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Trump’s family steers clear of trial — even as he spotlights them

Trump’s family steers clear of trial — even as he spotlights them

To survive the most sordid of the legal cases against him, Donald Trump is relying on unseen — and unwilling — character witnesses: his family.

In the opening weeks of Trump’s criminal hush money trial, the former president has attempted to brandish his family-man bonafides amid a slew of salacious testimony.

First, he pleaded with the judge to allow his attendance at his son Barron’s high school graduation later this month, a concession Justice Juan Merchan finally made last week (“Forced to miss my son’s graduation,” read the attendant fundraising email). Then, he lamented not being able to celebrate his wife Melania’s birthday with her, saying nothing of the fact that she could have jetted to see him (“I wish I could be with my lovely wife on her birthday, but instead, a CROOKED prosecutor has me STUCK IN A COURTROOM!” that solicitation read.) And then, as the doting grandfather, Trump posted to Truth Social a photo of him with his grandchildren next to a golf cart, all of them dressed in white.

“With Donald, everything is transactional, including his family relationships,” said David Cay Johnston, the Trump biographer and investigative journalist. “Lots of people have had their spouses who know they’re going to be humiliated show up in court. But not Donald.”

“If there’s anything that the whole Trump family understands, it’s optics,” said Stephanie Grisham, Melania’s former press secretary who resigned on Jan. 6, 2021. “And the moment people started to notice no family around, Eric showed up to the last court date. It’s all for show.”

Into this absence of familial support strode Trump’s son, the first family member to attend the trial and who listened to testimony in-person during the day. Father and son spoke, separated by a wooden barrier.

He heard testimony from Keith Davidson, an attorney who represented Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, about brokering the women’s deals to sell their stories.

One witness for the prosecution, however, portrayed Trump and his connections to his family in a much more positive light. The former president’s longtime confidante, Hope Hicks, on Friday took the stand and testified under oath for about three hours.

During her emotional testimony, Hicks recounted how Trump didn’t want Melania to learn about his alleged affairs and went so far as to prevent newspapers being delivered to their residence on the day the Wall Street Journal in 2016 published a story on the hush money payment to McDougal.

“President Trump really values Mrs. Trump’s opinion, and she doesn’t weigh in all the time, but when she does, it’s really meaningful to him,” Hicks said. “And, you know, he really, really respects what she has to say. So I think he was just concerned about what her perception of this would be.”

She later added: “I don’t think he wanted anyone in his family to be hurt or embarrassed by anything that was happening on the campaign.”

Trump’s campaign said the former president’s family speak to him daily and are helping him run his campaign and business.

“This story is another disgusting attempt to paint a completely false picture of President Trump’s family,” Karoline Leavitt, Trump’s campaign spokesperson, said in a statement. “President Trump’s family has courageously withstood years of brazen attacks, unfair investigations, and outright lies, and they continue to stand 100% with him as he fights Crooked Joe Biden’s sham trial in court.”

For Melania, who was said to be angered by initial reports in 2018 that her husband paid off a pornstar, the trial also presents a thorny marital matter. The alleged affair with Daniels took place in 2006, the year after Trump and Melania’s wedding, an event the prosecution’s first witness, the former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker attended.

“It doesn’t surprise me she’s not at the trial — I wouldn’t imagine she would be at any trial, that’s just not her scene,” Grisham said.

And she has not fully receded from public view amid the trial, appearing on the fundraising circuit five days into the trial at an event for the Log Cabin Republicans on April 20 at Mar-a-Lago, the Palm Beach, Florida, club where the family lives.

Trump’s direct familial appeals, said the former president’s chronicler, have not always been deft.

“Donald Trump is a performance artist, and he wants people watching this trial to believe he’s a dedicated family man and father, even though his own personal history, and the facts that are in play in this case, undermine both of those claims,” said Tim O’Brien, the Trump biographer and critic. “So it’s cartoonish of him to talk about family and his inability to go to his son’s graduation or celebrate his wife’s birthday with his wife when he was very willing in the past to visit indignities upon them.”

Far from the courtroom, talk of the trial is news of the day, and impossible to avoid with cable television in earshot. “I think everybody has made their own assessment of President Trump’s character, and so far as I know you don’t pay someone $130,000 not to have sex with you,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told CNN.

It’s unclear whether other members of Trump’s family will make an appearance as he presses on through the rest of the trial.

Trump, though, seems to be keenly aware of how crucial his family — and being seen with them — are at this legally perilous moment.

Johnston said, “He uses his family as props when he thinks it’s helpful.”


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