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J.D. Vance Trump Trial
Sen. J.D. Vance spoke to reporters outside former President Donald Trump’s trial on Monday. Stefan Jeremiah/AP

Michael Cohen’s Testimony Is the New Hot Spot for VP Tryouts

“I think what they’re trying to show is that ‘I’m loyal. I’m here to support you, and you can rely on me,’” one GOP operative said of the visits to former President Donald Trump’s trial.

After mostly staying away from former President Trump’s criminal trial in New York, a gaggle of potential VP candidates and other allies have shown up to the testimony of Trump’s ex-lawyer Michael Cohen. And they’ve been quick to attack Cohen on Trump’s behalf.

“First of all, Michael Cohen is the prosecution’s star witness,” Sen. J.D. Vance told reporters outside the courthouse Monday, saying Cohen was a convicted felon. “Does any reasonable, sensible person believe anything that Michael Cohen says?”

Vance’s appearance at the courthouse Monday seemingly opened the gates for others to trek to NYC and denounce the case this week. Flanked by Rep. Cory Mills and fellow VP candidates Gov. Doug Burgum and Rep. Byron Donalds, Vivek Ramaswamy continued the attacks on Cohen on Tuesday, calling him a perjurer.

“People said, ‘Wait a second. If Vance is going, I need to go,’” Sean Spicer, a former White House spokesman during the Trump administration, told NOTUS. “‘Oh crap,’ like, ‘I need to get up there too.’”

And with a gag order preventing Trump from speaking his piece, his friends are doing it for him.

“I think people wanted to come up,” said Spicer. “And then there was a recognition that we can use them to talk to the media, especially in light of the gag order.”

Trump has largely been without an entourage during the trial. After nearly a month in the courtroom, he was frustrated by the lack of support. Despite calling for supporters to “rally behind MAGA” in late April, prominent GOP officials have largely stayed away until now.

That may have been to avoid spotlighting the testimony of Stormy Daniels, said attorney Michael Worley, who is not involved in the case. “Optics wouldn’t have been as good with Stormy testifying,” he said.

“If they’re able to come now when it’s Cohen who’s testifying, perhaps they’re able to show strength without potentially getting the argument against them of sexism,” said Republican strategist Brittany Martinez.

But with Cohen, it’s a different ball game. The former fixer flipped on Trump after his residence was raided by the FBI in 2018. Later that year, he pleaded guilty to campaign finance charges and lying to Congress. Since then, he’s made no bones about his desire to see Trump behind bars. Prone to fiery outbreaks and with his checkered past, he’s an easy target for top Republicans to attack for brownie points.

“I think it’s shooting fish in a barrel,” Spicer said. “It’s not hard to discredit somebody who’s as much of a scumbag as Cohen is.”

But Cohen’s testimony appeared to affect Trump differently than previous witnesses. He handled the former president’s affairs for years and had a personal relationship with Trump. Cohen’s decision to turn against him under immense legal pressure broke Trump’s most sacred rule: Remain loyal.

For some VP candidates, it’s an opportunity for the public to see them defend the nominee.

“I think that they just want to come out and show strength,” said Martinez, noting that Trump and his last vice president, Mike Pence, “ended things on bad terms. So I think what they’re trying to show is that ‘I’m loyal. I’m here to support you, and you can rely on me.’”

“Honestly, I find it so comical, and I think it’s just so transparent,” she added.

Ben T.N. Mause is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.