US House of Representatives leader says justice system used “as a weapon” against Trump

US House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson arrived at the New York trial of former President Donald Trump on Tuesday and complained that the justice system was being used against the former head of state. The US justice system had been used “as a weapon against President Trump,” the Republican chairman of the House of Representatives told reporters in reference to incumbent US President Joe Biden. In the historic trial in New York on Tuesday, Trump's ex-lawyer Michael Cohen was questioned by the defense.

“The system uses all the tools currently at its disposal to punish one president and provide cover for another.” Johnson appeared in court with several other Republican lawmakers and stood behind Trump as he spoke to reporters before the start of the trial. Trump is expected to run as the Republican candidate in the presidential election in November against the Democratic incumbent Biden, to whom the right-wing populist lost in the 2020 election.

Johnson later stated that Trump was “innocent” of the charges in the New York trial. “Anyone who looks at this objectively cannot deny that the justice system in our country was used as a weapon against President Trump,” Johnson said.

In the first criminal trial in history against a former US president, Trump is accused of having covered up hush money for porn star Stormy Daniels by falsifying business documents and thus illegally interfering in the presidential election. The hush money had been used to force the former porn actress to keep quiet about an alleged sex affair that she says she had with the real estate mogul in 2006.

Johnson also attacked the prosecution's key witness in the trial, saying Trump's ex-lawyer Cohen was a liar “on a personal mission of revenge.”

As in other Western countries, the US Constitution provides for the separation of powers into legislative, executive and judicial branches. It is an extremely unusual occurrence for the president of a chamber of Congress to appear at a criminal trial and support the accused.

Trump praised Johnson and other Republicans in front of the reporters present. He has many representatives “and they speak very beautifully,” said the 77-year-old right-wing populist.

Trump's former lawyer Cohen, who had already had to answer questions for five hours in the trial on Monday, was questioned by the defense on Tuesday. Cohen seemed surprised when lawyer Todd Blanche tried to portray him as a revenge-hungry former Trump supporter. “At the time, I was knee-deep in the cult of Donald Trump,” said Cohen. “I didn't lie, that's how I felt.”

Cohen, who went from being Trump's confidant to being Trump's enemy, reported on Monday that he had paid the hush money shortly before the 2016 election with the consent of his then boss. He transferred $130,000 (about €120,000 in today's value) to Stormy Daniels. According to the indictment, he was later reimbursed for the money by Trump when he was already president. The reimbursements to Cohen were therefore falsely declared as legal fees.

Cohen said in court on Tuesday that he made the payments to ensure the story did not become public “and did not harm Mr. Trump's chances of becoming President of the United States.”

Cohen had worked for Trump for ten years and was considered his cleaner, a specialist in solving particularly tricky problems. He campaigned for Trump with such vehemence that he was also called his “pit bull”. During Trump's presidency, however, Cohen came under pressure from investigations and became a bitter enemy of his former boss.

Cohen himself was sentenced to three years in prison in 2018 for tax and financial crimes and making false statements. He served the sentence partly in prison and partly under house arrest. Some of the crimes that earned him the prison sentence related to the hush money for Stormy Daniels, which was classified as illegal campaign financing in Cohen's conviction.