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These people waited hours to see the Trump hush-money trial up close. Here's why

A line forms Monday outside the courthouse for a chance to sit in on the 16th day of former President Trump's hush-money trial in Manhattan, N.Y.
José A. Alvarado Jr. for NPR
A line forms Monday outside the courthouse for a chance to sit in on the 16th day of former President Trump's hush-money trial in Manhattan, N.Y.

NEW YORK — Outside the Manhattan courthouse these days, a line stretches down the block as people await the chance to sit in one of the two rooms where the public can watch Donald Trump's criminal trial. Some told NPR they're in from out of town on vacation, others paid line sitters to hold their places and some are repeat visitors.

Craig Weinstein and his daughter Jessica were among those in line on Monday — the first day of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen's testimony — visiting from California for Mother's Day. They arrived in downtown New York at about 5 a.m. Eating their oatmeal and fruit breakfast far back in the line, they hoped to at least make it into the overflow room to watch the proceedings.

"We always like to do the historical events," Weinstein said. "Last game at Yankee Stadium. Last game at Shea Stadium. Anything that's big, we do. So this is our thing."

Among those in line was Craig Weinstein, 65, who was visiting from California.
/ José A. Alvarado Jr. for NPR
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José A. Alvarado Jr. for NPR
Among those in line was Craig Weinstein, 65, who was visiting from California.

The trial is historic. This is the first time a sitting or former president has been tried on criminal charges. Trump, the presumptive 2024 GOP presidential nominee, is accused of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records with the intent to further other crimes ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

The general public is welcome to watch the proceedings but not all make it inside. The first five to nine people in line are likely to get a spot in the main courtroom where Trump, the jury and the witnesses are; then about 30 go in an overflow room down the hall, where the proceedings are displayed on closed-circuit TV. Some line standers say they start camping out at midnight, or even the night before. The courthouse doors usually open to the line about an hour and half before the 9:30 a.m. ET start of the trial weekdays except Wednesdays.

Craig and Jessica Weinstein weren't the only family members. Near the front of the line Eileen Lucuski waited with her son Andrew, who was home from college for a few days after finishing finals at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa. They arrived downtown at 3 a.m.

"It's history. It's kind of great, too, to make sure to see things like this," Eileen said. "And I wanted to kind of see for myself how it ... all works and how it's going."

Andrew Lucuski, 20, was waiting in line as well.
/ José A. Alvarado Jr. for NPR
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José A. Alvarado Jr. for NPR
Andrew Lucuski, 20, was waiting in line as well.

See for herself — because despite the high-profile nature of the trial, no cameras or audio recording is allowed.

"You can only get so much from TV and there's no cameras in there," Lucuski said. "So just kind of experience it and see what's going on."

The opportunity to witness the proceedings firsthand was enough for several people to pay for dedicated line-sitting services. Cameron Cauffman, who took a four-hour train from Massachusetts with a friend, paid more than $400 for their line sitters.

"It's a little bit hard to get to New York City from where I live, but I thought I'm just going to do it," Cauffman said. "I've been following the trial pretty closely, but I haven't read any of the transcripts or actually gotten a sense of what the mood is like. So I want to just have that experience with it."

Neil Mandt from Los Angeles also paid for a line sitter to reserve his spot close to the front of the line. A former ABC producer on the O.J. Simpson criminal trial, Mandt said he was curious to see another big trial.

Among the crowd was Cameron Cauffman, 39, who took a four-hour train ride to get in line.
/ José A. Alvarado Jr. for NPR
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José A. Alvarado Jr. for NPR
Among the crowd was Cameron Cauffman, 39, who took a four-hour train ride to get in line.

Politics looms over the trial

Trump, who pleaded not guilty, claims the trial itself is "election interference" because of how it is disrupting his presidential campaign. The presumptive GOP nominee has both supporters and opponents in the crowd.

Moni Mohan, a Manhattan resident, has attended seven days of the trial. Wearing her red, white and blue "Make America Great Again" hat, she said she wanted to see and hear the trial for herself, echoing Trump's sentiment by calling it "political persecution."

Moni Mohan says she voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. She sees the trial against Trump as "political persecution."
/ José A. Alvarado Jr. for NPR
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José A. Alvarado Jr. for NPR
Moni Mohan says she voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. She sees the trial against Trump as "political persecution."

"I didn't know him very well, so I started ... slowly learning, and now I really strongly support him ... because I really think his policy is good for the world and good for America," Mohan said, noting that in 2016 she voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton. "America comes first, I really believe that. Every president of each country should think about their country first."

Mary-Ann Trippet, who lives in the Bronx, has also been at the trial for several days, but got to be in the courtroom the day Trump had a gag order hearing.

"I'm just fascinated, you know? This object of my fury for about eight years — we have the opportunity to see him," Trippet said. "Every day that I haven't had to work or whatever, I'll try to come running over and see what's going on because it's just — it's fascinating."

Mary-Ann Trippet, 67, has attended several days of the trial.
/ José A. Alvarado Jr. for NPR
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José A. Alvarado Jr. for NPR
Mary-Ann Trippet, 67, has attended several days of the trial.

Then there were Jennifer Weinstein and Vivian Topp, two Upper West Side neighbors, who arrived at about 5:30 a.m.

"I'm very upset [because] maybe this is going to be the only trial that will be before the election. So something went wrong, in my opinion," Weinstein said, describing herself as a "Rockefeller Republican."

Topp said she voted for Trump the first time, but won't again.

"I feel absolutely betrayed by the man ... because I knew of him as being a New Yorker," Topp said, adding that she didn't like how Trump ran the government during his term. "I'm sorry, but Donald Trump has not been following the rules. And I am hoping that New York City shows itself here."

Copyright 2024 NPR

Viviane Topp, 76, a former Trump voter says she feels betrayed by the former president.
/ José A. Alvarado Jr. for NPR
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José A. Alvarado Jr. for NPR
Viviane Topp, 76, a former Trump voter, says she feels betrayed by the former president.

Ximena Bustillo
Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.