The Republican Pilgrimage to Donald Trump’s Trial

Welcome back to The Collision. This week, we’ll take a look at the parade of acolytes showing up in Manhattan to accompany Donald Trump to his criminal trial there. We’ll also give you a very unsatisfying answer about when we’ll get a decision from the Supreme Court on Trump’s claim of presidential immunity from criminal prosecution. Let’s get right into it!

The Docket

  • In Manhattan, the prosecution’s latest witness, which could be its last, was former Trump lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen. During direct examination Monday and Tuesday, Cohen told the jury his story of how an Oval Office meeting with Trump forged an agreement between the two men to conceal reimbursement payments for hush money as legal fees. 
  • During cross-examination, which began on Tuesday and continued on Thursday, Trump’s attorneys attempted to impeach Cohen’s credibility by confronting him with his past praise for his former boss along with the hateful language he has used about Trump since his falling-out with the former president.
  • Hunter Biden won’t get a delay for his trial on federal gun charges, meaning the son of President Joe Biden will almost certainly be in federal court in Delaware when the trial is scheduled to begin on June 3. And if that wasn’t a big enough blow, a panel from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Hunter’s tax fraud case could also proceed after he appealed a decision to reject his motion to dismiss the case.
  • Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez began his trial in federal district court, just several hundred feet from the Manhattan courthouse where Trump is on trial. Menendez was indicted on federal bribery and foreign agent charges after a lengthy investigation into his alleged acceptance of thousands of dollars, some of which was in the form of gold bars, from foreign actors in exchange for influence. The prosecution and defense delivered their opening statements Wednesday.
  • Meanwhile, we now have at least two presidential debates between Joe Biden and Trump on the books, thanks to a flurry of activity on Wednesday. It all started in the morning with a video in which Biden challenged his Republican rival to two televised showdowns. The president made a crack referring to Trump’s trial in Manhattan, which is typically off on Wednesdays. “I hear you’re free on Wednesdays,” Biden said in the video. Later Wednesday, Biden’s campaign store slapped the phrase on a T-shirt.
  • By the way, remember special counsel Robert Hur’s explosive report concluding his investigation into Biden’s retention of classified documents? We likely won’t be getting the audio of Hur’s two days of interviews with the president anytime soon. The Wall Street Journal reports that Biden has exerted his executive privilege over those recordings after House Republicans threatened to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress for not releasing them.

Manhattan Criminal Court Is the New Mar-a-Lago

House Speaker Mike Johnson and former presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy listen as former President Donald Trump speaks to the media outside the Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City on May 14, 2024. (Photo by Curtis Means - Pool/Getty Images)
House Speaker Mike Johnson and former presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy listen as former President Donald Trump speaks to the media outside the Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City on May 14, 2024. (Photo by Curtis Means – Pool/Getty Images)

If you’re a Republican politician, New York’s hottest club is 100 Centre Street. The Manhattan courthouse is the site of Donald Trump’s ongoing criminal trial, and this place has everything: former porn stars, gag orders, an array of television cameras stationed there day and night, Vivek Ramaswamy.

After weeks of Trump enduring his criminal trial largely alone—with occasional visits from his adult children—a deluge of Republicans have made their pilgrimage to Lower Manhattan to show their support for the GOP’s presumptive nominee. Just this week, the guest list has included House Speaker Mike Johnson; North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum; Sens. J.D. Vance and Tommy Tuberville; Reps. Nicole Malliotakis, Byron Donalds, Cory Mills, Lauren Boebert, Andy Biggs, Eli Crane, Bob Good, Matt Gaetz, Andy Ogles, Mike Waltz, Ralph Norman, and Anna Paulina Luna; and, yes, Ramaswamy. The Manhattan Criminal Courthouse is the new Mar-a-Lago, the place to be if you want to see and be seen by Trump.

According to someone close to Trump’s legal team, the requests from Capitol Hill and elsewhere to visit Trump at his trial aren’t slowing down. Politicians are calling up their best connections in the campaign or Trump himself to secure a spot, then the campaign’s advance team figures out how many can fit in the defense’s limited space for spectators. The growing list includes members of Congress and potential vice presidential picks.

“They’re all reaching out right now,” said the person close to Trump’s legal team.

These courtiers often begin their trial day at Trump Tower, riding in the motorcade with the former president for the 4-mile trip to the courthouse. They stand behind him as Trump greets the gathered members of the media outside the courthouse doors, and they usually address the press themselves at some point during or after the day’s proceedings. In the courtroom, they’ll watch the proceedings and some, such as Vance, will live-tweet their observations.

“I’m now convinced the main goal of this trial is psychological torture,” Vance tweeted Monday morning less than an hour after proceedings began. “But Trump is in great spirits.”

Johnson, on the other hand, spoke to reporters outside but did not actually enter the courtroom when he was in Manhattan on Tuesday.

While Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton had appeared with Trump in court before, it was Florida Sen. Rick Scott who set the trend last week. Scott had spoken with Trump campaign manager Susie Wiles at the Republican National Committee’s donor retreat in Palm Beach, Florida, earlier this month, according to a person familiar with the conversation, and both agreed that Trump could use a demonstration of encouragement in New York. Something the two discussed, according to this person, was the number of Republican politicians who were raising money or appearing on television to criticize the prosecution of Trump but not showing up to stand beside the embattled candidate.

That’s what led Scott last week to join Trump in the courtroom on May 9 and later give a press conference in which he criticized Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s prosecution as “just despicable.” He also took direct aim at one of Bragg’s main prosecutors as well as the adult daughter of Judge Juan Merchan—targets whom Trump himself can’t criticize while under his gag order.

“The lead prosecutor was the No. 3 person [at] the Biden Justice Department,” Scott said, referring to Manhattan prosecutor Matthew Colangelo. “The judge’s daughter is a political operative and raises money for Democrats. You’ve got the lead prosecutor’s wife [who] is a significant donor to Democrats, and I think, to Biden. So this is just a bunch of Democrats saying, ‘We want to make sure that Donald Trump can’t talk.’”

Unless prosecutors could prove Scott and the other friends of Trump are working on behalf of Trump’s campaign or at Trump’s direction, they are free to take exactly these shots, for which the former president has been fined multiple times. While Trump has complained that the gag order and the trial itself have hampered his ability to campaign for president, the campaign appears to have moved temporarily to Manhattan to fill in the gap.

And fittingly, on Tuesday, Reps. Donalds and Mills, Ramaswamy, and Eric and Lara Trump cut a fundraising appeal video from inside 100 Centre Street that urges supporters to join them in “fighting the good fight.” In the video’s final seconds, the camera pans over to show a silent Trump giving his classic thumbs-up.

One More Thing

Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz tweeted a photo of himself standing behind Trump Thursday morning outside the courthouse. His caption reads, “Standing back and standing by, Mr. President”—a clear reference to Trump’s own non-admonishment of the far-right group the Proud Boys during a debate with Joe Biden in 2020.

We’re Still Waiting on the Supreme Court’s Immunity Decision

Have you been waking up every morning wondering whether today is the day the Supreme Court will decide whether Donald Trump has immunity from criminal prosecution for things he did while president? Well, we’ve got good news and bad news.

The bad news is that we’ve got no idea when that ruling will come, and we won’t have any advanced notice that it’s going to happen. But the good news is that the Supreme Court does announce when it will release opinions—so we will know what days we won’t have an opinion. Does that make you feel better?

The Supreme Court’s term ends when it finishes releasing all its opinions, which tends to happen the last week of June. Between now and then, the court has said it will release opinions every Thursday at 10 a.m. and Wednesday, June 18 (instead of June 19, which is a federal holiday). As we get closer to the end of the term, the court will also start adding other days as opinions are ready to be released. So those are the days that we could get the immunity opinion. 

Opinions aren’t released in any order. The court doesn’t hold the “big ones” until the end. The reason high-profile opinions tend to come on the last few days of the term is because those are the opinions that get finished last as justices send their drafts—dissents and concurrences—back and forth. 

Verbatim

“You referred to Trump as ‘dictator douchebag,’ didn’t you?”

—Trump attorney Todd Blanche, during cross-examination of Michael Cohen, May 14, 2024
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