Skip to content Skip to footer

House Speaker Mike Johnson Attacks New York Judge Presiding Over Trump’s Trial

Critics described Johnson’s defense of the ex-president as “on brand” for the right-wing speaker of the House.

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (center) listens as former President Donald Trump (foreground) talks with reporters as he arrives for his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to an extramarital affair with Stormy Daniels, at Manhattan Criminal Court on May 14, 2024, in New York City.

Speaker of the House of Representatives Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) appeared on Tuesday at the New York City courthouse where Donald Trump’s hush money trial is currently taking place, pushing false talking points regarding the trial that are frequently peddled by the former president.

Trump faces 34 charges regarding his attempts to hide payments to women with whom he had extramarital affairs through allegedly shady business practices, including mislabeling reimbursements for those payments as legal fees and orchestrating a “catch and kill” scheme with a tabloid to conceal news of his affairs from the public.

Trump has falsely claimed that prosecutors are only targeting him for political reasons, despite overwhelming evidence that their allegations have merit. After Trump released numerous public statements attacking the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and others involved in the case, Justice Juan Merchan, the judge overseeing the trial, placed a gag order on Trump, limiting what he can discuss publicly about the trial and barring attacks against court staff and witnesses that could affect the case’s outcome.

This past week, several Republicans — many of whom are vying to become Trump’s vice presidential running mate for the 2024 election — appeared in front of the courthouse to defend the former president. In addition to Johnson, Reps. Byron Donalds (R-Florida) and Cory Mills (R-Florida) and former GOP presidential candidates Vivek Ramaswamy and Gov. Doug Burgum (R-North Dakota) appeared at the courthouse on Tuesday. Sens. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) and Tommy Tuberville (R-Alabama) and Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-New York) were there on Monday, and Sen. Rick Scott (R-Florida) was there last week

Johnson is not on the short list of potential running mates for Trump, but he did meet with the GOP presidential nominee last month to discuss a motion to vacate measure he was facing from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia). Shortly after that meeting, Trump spoke out against the measure, encouraging Republicans in Congress to vote to table it.

It’s possible that Johnson’s appearance on Tuesday was to pay Trump back for his help with the motion to vacate proposal. In statements to reporters outside of the courthouse, Johnson described Trump as “a friend” whom he wanted to support.

Johnson also complained during his press briefing that the court wouldn’t allow him to speak inside the building itself. It’s not uncommon for courts to limit media access to some areas of a courthouse, particularly when such appearances are for political reasons or when doing so could disrupt the proceedings of high-profile trials.

Johnson described the limitation as “one of the many things that are wrong here,” and claimed, without evidence, that the court’s mandate that Trump appear four days a week was unfair and intended to keep him from campaigning for the presidency.

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

Critics have said that Johnson’s claims are difficult to take seriously, as Trump isn’t taking advantage of his days off to campaign. According to a CNN analysis of the first 27 days of Trump’s trial, the former president was only required to be in court for 15 of those days. The majority of the remaining 12 days, he didn’t campaign at all.

On eight of those 12 days off, Trump held no public events. On one day, he didn’t hold a formal rally but made a public appearance at a Formula One race; on another, he had to cancel a campaign rally due to extreme weather. During a three-day stretch in late April when the New York court didn’t convene at all, Trump held zero campaign events.

Johnson also attacked Merchan’s daughter, an action that Trump is barred from doing because of the gag order. The speaker claimed that she is “making millions of dollars doing online fundraising for Democrats.”

Although this issue has been brought up before, it resulted in no wrongdoing or questioning of Merchan’s ability to rule fairly in the case, with the New York State Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics concluding that his “impartiality cannot reasonably be questioned based on the judge’s relative’s business and/or political activities.” Notably, Merchan has been appointed to judicial positions by both Republicans and Democrats.

The gag order only applies to Trump, not his supporters. However, if it is ever revealed that Trump coerced or asked for his supporters to violate the order on his behalf, he could face punishment from the judge, including heavy fines or even jail time.

Critics condemned Johnson for taking the highly unusual action of weighing in on a state court case that doesn’t involve his office or home state.

“I don’t find anything unusual about a fundamentalist theocrat who thinks the Bible is the supreme law of the land attending the legal proceedings of an adjudicated sexual assailant and world-class fraudster and con-man for cooking the books to cover up hush money payments he made to a porn star to conceal his adulterous affair, do you?” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland) said to The Daily Beast.

“Johnson presides over a majority in Congress that sees itself as Trump’s law firm. So it’s on brand that he’s attending his client’s trial,” Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-California) told the publication.

MSNBC correspondent Molly Jong-Fast suggested that Johnson’s actions could have ramifications for Republicans in the November elections.

“This is like a huge mistake that will have downstream effects that I don’t think he quite understands,” Jong-Fast said on Tuesday.

“Republicans are trying desperately to keep the House…and he’s going to go to this criminal court where Trump’s fixer is testifying about his sexual relationship?”

We have hours left to raise $12,000 — we’re counting on your support!

For those who care about justice, liberation and even the very survival of our species, we must remember our power to take action.

We won’t pretend it’s the only thing you can or should do, but one small step is to pitch in to support Truthout — as one of the last remaining truly independent, nonprofit, reader-funded news platforms, your gift will help keep the facts flowing freely.