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Republicans flock to court to curry favor with Trump


May 14, 2024 11:38 PM

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As Donald Trump faces a historic criminal trial, senior Republicans are beating a path to his New York courtroom to hammer home the narrative of a witch hunt and launch proxy attacks on witnesses he is barred from targeting.

A succession of US lawmakers, state-level officials and other figures with designs on a job in the presidential candidate's next administration have made the pilgrimage to circle the wagons and question the legitimacy of the proceedings.

US House Speaker Mike Johnson -- who is second in line to the presidency -- raised eyebrows Tuesday when he became the latest senior Republican to claim outside court that the system was being "weaponized" against Trump.

In a highly unusual intervention by a senior elected US official into ongoing criminal proceedings, Johnson sounded much like the defendant himself as he decried a "sham of a trial."

"I do have a lot of surrogates and they are speaking very beautifully," Trump deflected as he was asked by the press pack outside court if he was directing the attacks.

"They come from all over Washington, and they're highly respected and they think this is the biggest scam they've ever seen."

Trump -- who faces Democratic President Joe Biden in six months in a re-run of the 2020 election -- is accused of falsifying accounts to cover up a $130,000 hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels during his ultimately successful 2016 campaign.

As the trial plays out, the 77-year-old former reality TV star has been mulling an extensive list of potential vice presidents, although he has said an announcement will not come until much closer to the July Republican National Convention.

 Jail threat 

 The case has been an opportunity for hopefuls to show their loyalty and potential utility as a running mate -- or future cabinet official -- by driving home Trump's messaging while saying what he cannot.

Under a gag order imposed by Judge Juan Merchan, Trump cannot publicly comment on potential witnesses, jurors or court staff. The families of the judge and prosecutors are also out of bounds.

Merchan has held Trump in contempt of court for violating the order 10 times and warned that future breaches could bring jail time.

But the former president's cheerleaders face no such restrictions, and have been on hand to lodge the very same attacks that were getting Trump in hot water.

Trump's former presidential primary rivals Doug Burgum -- who is under consideration for vice president -- and Vivek Ramaswamy were at the court Tuesday alongside Johnson and two Florida congressmen.

A day earlier Ohio's J.D. Vance -- another potential Trump running mate -- showed up alongside fellow Senator Tommy Tuberville and a handful of state-level elected officials.

Michael Cohen, Trump's one-time lawyer turned chief antagonist, is at the center of the trial as the person who prosecutors hope will tie Trump to the alleged cover-up and has been a favorite target of the "surrogates."

Vance attempted to discredit the star witness, suggesting the testimony of a "convicted felon" could not be trusted and going after the political affiliations of the judge's daughter.


 Tuberville questioned the citizenship of people in the courtroom without elaborating -- a comment interpreted by the Biden campaign as an attack on the jury.

Beyond shouted questions from the press, there is no suggestion Trump has been directing the attacks, which would put him in violation of his gag order again.

Rick Scott, the first senator to make a personal appearance at the trial last week, reportedly told Politico he was invited by Trump's senior campaign aide, Susie Wiles.

Tuberville told Fox Business he wasn't invited by the Trump campaign, and that he "just showed up" with Vance.

Some political analysts have pointed out in any case that Trump's allies hardly need explicit instructions on how to echo his grievances in front of the media.

"He can't do it for fear that he might go to jail next time, and so he's got his little henchmen out here doing it for him," said Tim Miller, who was communications director for the Jeb Bush 2016 presidential campaign.

The Republicans who have appeared to support Trump are a small minority of the party establishment, of course, and there have been occasional voices opposed to the show of support.

"Have to admit I'm surprised that (Speaker Johnson) wants to be in the 'I cheated on my wife with a porn star' club," Liz Cheney, a former member of the House Republican leadership turned Trump critic, posted on X.

"I guess he's not that concerned with teaching morality to our young people after all."


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