Mike Johnson Visits Trump’s Criminal Trial to Say What He Can’t

As a key witness testified inside the Manhattan criminal courthouse on Tuesday morning, an increasingly familiar scene unfolded outside, as another in a parade of well-known visitors — this time Mike Johnson, the speaker of the House — stepped up to a microphone.

“This is a man who is clearly on a mission for personal revenge,” Mr. Johnson said, attacking the man on the stand, Michael D. Cohen, the former fixer to Donald J. Trump. “He is someone who has a history of perjury. No one should believe a word he says in there.”

Mr. Johnson’s attacks on Mr. Trump’s behalf did what the former president himself could not, bound as he is by a gag order during his trial on felony charges of falsifying business records. In recent days, Trump allies have stepped up one after another as his proxies, although Mr. Trump used a different term.

“I do have a lot of surrogates,” he said in remarks before trial proceedings began on Tuesday, “and they are speaking very beautifully.”

The proud observation appears to reflect a game plan. And the surrogates, however awkwardly, have risked their public profiles to defend a man accused of hiding hush-money payments to a porn star.

Mr. Johnson, whose persona back home in Louisiana is defined by family and faith, concluded his brief remarks without taking questions. His comments were part of an evolution of support between himself and Mr. Trump, coming a week after a failed attempt to oust Mr. Johnson led by Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who had criticized the speaker for doing too little to defend Mr. Trump. The former president rallied to Mr. Johnson’s side after the vote.

Another Trump acolyte, Senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama on Monday called the trial’s Manhattan courtroom “the most depressing thing I’ve ever been in.”

The surrogates routinely say things that Mr. Trump cannot, thanks to Justice Juan M. Merchan’s gag order.

For example, Mr. Johnson took a shot at the judge’s daughter, Loren Merchan, a political consultant who has worked with Democratic candidates, saying she was “making millions of dollars doing online fund-raising for Democrats.”

Mr. Trump himself is expressly prohibited from making such statements. Justice Merchan in a March 26 order barred him from making statements about witnesses, jurors and the families of any lawyer involved in the case. The order, upheld by an appeals court Tuesday, also barred him from “directing others to make” such statements, but it’s unclear whether the comments by Mr. Trump’s supporters violate the order — or how the judge could address them.

Barry Kamins, a retired State Supreme Court judge and expert on criminal practice, said there was little a judge could do to silence supporters.

“These comments have the imprimatur of Trump’s approval,” he said in an email message. “However, Judge Merchan has no control over them, as he does over Trump.” An exception, he noted, would be “the unlikely event that it could be proven that a surrogate was doing this specifically at Trump’s direction.”

Another retired judge, Jill Konviser, called the comments from Trump’s allies “an apparent end run.” She added that “proving a violation of the order under these circumstances would be challenging.”

In the meantime, the commentary from Trump defenders continues without interruption.

On Monday, Senator J.D. Vance, an Ohio Republican and a potential vice-presidential candidate, appeared outside the courthouse and made clear his intentions: to say what Mr. Trump “is prevented from saying, which is a disgrace.” He dismissed each prosecutor as “practically a Democratic political operative” and Mr. Cohen as “a convicted felon” who was not to be believed.

Mr. Tuberville, however vaguely, seemed to question the very legality of the jury.

“I am disappointed at looking at the American citizens — supposedly American citizens — in that courtroom,” he said.

More speakers followed on Tuesday. Vivek Ramaswamy announced his plans on X: “Headed to NYC courtroom now. Let’s see what’s going on down there, will share my thoughts over the day.”

His sharing began soon after, outside the courthouse.

“The real bookkeeping we need accounting on is the judge’s own daughter collecting millions of dollars as a Democratic operative,” Mr. Ramaswamy said. He, like Mr. Tuberville, criticized the “dingy, third-rate” courtroom.

The man he came to defend had given his blessing earlier that morning in remarks before reporters.

“Vivek, who’s here right now,” Mr. Trump said, “can speak for himself.”

Nate Schweber contributed reporting.

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