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President Mike Johnson defends his support for Trump during his trial in New York

WASHINGTON — During the drive from Trump Tower to the Manhattan courthouse on Tuesday, former President Donald Trump spoke to President Mike Johnson about the first 16 days of his secret trial and how it kept away from the electoral campaign.

“He is clearly frustrated to find himself stuck for the fifth week in this baseless trial, which prosecutors had already ignored eight years ago, to be unable to define any crime he allegedly committed and that the entire case remained incomplete. based on a known perjurer, Michael Cohen. So it’s an atrocity,” Johnson, R-La., said Wednesday in an exclusive interview in his Capitol office with NBC News.

“During the ride we talked about it. How has this tied up in court, for five weeks, the future official nominee of our party in what many of us consider to be the most critical election year of our lifetimes,” Johnson continued. “And that’s just wrong in every way.”

As the motorcade pulled into the courthouse, Johnson said Trump specifically noted that a large area around the courthouse had been cordoned off by law enforcement — which Johnson said is politically designed to alienate Trump supporters from their leader.

“No one can enter except the police. Why would they make such a large area? Yes, he is the former president, but he has a full security team when he travels around the country,” the speaker said. “The reason they did this, I believe, is part of the political objectives of this measure. They don’t want crowds to be seen as supporting President Trump. I think that’s part of the strategy and I just think it’s a travesty of justice.

The street on which Trump enters and exits the courthouse has been blocked off by police, preventing cameras from seeing him come and go and preventing Trump from seeing where the media and his supporters are gathering in a park across the street. the street. About two dozen Trump supporters gathered each day in a park across from the courthouse reserved for protesters and the public. The park is not filled to capacity. There are barricades but the park is accessible to anyone wishing to demonstrate.

Mike Johnson and Vivek Ramaswamy listen to Donald Trump speak to reporters
Johnson with Donald Trump as Trump arrives for his trial in Manhattan Criminal Court on Tuesday.Justin Lane/Pool via Getty Images

During the extensive interview in his office, with a stunning view of the National Mall, Johnson declined to recommend who Trump should choose as his vice presidential running mate, although he stood alongside several potential candidates for the post in New York. . Johnson said he had “close friends” on the short list and that the GOP had a “deep bench.”

In interviews he gave last week after surviving a vote to oust him from power, Johnson was gloating and doing Trump impressions. But this time, the 52-year-old speaker appeared calm and discreet – perhaps because of his hectic schedule and travels.

“My day is now scheduled in five-minute increments. Every day the program is like a Jenga puzzle, so it’s dizzying,” he said. “I haven’t had a day off in six months.”

Johnson, a low-level and little-known member of the leadership, was suddenly thrust into power after a three-week battle to replace ousted Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., last fall. But he faced many of the same problems – and by an even smaller majority. He breathed a sigh of relief when the House voted by a lopsided bipartisan call 359-43 to kill a motion to overturn by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., with a majority of Democrats and Republicans teaming up to maintain it. power.

Johnson predicted he would not face another vote to remove him as president this year. “I don’t think we’ll do it again,” he said.

But the speaker’s trip to the Manhattan courthouse to defend Trump has infuriated Democrats, and there is no guarantee they will save the speaker again if Greene — or any other Johnson foe — forces another vote. cancellation in the coming months.

“It showed his true colors and why, with good intentions, we made a mistake by strategically saving his job,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., “because now we have allowed him to act with complete impunity as he did.

A former constitutional litigator and lawyer, Johnson defended his decision to stand with Trump in New York, saying the former president did not ask him to attend but calling it a “spontaneous” addition to a trip to certain events in the city. .

“I went to New York to speak out against what I see as a real threat to our justice system,” he said. “I truly believe that and people can interpret it however they want. But I felt like it was the right thing to do. And I have an important voice to lend to that.

And Johnson believes lawmakers don’t want to vote to expel him — a move that could throw the House into chaos for weeks and keep vulnerable Democrats and Republicans off the campaign trail in a key election year.

“What I think most people here recognize is that the nation desperately needs a functioning Congress right now,” Johnson said. “We’re living in very dangerous times. We’ve got hot wars all over the world. And we’ve got all the unrest. Even here domestically we’ve had an open border, so we have a potentially very dangerous situation here. our own shores.

“We cannot afford to shut down Congress, as was done in October,” he added, referring to the weeks of Republican Party infighting following McCarthy’s ouster. “And I think reasonable people on both sides of the party understand that. I don’t think there’s any desire to go through that again.

Despite this, Johnson said he did not expect the House to change its rules and increase the threshold of lawmakers needed to force a vote to impeach the president – ​​currently set at just one member of Congress – this which he launched during the Republican Party’s retreat in the House. March.

“I don’t expect this to happen before the election. I mean, it will be for the 119th Congress, not the current one,” he said.

Close profile view of Mike Johnson speaking
Johnson told NBC News he doesn’t “expect” another motion to quash.Frank Thorp V/NBC News

He also rejected calls from some of his Republican allies to retaliate against Greene and the 10 other Republicans who voted to keep his motion to overturn alive. When asked about the Old Testament saying “an eye for an eye,” Johnson, a self-described “Bible-believing” Christian conservative, called himself a “New Testament guy.”

“There is a very different commandment in the New Testament, which is to forgive countless times. You don’t take revenge on yourself,” said Johnson, whose office features a small bust of Ronald Reagan and a Louisiana State University jersey emblazoned with the name “Mr. Speaker.” “I don’t no hard feelings. I am not angry with anyone. I want and must work with all our members today… As the New Testament says: “Bless even. those who persecute you.” So that’s what I try to do every day.

Johnson said he was “optimistic” about the November election, predicting that Republicans will increase their majority in the House and take back the White House and Senate in November. The speaker acknowledged there was “frustration” with the chaos that defined the 118th Congress, but he pointed to an agreement with President Joe Biden to fund the government through September and a separate deal last month with Democrats to provide billions in aid to U.S. allies. Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

“We came out of the chaos and we kept the government going – we didn’t shut it down. We have fulfilled our great obligations,” Johnson said. “We are demonstrating that we can govern here, even in the most extraordinary circumstances. »

If the Republican Party manages to take full control of the government — like in 2017, when Trump and Johnson arrived in Washington — the speaker said border security would be at the top of the legislative agenda from the start.

“We know about the open border and all the disasters and chaos that resulted from it. It needs to be secure and needs to be a top priority,” Johnson said, adding that Republicans would also pass bills addressing the threats from China, crime rates and crime. energy security.

“As I repeatedly told President Trump, I said, ‘Mr. “President, when you are re-elected, I mean, you could definitely be the most important president of the modern era because right now everything needs to be fixed and turned around,” Johnson said. “I think he thinks and focuses pragmatically on a policy-driven agenda and administration. And it’s something that excites me as a politician. So I’m very excited about the history we can make from the start of this Congress.

When asked if he would remain minority leader in 2025 if Republicans lost control of the House — which former California Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi did after the House flipped to Republicans in 2010 – Johnson responded that he hadn’t thought about it.

“I’m particularly focused on governing right now and getting that majority,” he said. “And I’m thinking about the first 100 days and the next Congress with us in charge and what the first year of Congress is going to look like. So that’s taking up everything – the very little time I have to plan.”

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News Source : www.nbcnews.com

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