Johnson’s Trump trip unsettles some Republicans: ‘Tell me this isn’t so’

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Speaker Mike Johnson’s (R-La.) decision to appear this week at former President Trump’s hush money trial in Manhattan is sparking new blowback from some House Republicans, who are questioning why he would inject himself so prominently in a case involving an alleged affair with a porn star.

These Republicans, who requested to speak anonymously to discuss the sensitive topic, are accusing Johnson — a devout Southern Baptist who built a career around the fight for Christian values and moral conservatism — of undermining the party’s family values image simply to ingratiate himself with Trump, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee.

“It’s clear that Johnson thinks that this is to his political advantage to be at the courthouse at the most salacious bits of detailed, pornographic testimony. I think he’s got to answer for that,” one House Republican told The Hill.

“It seems like an odd place for him to be given what he has said.”

In one sense, there’s little surprise in Johnson’s visit to New York this week.

The Speaker has been a long-time Trump supporter, endorsing him early in the GOP primary and leading a House GOP conference that’s overwhelmingly loyal to the former president. Trump also backed Johnson as he faced a recent ouster threat in the Capitol, perhaps saving his gavel.

Yet Johnson has also fashioned a professional identity — both before and after his arrival on Capitol Hill — centered around his deeply rooted evangelical faith and the fight for traditional conservative values, both of which are being challenged by the allegations against Trump.

That striking dichotomy has not been overlooked by some in Johnson’s own House conference, who are scratching their heads over the Speaker’s decision to stick his neck out with his recent public appearance at the site of Trump’s hush money trial.

“I was watching the newscast and I saw him in the background, and I thought, ‘Tell me this isn’t so.’ Because there is no debating the fact that Mike Johnson is a devout Christian human being,” said a second Republican lawmaker, who also requested anonymity to speak candidly. “That is not even subject to a debate.”

“It’s not a good look — at all,” echoed a third GOP lawmaker.

The first Republican who spoke to The Hill referenced comments Johnson made in 2022 — which were unearthed last year — that he and his son monitor each other’s porn intake with the app Covenant Eyes, a platform that “helps you live porn-free with confidence,” according to its website. The Louisiana Republican said at the time, “I’m proud to tell you, my son’s got a clean slate.”

“I wonder if he had to report [the New York visit] to his son,” the lawmaker said facetiously.

“If you’re going there and talking about the other trials, that’s different. That looks different than this trial,” the GOP lawmaker added, alluding to separate criminal cases involving Trump’s handling of classified documents and his efforts to remain in power after losing the 2020 election.

“This is exactly what has been the discussion among tons of Republicans this week.”

Johnson, for his part, has defended his visit to Manhattan, saying it has nothing to do with the affair allegations — which Trump has denied — and everything to do with the process by which Trump is being tried.

Pressed on Tuesday about the fact that the case is centered on an alleged affair and subsequent hush money payments, Johnson pivoted to procedure.

“They have weaponized and politicized the American judicial system to go after a political opponent. It is wildly inappropriate,” the Speaker said. “As a former litigator and attorney myself, I find it to be outrageous, and I think it was certainly appropriate for me to state that there on the grounds.”

While Johnson’s House critics have been reluctant to voice their concerns publicly, Trump’s most vocal GOP detractors outside the chamber have blasted the Speaker for his decision.

“I think it’s a little demeaning to show up in front of a courthouse and — particularly one where we’re talking about an allegation of paying a porn star,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), a noted Trump critic, said this week.

“Do we have something to do around here other than watch a stupid porn trial? I mean, this is ridiculous,” echoed Rep. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), also not a fan of the former president.

Former Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), yet another Trump critic, was even more biting, accusing Johnson of abandoning his commitment to advancing high-minded moral principles.

“Have to admit I’m surprised that @SpeakerJohnson wants to be in the “I cheated on my wife with a porn star” club,” Cheney posted this week on social platform X. “I guess he’s not that concerned with teaching morality to our young people after all.”

At the center of the New York case are allegations that Trump in 2006 had sex with Stormy Daniels — a porn star who was then less than half his age — right after his wife Melania gave birth to Trump’s youngest son, Barron. A decade later, prosecutors say, Trump paid Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet so the affair wouldn’t damage his 2016 presidential campaign.

Trump has denied all the charges. But the trial has captivated the country for weeks as Daniels spilled her lurid version of the alleged affair and Trump’s former fixer, attorney Michael Cohen, detailed his allegations that Trump had orchestrated the payments for purely political reasons.

The trial has sparked an outcry from Trump’s GOP allies on Capitol Hill, and many of them have paraded up to Manhattan in recent days to stand behind the former president to protest what they say is a political witch hunt designed solely to damage Trump’s election chances in November.

Most of those lawmakers represent the right fringe of the GOP conference, including Freedom Caucus leaders, such as Reps. Bob Good (Va.) and Andy Biggs (Ariz.), and hard-line agitators like Reps. Matt Gaetz (Fla.) and Lauren Boebert (Colo.).

But on Tuesday, Johnson joined Trump’s entourage alongside Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R) and former primary candidate Vivek Ramaswamy — all of whom have been floated as potential Trump running mates. Johnson became the highest-ranking lawmaker to appear alongside the former president in Manhattan.

“President Trump is innocent of these charges,” Johnson declared outside the courtroom.

Plenty of Republicans, to be sure, have defended Johnson’s trek to New York, arguing that prosecutors have a weak case that rests on testimony from Cohen, who has a history of lying under oath to Congress and banks.

“I don’t have a problem with him going up there,” Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) said of Johnson. “He’s our nominee for president, he’s on trial in the weirdest, dumbest legal case I’ve ever seen.”

But when pressed on the specifics of the case, Republicans have gone out of their way to note that they are defending the former president from the process and not necessarily the charges itself.

“I don’t think it has anything to do with what he’s charged with. I think it’s all about, just the way that the trial itself has been conducted and the fact that there’s a lot of unfairness that’s going on,” Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) said.

Democrats have argued it was irresponsible for the Speaker — a figure who is third in line to the presidency, behind the president and vice president — to disparage the country’s judicial system, thereby undermining the public’s trust in a foundational institution that’s long been a source of national pride.

“It’s disappointing to see someone in that position, as Speaker of the House, to go up and to speak negatively of independent criminal investigations,” said Rep. Pete Aguilar (Calif.), the chair of the House Democratic Caucus. “But that’s the price that House Republicans have to pay. And that’s the price, specifically, Speaker Johnson has to pay to have President Trump have his back.”

Democrats are not alone in that criticism. Another House Republican who also requested anonymity to candidly discuss the Speaker’s trip raised concerns that Johnson, a constitutional lawyer, was casting doubt on the judicial branch.

“What I really didn’t like was the fact that as an officer of the court, he walked out and bashed the proceedings, the court, the judiciary, and that’s not fair,” the GOP lawmaker said. “And as an officer of the court you have a duty to uphold that.

“It’s one thing when Trump, who’s not a lawyer, does it. It’s quite another thing for a member of the bar.”

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