Trump’s Newest Loyalty Test: Attending His NY Criminal Trial

(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump’s political career is marked by ruthlessly attacking his opponents in order to win, but thanks to his New York City criminal trial, he can’t do that. So he is turning to other Republicans to fight his battles.

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A parade of GOP officials has joined Trump in Manhattan court in a show of solidarity with their party’s presidential nominee, amplifying attacks Trump is barred from making himself by Judge Juan Merchan, who is presiding over the case. The appearances double as a high-profile opportunity to demonstrate their loyalty to Trump, and for some, to audition to be his running mate — who traditionally serves as the nominee’s attack dog — or secure another post in a potential administration.

House Speaker Mike Johnson was among a group of nearly a half dozen Trump acolytes to show up on Tuesday and hold court.

“I’m disgusted by what is happening here, what is being done here to our entire system of justice over all,” Johnson said outside the courthouse.

Others in Tuesday’s group included North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, a potential vice presidential pick; Florida Representatives Byron Donalds and Cory Mills, as well as former primary rival Vivek Ramaswamy. It was one of the largest showings of Trump allies at court since his hush-money trial began.

The appearances have produced an odd spectacle that highlights the extraordinary nature of Trump’s candidacy, which is testing the limits of the US legal and political system. Trump’s allies say they must resort to extreme measures to spread his message, since the former president is unable to hit the campaign trail on trial days.

The Trump campaign contends that the surrogates have attended the proceedings voluntarily. Several allies have reached out to ask if they could join Trump in court and more appearances are expected, a campaign official said. Trump is known to keep tabs of those that he perceives to have fought on his behalf.

“They’re speaking very beautifully and they come from all across,” Trump said Tuesday before entering the courtroom, flanked by allies. “They’re highly respected and they think this is the greatest scam they’ve ever seen.”

Monday’s headliner was Ohio Senator JD Vance, who is also under consideration to become Trump’s running mate. He was joined by Senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama and New York Representative Nicole Malliotakis.

“To the American voters who are watching this, the one opportunity you get to speak up against this sham prosecution and to say the American people elect their president — not corrupt DNC prosecutors — is to vote for Donald Trump in November,” Vance said Monday.

Read More: The Surrogates: Trump’s Strategy for Campaigning From Court

Democrats Respond

Democrats have denounced the appearances as an effort to distract from the allegations of the case, which revolve around Trump’s efforts to facilitate hush-money payments to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, and as an example of how the GOP remains beholden to Trump.

“If deploying this motley crew of cranks and conspiracy theorists was the Trump campaign’s ham-handed attempt to divert attention from their candidate’s disappearance from the campaign trail, they’re in for a stormy six months ahead,” said Democratic National Committee spokesperson Alex Floyd.

Starting earlier this month, Trump allies have appeared with the former president at a set of microphones outside the court during breaks in the proceedings. Many have challenged the accounts of witnesses, including Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen, who testified this week that Trump ordered him to bury stories that could have hurt his 2016 presidential campaign.

Members of Tuesday’s group, as well as Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara, entered the courtroom after proceedings had already begun, interrupting Cohen’s testimony just as he was describing for the jury how he decided to plead guilty to federal campaign-finance violations and other charges in 2018.

The Republicans have also directly criticized the daughter of Merchan, who has worked as a Democratic political consultant. The judge’s gag order prohibited Trump from commenting on people involved in the case and the judge’s relatives. The order permits Trump to criticize Merchan himself and District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

Trump’s allies have also used television appearances and social media posts to show support for the Republican nominee and share observations, including disputed claims about policies regarding demonstrations outside the courthouse.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Florida Senator Rick Scott were among the first to make individual appearances at the New York court. Both men have had legal troubles of their own and have denounced the Trump trial as politically motivated, echoing the former president’s rhetoric. Scott last Thursday attacked Merchan’s daughter as a “political operative,” a comment that Trump is barred from making under the gag order.

Scott attended the trial on the same day Daniels testified, when she offered sordid details of her alleged sexual encounter with Trump in 2006.

--With assistance from Sana Pashankar and Patricia Hurtado.

(Adds Trump allies’ late courtroom entrance in 14th paragraph)

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