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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

House Speaker Mike Johnson visits Trump trial to criticize hush money prosecution

U.S. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, center, and former presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, center behind Johnson, listen as former President Donald Trump, left, speaks to reporters as he arrives for his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs, at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City on Tuesday. Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen returned to the witness stand on Tuesday for what was expected to be a tough grilling by the ex-president’s lawyers at his historic hush money trial.  (Michael M. Santiago/Pool/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)
By Michael Macagnone CQ-Roll Call CQ-Roll Call

Speaker Mike Johnson joined a cavalcade of top Republicans defending former President Donald Trump on Tuesday amid his New York criminal trial focused on hush money payments over an alleged affair in the leadup to the 2016 election.

Johnson’s appearance outside the Manhattan courthouse, where he criticized the criminal case as a partisan attack on Trump, comes as the former president has closely tied his criticisms of the prosecutions to his run for re-election this year.

The courthouse-steps media appearances from Johnson and others this week are the latest effort from Trump’s congressional Republican allies to defend him during the criminal case in New York.

During the brief appearance, Johnson, R-La., echoed criticisms by Trump and other Republicans who said the justice system has been “weaponized” against Trump.

“They are doing this intentionally to keep him here, to keep him off the campaign trail,” Johnson said of prosecutors.

Johnson lumped in the New York criminal case with federal prosecutions by Special Counsel John L. “Jack” Smith in Washington and Florida, calling them all “election interference” meant to hamstring Trump, the presumed Republican nominee.

Johnson also said he would work with House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and House Oversight and Accountability Chairman James R. Comer, R-Ky., to “rein in the abuses” by Smith.

Leaning on his past as an attorney, Johnson criticized the substance of the case against Trump. Prosecutors have charged that Trump falsified business records to hide $130,000 in payments connected to nondisclosure agreements with women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump in the leadup to the 2016 election.

Johnson called the case a “travesty of justice” that was reviewed years ago and no charges had been brought. Johnson argued that the case was only “resurrected” as Trump started running in the 2024 presidential race.

The appearance drew criticism from former Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., who posted on social media that she was “surprised” that Johnson, who built his record as a social conservative, would defend Trump amid a trial involving alleged marital infidelity.

“I guess he’s not that concerned with teaching morality to our young people after all,” Cheney wrote.

Johnson is the most high-profile Republican to speak on Trump’s behalf outside the courthouse, and he criticized the gag order the judge has placed on Trump in the case.

The judge in the New York trial instituted a gag restricting Trump from speaking about witnesses, court staff and family members, and has found that Trump violated the order 10 times so far in the proceeding.

In the latest finding of a violation, the judge wrote that the statutory $1,000 maximum fines “have not and will not, suffice” to deter Trump and warned that further violations will result in jail time.

During his brief remarks, Johnson also criticized former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, a key witness in the case, whom Trump has been restricted from commenting about.

Johnson did not take questions after the brief appearance.

Other GOP visits

Last week Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., reportedly attended the trial and stood nearby Trump as he spoke to the media outside the courthouse.

On Monday, Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., and Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-N.Y., spoke outside the courthouse. Tuberville said the trial was inflicting “mental anguish” on Trump and said without evidence that the jurors may not be U.S. citizens.

Vance criticized witnesses such as Cohen and the gag order placed on Trump, saying it was a “disgrace” that the former president could not publicly criticize witnesses against him in a criminal trial.

“Every single person involved in this prosecution is practically a Democratic political operative,” Vance said.

Earlier this month, Johnson and Comer sent a joint letter to the Justice Department referring Cohen for lying to Congress during a 2019 committee hearing.

Last month, coinciding with the first weeks of the trial, Jordan also released a majority staff report claiming that Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg had a political vendetta against Trump.

Throughout the last year, Republicans have used hearings and proposed legislation to attack the criminal cases against Trump, including legislation to defund Smith’s office and withdraw federal funds from the district attorney in Georgia who has brought state charges against Trump tied to the effort to overturn the state’s 2020 election results.

The New York trial may be the only one of the four criminal charges against Trump that proceed to trial before the presidential election this fall. The trial in the federal case in Florida connected to Trump’s alleged unlawful retention of classified documents after his presidency has been indefinitely delayed.

Proceedings in the federal case in Washington tied to Trump’s alleged effort to overturn the 2020 election has remained on hold while the Supreme Court mulls an appeal. State charges in Georgia for similar conduct are similarly on hold while an appeal plays out.