Trump hush money trial has Michael Cohen, Stormy Daniels, MAGA elite

I went to the Trump trial in New York to find his voters. Turns out that’s also where you can find the MAGA elites gathered.


The greatest show of the 21st century is happening far from the tourists, the theater district and the neon lights of New York’s Times Square.

It’s happening in the city’s Civic Center neighborhood in a stately Manhattan courthouse, surrounded by other stately federal buildings and a few small parks where protesters set up their banners and signs. 

It’s the fifth week of the buzzworthy Donald J. Trump trial, and things keep getting interesting outside the proceedings. The further we get into the trial, the more MAGA-verse politicians visit to show their support. Earlier this week, for example, House Speaker Mike Johnson visited the former president.

The circus continued Thursday when members of the House Freedom Caucus stood in Collect Pond Park and talked about, as Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., put it, the “Mr. Potato Head doll of crimes.”

“They had to stick together a bunch of things that did not belong together,” he told reporters.

While Gaetz may think the trial is a sham, regular Americans are less convinced: 52% say Trump did “falsify business records to conceal a hush money payment to a porn star,” according to a Yahoo News/YouGov survey.

I realized during my visit that Trump is the kind of man who can spin anything – even a court trial – to work for him, so long as Republicans fall in line behind him, regardless of the accusations and evidence. That should concern all of us.

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The actual remarks of the caucus members were overshadowed by what was transpiring around them.

“Matt Gaetz is a pedophile,” someone yelled just outside the park, referencing the previous federal probe into the Florida congressman. 

“Get the h— out of New York,” someone else yelled, holding up a sign that said, “GTFO NYC MAGA.” He was quickly escorted out of the park but held up the sign on the other side of the fence.

A different man in front of me held out a “Beetlejuice” playbill and repeatedly asked Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert, who last year was asked to leave a performance of the musical with her date in Denver, for her autograph when she began speaking. He was promptly escorted out of the park.

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“I got news for the radical left and the weaponized DOJ: President Trump is not going anywhere,” Boebert said, ignoring the distraction. “He’s coming back for another four years, and we are not going anywhere, either.”

The lawmakers took their turn speaking, drowned out by the jeers of protesters but were audible through the television microphones. They claim to speak for Trump, who has a gag order in place. They are also elected House members and are therefore always looking to keep their jobs in Congress. Defending the former president in front of “media elites” probably looks good for them to their voters.

Trump supporters have been steadfast in their support

There were a handful of Trump supporters at Collect Pond Park, too. Some of them have been out multiple times each week of the trial. I came to Civic Center once between the first week and this visit, and found the same group of men.

Dion Cini, 55, of New York, has been one of those men. He’s wearing a Make America Great Again hat with the numbers 45 and 47 on the side to represent Trump’s past and potentially future presidential terms. 

Cini said this trial is part of the “seventh insurrection” against Trump because of his two impeachments and four indictments. He said it’s “the taking down of a president and a government.”

He’s also very pleased with how it’s going, because Trump has jumped ahead of President Joe Biden in the polling.

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I asked Cini why there weren’t as many people protesting alongside him as there had been before.

“Most Trump supporters are working right now, because we have jobs, but we come out here just to support Donald Trump,” Cini answered. “Very few people, because they won’t let us get really close to the courthouse. It’s like we’re in a little prison here.” 

Joseph Reilly, 53, of New York, told me he felt Trump was doing better in the polls. He wore a shirt with Trump’s mugshot and the caption “Never Surrender” and a black-and-yellow MAGA hat. He compared the Trump trial to those of Al Capone and mobsters who were indicted on issues he said were only semi-related to their overall businesses.

“I just wish my country could go back to where there was a Constitution,” Reilly said.

Reilly, a business owner, said there are more Trump supporters in New York who are scared of being attacked by people on the left.

They must all be hiding. They’re missing the show.

Follow USA TODAY elections columnist Sara Pequeño on X, formerly Twitter, @sara__pequeno and Facebook

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