Source: CNN

Several of Donald Trump’s allies are flocking to the Manhattan criminal courthouse where Trump is on trial to display their support for the former president as explosive testimony unfolds about his alleged sexual encounter with an adult film actress and the hush money payment made to keep it under wraps before the 2016 election.

The courtroom has become a backdrop for potential vice-presidential auditions, as North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance, who are both under consideration for the job, made the trip this week to stand alongside Trump and offer their full-throated support of him.

It has also become a way for Republican leaders to curry favor more broadly with Trump. On Tuesday, House Speaker Mike Johnson, who has increasingly aligned himself with the former president amid blowback he’s received from the far right, became the highest ranking Republican to make the trip.

The politicians coming to Trump’s defense are attacking the people Trump is barred from publicly speaking about under his gag order, including the prosecution’s star witness Michael Cohen, whose testimony began Monday. Their presence at the courthouse also allows them to show their loyalty — a trait highly valued and rewarded by the former president — and gives them a high-profile platform to angle for a potential administration position should Trump win another term.

Florida Reps. Byron Donalds and Cory Mills, as well as former GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, joined Trump in court on Tuesday. They, along with Burgum, all wore Trump’s trademark red tie and white shirt and held a joint press conference outside of the courthouse. The four men took turns unleashing attacks on Cohen, whose testimony continued on Tuesday, as well as Judge Juan Merchan’s daughter, who has ties to Democrats. They also sought to undermine the credibility of the charges brought against Trump.

“The sooner that this scam trial can be concluded, the sooner that the president can get back to getting out campaigning and talking to the American people about the issues that matter to them,” Burgum told reporters as he bashed Cohen as a “serial perjurer.”

Burgum later told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins that he was there “completely as a volunteer,” and “because I care about the future of this country and where it’s going.”

Ramaswamy said, “I learned a lot from being in there in person. It is one of the most depressing places I have been in my life, but it is fitting because the only thing more depressing than the environment of that courtroom is what’s actually happening in there.”

Johnson told reporters, “I called President Trump and told him I wanted to be here myself to call out what is a travesty of justice, and I think everybody around the country can see that. President Trump is a friend and I wanted to be here to support him.”

Their court visits came after Vance, another potential vice presidential pick, and Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville appeared with Trump in the courtroom on Monday.

Both Vance and Tuberville spoke to reporters outside of the courthouse and attacked Cohen, trying to undermine his credibility during his first day of testimony.

“Does any reasonable, sensible person believe anything that Michael Cohen says?” Vance told reporters outside of the criminal courthouse moments before Tuberville panned Cohen’s testimony as “an acting scene” and said he was a “serial liar.”

New York Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall and Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird also appeared in court with Trump on Monday. Florida Sen. Rick Scott joined Trump in court last week, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton made the trip the week before. Eric Trump has appeared with his father at the trial, and several of the former president’s top advisers regularly accompany him to court.

In the weeks ahead, more of Trump’s allies are expected to join Trump in court, according to a Trump campaign official. The official said “a number of” his friends and supporters have reached out to him and the campaign to ask if they could come to the courthouse.

“It’s going to continue, and it’s just a demonstration of how offended so many of our friends are by what’s happening to the president,” the official told CNN.

One person familiar with the campaign argued there were no political downsides for the politicians making the trip to the courthouse to rail against the case against Trump, and that it would give them coveted airtime amid the highly publicized trial.

“If there was a safe trial to show up to, this is the one,” this person said. Trump is a defendant in three other criminal cases and faces charges over his alleged mishandling of classified material and his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results. Trump has pleaded not guilty to all 88 charges against him.

Mark Serrano, who was a senior adviser to Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign, said in an interview with CNN he thought the gag order Trump is under was one of the main reasons Trump’s allies felt compelled to show up at the trial.

“Judge Merchan has taken Donald Trump’s voice away to a degree. He has stripped him of his first amendment rights and people like J.D. Vance and Tommy Tuberville and others are going to come to New York and they’re going to lend their voice to Donald Trump,” Serrano said.

Trump has been fined a total of $10,000 for violating the gag order that bars him from publicly discussing witnesses. The violations included comments he made about Cohen, who is a key witness for the prosecution as they make the case Trump illegally falsified business records after paying off adult film actress Stormy Daniels as part of an alleged election interference scheme in 2016. Trump has pleaded not guilty to the 34 felony criminal charges of falsifying business records in the New York case.

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

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