Donald Trump: How I experienced the time with him in the hush money trial

US correspondent Marc Etzold followed most of the hush money trial against Donald Trump from the court in New York, met special observers there – and felt a bit like he was in church.

I failed on the first day, right at the start of the process.

Shortly before six in the morning, I was standing in line in front of the criminal court at 100 Center Street in New York. I waited for three hours with dozens of colleagues, but then all the seats were taken, I was still standing outside and was served. Jury selection began without me. That was a lesson for me, on the second day I got up at four in the morning to get to the court an hour earlier – that was enough time to get one of the coveted seats.

The further forward you sit, the better you can see Trump’s face

In the first week, the seats were particularly hotly contested because the potential members of the jury were sitting in the courtroom itself. Next to the main room, in the so-called “overflow room”, where the trial is broadcast, there is more space. You can follow the proceedings there on three large monitors. One section shows the judge, another the prosecution – and the third Donald Trump and his lawyers. The further forward you sit, the better you can see Trump's face.

The weeks in court reminded me of my time as an altar boy in the Catholic church. The wooden benches are hard and someone is constantly admonishing you. The security measures in the courthouse are strict. Journalists are allowed to use laptops and smartphones in the “overflow room”, but anyone who takes a photo or wants to record what is happening is thrown out.

In the second week, after a long day in court, an American colleague took a photo with her cell phone. Donald Trump had already left and we were waiting to be allowed to leave the courtroom. A court police officer noticed this immediately and asked her to leave the courtroom. She was terribly uncomfortable and apparently had no bad intentions. But you shouldn't mess with US court police officers. After the incident, I didn't see the colleague in court again; she was excluded for the duration of the proceedings.

Loud laughter is not allowed

During the weeks of the trial, I met some great colleagues from US media. One of them is Norm Eisen, who works as a legal expert for CNN. Norm is – and I don’t mean this disrespectfully – a bit older. One day we sat next to each other on one of the hard wooden benches. He asked me which media I worked for – to my surprise, he knew the star. Eisen was previously the US ambassador to the Czech Republic, appointed by Barack Obama. When a court police officer told a colleague not to put his bag on the seat next to him, Norm joked that the police officers were more like “prison guards”. By the way, loud laughter is also not allowed.

The courtroom and the “overflow room” are on the 15th floor of the criminal court. Room 1530, where Trump spends week after week, was also where Harvey Weinstein was tried. Trump addresses the press every day, usually in the morning and in the late afternoon after the day of the trial, only rarely in between.

Donald Trump made his statements right in front of the men's restroom

The court has thought of something special for his statements. There is an area reserved especially for him. Trump stands in front of a metal barrier, like the ones usually used at concerts. His statements usually last between five and 15 minutes. To the right behind him is the entrance to the men's restroom. I really want to spare you the details at this point. But if at all possible, you should avoid this place.

The longer the trial lasted, the more supporters Trump brought with him. Last week I had a seat right in the courtroom, two rows behind Donald Trump. (The hairstyle is actually a phenomenon, but we don't want to get too apolitical here.) The entourage also included Sebastian Gorka, a former Trump employee in the White House. He is clearly mourning that time. Gorka was carrying a metal briefcase bearing the US President's seal. At first I thought he might have taken the suitcase with the codes for the nuclear weapons. But it turned out that you can buy such suitcases as souvenirs.

Trump usually spends his breaks in the courthouse. Sometimes his people got lunch from McDonalds, sometimes they had pizza. Photographers took pictures of the former president's staff bringing the bags and boxes into the courthouse. I can't tell you for sure whether Trump ate any of them. If he did, that would at least explain why he struggled with fatigue here and there.

In the queue with Rudy Giuliani's son

Speaking of tired: Last week I was standing in line early in the morning, a little tired from a sleepless night. I got chatting to a colleague I didn't know. He introduced himself as Andrew, quickly noticed my accent and told me that he likes to buy his suits from Zara in Europe. He also praised his blue shoes, saying they were waterproof.

A bit of an odd guy, I thought to myself, but the conversation helped to pass the time. Later I saw him taking photos with Trump fans in front of the court. Andrew's last name is Giuliani, it turns out. He is the son of Rudy Giuliani, ran unsuccessfully for governor of New York in 2022 and is now reporting on the trial for his followers on X. “There is no other way than an acquittal,” Giuliani said there recently. We'll definitely see each other again on Tuesday, when the closing arguments are to be made.