US House Speaker supports Trump in court as hush-money witness Cohen testifies

Mike Johnson vocalises support for the Republican Party's presumed presidential nominee

Former US president Donald Trump in court on Tuesday. EPA / Bloomberg
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US House Speaker Mike Johnson and other Republicans travelled to New York to express support for Donald Trump at his hush-money criminal trial on Tuesday, the second day of testimony by his former lawyer Michael Cohen.

Having Mr Johnson, second in line to the presidency and as a Constitutional officer, criticise the US justice system and courts as "a sham" and "corrupt" marked a major moment in American politics.

He repeated claims that the four criminal cases Mr Trump faces are aimed at undermining his bid to retake the White House.

“These are politically motivated trials and they are a disgrace. This is election interference,” Mr Johnson told reporters.

“It's impossible for anybody to deny, that looks at this objectively, that the judicial system in our country has been weaponised against president Trump.”

In the three other cases, Mr Trump is charged with trying to overturn his 2020 presidential defeat nationally and in the state of Georgia, and mishandling classified documents after leaving office.

He has pleaded not guilty in all four cases.

It is likely that the New York case will be the only one to go to trial before the US presidential election in November.

Mr Trump is the first president to ever face criminal charges in a courtroom.

Prosecutors charged him with 34 felony counts for falsifying business records to cover up a hush-money scheme to pay off three people with scandalous stories that threatened his presidential run in 2016.

Mr Trump, who is running against President Joe Biden in November, told reporters outside the courtroom that the "trial is going very well".

His former fixer, Mr Cohen, had told the 12-member jurythat the presidential candidate personally authorised him to make a hush-money payment to an adult film star weeks before the election.

He said he did so "to ensure that the story would not come out, would not affect Mr Trump's chances of becoming president of the United States".

He testified on Monday that Mr Trump ordered him to pay adult film actress Stormy Daniels to ensure her silence about an alleged 2006 sexual encounter she had with Mr Trump, which Mr Trump denies took place.

“Just do it,” Mr Cohen remembered Mr Trump saying.

His $130,000 payment to Daniels in October 2016 is at the centre of Mr Trump's trial, which began in a New York state criminal court in Manhattan a month ago.

Prosecutors say Mr Trump paid Mr Cohen back after the election and hid the reimbursements by creating false records indicating they were for legal fees.

Those reimbursements provide the basis for the 34 counts of falsifying business records that Mr Trump faces.

Mr Cohen recounted an Oval Office meeting at the White House with Mr Trump in February 2017 when the newly inaugurated president told him he would soon be receiving the first two instalments of a bonus package.

That package, Mr Cohen said, included reimbursements for the Daniels payment.

Mr Cohen, once so loyal to Mr Trump that he claimed he would take a bullet for his boss, was the prosecution's star witness after Daniels testified for two days earlier.

“I regret doing things for him that I should not have, lying" he said, according to AP.

“To keep the loyalty and to do the things that he had asked me to do, it violated my moral compass, and I suffered the penalty, as has my family.”

In 2018, he was sentenced to three years in prison for his role in the illegal hush payments scheme.

Mr Trump's legal team confronted Mr Cohen about motivations, including money and revenge, given his testimony about blind loyalty before turning around to call Mr Trump a "dictator".

Yet, Mr Cohen said he would "like to see accountability" against his former boss.

"It’s not for me. It’s for the jury and this court," AP reported Mr Cohen as saying.

In a sign that the trial could be wrapping up, prosecutors said he was the last witness they would call.

Mr Cohen is expected to return for continued cross-examination on Thursday.

Also at the court to offer support were potential Republican vice presidential candidates, Representative Byron Donalds and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum.

Former Republican candidate Vivek Ramaswamy was also present.

They can also publicly criticise the court proceedings while Mr Trump is under a gag order.

Updated: May 14, 2024, 10:52 PM