Skip to Content

Top Trump surrogates and VP contenders hit airwaves in defense of former president on trial

By Alayna Treene, Kit Maher and Daniel Strauss, CNN

(CNN) — Donald Trump’s campaign is deploying his top surrogates, including potential vice presidential picks, to span the airwaves in what they are characterizing as a full-fledged media defense of the former president, as he confronts a historic criminal trial in New York City, his advisers told CNN.

In recent days, the Trump campaign has circulated a document of talking points, obtained by CNN, to his allies, as well as directly booked surrogates on television as part of its effort to have the former president’s top allies “blanketing the airwaves,” as one senior Trump adviser described it.

Trump has told his advisers that he wants as much media coverage of his court appearances as possible – including having his supporters defend him on TV, sources familiar with the conversations told CNN.

The campaign’s strategy of having Trump’s surrogates maximize media coverage isn’t new: It’s the same approach his team used in the aftermath of each of his indictments. A new element playing out behind the scenes, however, is the timing of this media defense campaign.

Not only is the proceeding taking place at a time when his team is uncertain of how the trial and the salacious details of the case will play with general election voters, but it also comes as Trump is weighing potential running mates – making this period a tryout of sorts for his vice presidential contenders.

Some of Trump’s prospective VP picks are taking their own initiative, without urging from the former president’s campaign, to defend him, according to sources familiar with their tactics.

“The stakes are very high not just for the president personally and politically but also for his surrogates. They have to know – and I’m sure they all do – that everything you say is going to be noticed not just by the president but by his closest advisors as well,” said Gregg Keller, a Republican strategist. “It’s not just going to be a situation where maybe you say something sub-optimal and it gets lost in the mix or doesn’t get noticed. That’s not how things operate in Trump World. They know and hear about everything.”

Another veteran Republican strategist, granted anonymity to speak candidly, said, “Really, the assignment is nominally ‘go defend Trump on TV.’ The assignment is actually ‘go show that you’re a really, really effective communicator so Trump believes he has in you an ally and a surrogate that’s going to be compelling.’”

Already, at least four potential Trump VP contenders have appeared on TV or made statements on social media undercutting the credibility of the case and players within it, or falsely claimed election interference.

On CNN Monday morning, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum called the case “a sham trial” run by a “politically motivated” district attorney and claimed: “If this was brought against anybody other than President Trump, this would have been a misdemeanor.”

Burgum also suggested that the criminal trial’s unprecedented nature has been blown out of proportion. “What’s unprecedented, what’s historic, is the fact the lawfare that’s going on where the two-tier justice system is trying to take something that’s basically a boring business filing case and turn it into the trial of the century, and Americans can see right through it,” he said.

Putting the general election in focus, Burgum also said the American people want to see Trump debate President Joe Biden on stage, as the Trump campaign last week called on the Commission on Presidential Debates to move up the debate schedule and add more debates.

Burgum has kept in regular touch with Trump officials and spoke with them as recently as the Sunday before his interview, according to a Republican with knowledge of those talks.

Rep. Elise Stefanik, the House Republican conference chair, highlighted how she led a criminal referral in November 2023 demanding Attorney General Merrick Garland immediately investigate Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen for lying to Congress during a February 2019 deposition.

“The DOJ still refuses to charge the disgraced, disbarred attorney who admitted his guilt. Now, Soros-funded Alvin Bragg is relying on disgraced Michael Cohen as his key witness in his sham case. The double standard of justice is clear,” Stefanik posted on X. She also called presiding Judge Juan Merchan “corrupt” and called the case a “show trial,” claiming election interference.

Moments later, Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance posted of the Manhattan district attorney: “What Alvin Bragg is doing to President Trump is a disgrace to the rule of law and the opposite of Justice. It’s also election interference.”

Rather than mentioning the trial specifically, Sen. Tim Scott painted with a broader brush.

“What the radical Left is doing is not just election interference, it’s election engineering. They will try everything (and fail) to stop Donald J. Trump,” the South Carolina Republican posted on X.

While Trump told entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy that he will not be chosen as his running mate, according to a source familiar with the conversation, he is being considered for a Cabinet position. Bloomberg was first to report on the conversation, which the source said occurred at Mar-a-Lago in the first week of March.

Monday morning, Ramaswamy posted a nearly 3-minute video on X direct-to-camera arguing that Bragg’s case demonstrates “a bastardization of our legal system.”

“You have Alvin Bragg, a Manhattan DA who was elected on the promise of going after Donald Trump. For what crime, we have no idea, just the idea that they had to go after Donald Trump,” Ramaswamy said. “I think Trump is going to prevail. But most importantly, I hope we move beyond this phase of our history, where you have one political party that thinks it can use the legal system to prosecute its opponents.”

The talking points

Much of the commentary being shared by Trump’s surrogates reference the themes highlighted in talking points circulated by the former president’s campaign.

The document, labeled “The Biden Trial, Talking Points,” parrots the same language the former president has used to attack the case.

It urges Trump surrogates to paint the trial as “a full-frontal assault on American Democracy and the Constitution” and a “witch hunt” designed by the Biden campaign to hurt the former president’s 2024 White House bid – despite it being a state case brought by Manhattan’s top prosecutor.

It also directs supporters not to refer to the case as a “hush money case,” instead labeling it as being “entries in the company’s records,” and claiming Trump “did not control the books.”

The talking points dedicate an entire page to attacking Bragg, and a separate section to discrediting Cohen, Trump’s former “fixer” who is expected to serve as a lead witness in prosecutors’ arguments. The document emphasizes Cohen’s 2018 guilty plea to campaign finance violations and paints him as someone with a “personal vendetta” against the former president.

Sprinkled throughout the document is an emphasis on Trump’s innocence, claiming that “President Trump did nothing wrong, his position has never wavered.”

And twice, the same line, which acknowledges Trump could potentially be convicted, appears – claiming that Trump “faces no realistic threat of jail, even with a wrongful guilty verdict from the jury.”

The talking points also say Trump will “never stop fighting” for the American people – rather than as a means of self-preservation – something surrogates emphasize in underscoring how they believe he will prevail and efforts against him will fail.

™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - US Politics

Jump to comments ↓

CNN Newsource


KIFI Local News 8 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content