined Trump.

Eric Trump, one of the former president's sons and current executives of the Trump Organization, has been the only family member to regularly attend the proceedings. Tuesday's group also brought in Lara Trump, who now co-chairs the Republican National Committee.

Unlike his past civil trials in the Big Apple, for this criminal trial, Trump is required to attend each day in person — although the judge has granted permission for special absences such as his son Barron's graduation during which court will not be in session. The former president has vowed to attend court during the day and travel to campaign events at night— he has taken days off court to do Midwest rallies and other events nearby, including in the city.

Meanwhile, Trump speaks to the press assembled outside the courtroom daily. He used his time in front of cameras to be vocal about his opinions on the judge, court staff, the public officials bringing charges against him and the cases. He also uses these appearances to talk about the issues he is running on, like the jobs report, foreign policy and congressional debates.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Alabama U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville, center, speaks during a press conference in Collect Pond Park on Monday, the 16th day of the hush money trial of former President Donald Trump.
/ José A. Alvarado Jr. for NPR
/
José A. Alvarado Jr. for NPR
Alabama U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville, center, speaks during a press conference in Collect Pond Park on Monday, the 16th day of the hush money trial of former President Donald Trump.

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Ximena Bustillo
Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.