Trump’s Hill allies descend on hush money trial in new GOP litmus test



CNN
 — 

When his hush money trial first got underway in April, former President Donald Trump privately complained that not enough of his allies were inside or outside the courtroom to defend him, according to multiple GOP sources familiar with his thinking.

But several weeks later, Trump’s supporters are flocking to the Manhattan courtroom in droves.

While in most cases Trump has not asked anyone to attend his trial, sources say word of Trump’s frustration quickly spread to Capitol Hill, prompting his staunchest defenders to spring into action to show their support for Trump while he’s in the hot seat. Some of them began reaching out to Trump’s camp, offering to come and defend the former president in New York and asking how they could secure a spot in court.

GOP Sen. Rick Scott of Florida became the first lawmaker to make the trek up north last week, followed several days later by House Speaker Mike Johnson – who’s been under fire from his right flank – and a quartet of Republicans sporting nearly identical navy suits with red ties, which, whether accidental or not, took the coordination to the next level.

Their appearances inspired what sources say has been a mostly organic movement among Republicans. Now, the floodgates have opened, with Trump’s team fielding a deluge of interest from lawmakers and orchestrating campaign stops with Trump supporters within the city before and after trial appearances as the proceedings drag on.

“There’s been a waterfall [of people] who want to come and show support for him, and we expect more,” one Trump adviser told CNN.

It’s just the latest sign that the pilgrimage to Trump’s criminal trial in New York has become a new litmus test for Trump loyalty inside the GOP ahead of November. For participants, the benefits are twofold: Not only are they able to score valuable brownie points with their party’s presumptive presidential nominee, but it’s also an opportunity to step into the spotlight, with several members – including Johnson and GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado – even fundraising off their appearances.

“What the Republicans are doing is showing support for a man that is being persecuted unfairly,” Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina, one of the GOP members who attended the trial this week, told CNN. “This can happen to any American. And it shouldn’t. And President Trump is a fighter and he’s standing firm and we want to back him.”

Attending court alongside Trump has also become somewhat of an audition for a role in a potential future Trump administration. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance, both currently on the shortlist for vice president, have been among those in attendance this week.

“Showing up to support somebody in a criminal trial is not naturally a part of the rhythm of a congressional office,” said one GOP lawmaker. “But when people saw Rick Scott do it, and then J.D. and Vivek [Ramaswamy], they were trying to do it too. It happened organically.”

Jeenah Moon/Pool/Getty Images

Former President Donald Trump arrives with attorney Todd Blanche and Sen. Rick Scott for his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments at Manhattan Criminal Court on May 9, in New York City.

The latest group to make the voyage to New York: members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, who represent some of Trump’s closest allies on Capitol Hill.

The GOP lawmakers informed the Trump team that they would be bringing a large group on Thursday, even though the House was in session, and requested a meeting with the former president before court processions started that day, according to a source familiar with the plans.

The meeting lasted around 30 minutes in Trump Tower, and Trump’s son Eric was also present, sources said. The members gave the former president a “pep talk” ahead of the trial and discussed the future of government funding – and specifically, his preference for the length of a short-term government funding patch that is expected after September 30 – if Trump were to win back the White House in November, the source added.

Then, the GOP members joined Trump in his motorcade – including the Republican candidate challenging GOP Rep. Bob Good, who has tried to cozy up to Trump after initially endorsing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis – to give the former president a splashy appearance as he arrived for court that day, flanked by a cavalry of his supporters.

The lawmakers also made sure to stop by the cameras outside the courthouse to attack the prosecutors and witnesses and undermine the case, filling a void that Trump, who is under a gag order, can’t.

“Mr. President, we’ve got your back,” GOP Rep. Andy Ogles said outside the courthouse.

Even though the 11 Republican House members rode in Trump’s motorcade, the Trump campaign did not foot the bill for their travel to New York, according to a Trump campaign official. In some cases, the individual campaign committees of members of Congress paid, according to someone involved with the travel earlier this week.

It is unclear what role the US Capitol Police had in securing members to and from New York, as a USCP spokesperson would not comment when asked if they provided additional security services.

“He did not ask anybody,” Norman said of Trump. “Everybody volunteered to go. We paid our own way. He didn’t pay anything. He didn’t tell us what to say. A lot of us just feel like enough is enough.”

Andrew Kelly/Reuters

U.S. Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) speaks during a press conference after attending the trial of former U.S. President Donald Trump for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affair with Stormy Daniels, at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City, U.S., May 16, 2024.

But to attend the trial, the lawmakers left their day jobs behind.

There were so many GOP lawmakers in New York to support Trump that, for at least a few hours on Thursday, there were more House Democrats present on Capitol Hill than Republicans.

It wasn’t an insignificant day in the House either. The House Judiciary and Oversight committees were set to consider reports to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over the audio tapes of President Joe BIden’s interviews with special counsel Robert Hur – a top priority on the right.

GOP Reps. Matt Gaetz and Andy Biggs both missed the Judiciary committee markup, while the House Oversight panel had to push their start time back to 8pm, just to give some of their members enough time to get back from New York.

On top of that, the House was scheduled to vote on a GOP-led bill to compel the delivery of defensive weapons to Israel as Republicans ramp up pressure on Biden over his handling of the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Gaetz along with Boebert and GOP Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, who were all in New York on Thursday, missed the vote.

As soon as the Oversight markup, dubbed by some Democrats as “Oversight after dark” got underway on Thursday night, it started to go off the rails.

GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene sparked outrage when she went after Democratic Rep. Jasmine Crockett’s appearance and Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s intelligence, with the committee meeting devolving into a heated sparring match.

Some Republican lawmakers speculated that perhaps the reason for Greene’s mood was that she has been frustrated with her colleagues, including the speaker, who have been quick to publicly support the president during his trial, but haven’t always joined her in supporting some of the Trump-favored policies that she has pushed.

“Greene is not impressed with the johnny and suzy come latelys to Trump’s defense,” according to a source who has heard her express her opinion.

Greene – the first GOP lawmaker to appear with Trump in New York when he was indicted in March 2023 – appeared particularly annoyed with Boebert, who had attended Trump’s trial that morning and then voted with Democrats during the markup to try and prevent Greene from speaking further.

“Lauren Boebert has been in the shadows of Marjorie Taylor Greene for almost four years and is grasping at any bitter relevance that she can latch onto,” the source added.

Boebert, who apologized to the American people after Greene’s outburst, defended both her vote to try and silence Greene and her decision to travel to Trump’s trial in New York, which ultimately did not impact the committee’s ability to advance the contempt resolution.

“It was embarrassing what was going on,” Boebert said of the markup. “I felt shame that that was happening while we are taking care of serious business, and it’s the first time in how long that we’ve been taking care of serious business, and we’re doing what the American people have been demanding and having accountability for this weaponized federal government.”


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