'Cohen's a joke': Trump faithful defiant ahead of ex-fixer's testimony

Former US President and 2024 Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Wildwood, New Jersey, on May 11, 2024. [AFP]

Empty fairground rides twisted and spun Saturday on the New Jersey shore as thousands of Donald Trump supporters filled a pristine beach for a rally ahead of potentially damaging testimony in his criminal trial next week.

Several of them assailed Trump's former fixer-turned-foe Michael Cohen, who is scheduled on Monday to give evidence against the ex-president in his New York trial, ratcheting up his political and legal jeopardy.

Prosecutors want Cohen to lay out the details of how, as Trump's personal lawyer, he shepherded a $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels for her silence over an alleged sexual tryst.

Trump and his defense team deny such an event took place, blasting Cohen as a liar who had served jail time for campaign finance violations.

"Cohen's a joke. He has no credibility at all," said Lisa Lombardo, 61, a director of physician relations from the nearby New Jersey town of Medford to the Wildwood resort for the rally Saturday.

"I don't believe anything is going to come of it. It's only galvanized the base... Fair-minded Democrats know it's crap," added Lombardo, who insisted a gag order from Judge Juan Merchan that prevents Trump attacking Cohen and other witnesses was "unconstitutional."

Around Lombardo, who wore a bright pink "Women for Trump" baseball cap, other supporters of the former president fanned out across the beach, some unfurling picnic blankets as seagulls circled overhead, creating a festive atmosphere.

Diehard fans of Trump, who is seeking a White House comeback in the November elections, had traveled from as far afield as Hawaii, with some camping out on the beach to secure a spot for the rally.

"We will defeat the deep state," said a Trump speech played on loudspeakers to the crowd.

Overhead a small yellow plane towed a banner attacking a former New Jersey Republican lawmaker who had failed to seek Trump's endorsement.

The seaside resort venue for the rally, Trump's first since mid-April, was a far cry from the dingey Manhattan courthouse that has hosted Trump four days a week since the start of his trial for covering up hush-money payments.

John Dipietro, a financial planner celebrating his 60th birthday at the rally, called the New York trial "politically motivated."

'Jailhouse Rock'

"(Cohen) is a convicted liar, and it's ironic they'll let a convicted liar talk... and not a person who was the president and not convicted," he added, sporting a T-shirt emblazoned with the words, "Trump was right about everything."

Dipietro, who has donated to the Republican's campaign, said if Trump was convicted in the New York case it would give him "even more desire to knock on a few more doors to get (people) to come out and vote" in November.

The expected re-run of the 2020 contest between Trump and President Joe Biden will be held on November 5.

Elvis Presley's 1957 hit "Jailhouse Rock" was among the tracks blasted out to the Wildwood crowd, which Trump's campaign estimated could hit 40,000, filling the space between two piers.

Pick-up trucks and Jeep off-roaders adorned with giant flags supporting Trump and banners denouncing Biden patrolled the coast road beside the rally site, as a large contingent of police waited nearby.

Danielle Janik, 56, had driven almost three hours to the rally from Pennsylvania, a swing state that likely will be a must-win for either candidate come November.

"Cohen's untrustworthy and I think he's trying to make a name for himself," said Janik, a full-time caregiver attending her first Trump rally.

Even if Trump, facing four criminal cases, were to be convicted, "There is absolutely no way I'm not voting for (him)," Janik said.