My week sitting inches from Donald Trump – and why I nearly got thrown out of his trial

When Donald Trump enters the court for his hush-money trial, everyone stops and stares
When Donald Trump enters the court for his hush-money trial, everyone stops and stares - GETTY IMAGES

“Are you on the list?” the burly man guarding the door asks.

“Yes... I should be”, I reply, watching nervously as he flicks through several sheets of A4 paper.

It’s 7.30am and I’ve been waiting in the cold for over an hour. I’ve lost the feeling in my right big toe.

The line behind me spills out onto the street and around the corner. There are at least two other queues across the road.

While it might look as though we’re waiting to get into an achingly trendy Manhattan club or a viral TikTok eatery, everyone here is queuing up for a new type of New York entertainment – Donald Trump’s hush money trial.

Throngs of reporters have been descending on 100 Centre Street each morning to watch the first criminal trial of a former US president unfold.

Inside Part 59, the courtroom where the case is being held, former tabloid publisher David Pecker this week spent hours describing how he, Michael Cohen and “the boss” hatched a plan to bury negative news about Mr Trump during the 2016 election.

So far salacious details have included everything from allegations of  $150,000 payoffs to Playboy models to “thank you” dinners at the White House.

Reporters wait their turn to be allowed into the court
Reporters wait their turn to be allowed into the court - SUSIE COEN

But standing outside the courtroom, waiting to be let in, is far less glamorous.

On Monday there’s an almost-hour delay to the doors opening, with murmurs about security sweeps.

A female reporter behind me takes a sip of her iced coffee, looks me in the eye and describes the trial as “like a month-long kegel”.

Another eats a Starbucks cake pop in a New York Knicks beanie.

If your name is on the list of 64 sanctioned journalists – as The Telegraph’s was this week – you’re eventually given a coloured piece of card which allows you to get in and out of the courtroom.

My pass for the day
My pass for the day - SUSIE COEN

But once you’re behind the large aluminium doors, not getting thrown out of the building is an entirely different beast.

The dozen or so police officers patrolling the dull, wood-panelled courtroom appear hellbent on making an example out of someone.

You mustn’t touch your phone. Don’t you dare eat, talk, laugh or breathe for that matter.

I’m threatened with eviction for saying “no worries” when a reporter apologises for leaning over me to get a better view of the Republican nominee.

“There’s no commenting, there’s no outbursts, nothing, remain quiet in the audience”, bellows a stocky officer whose moustache traces his lip line slightly too far, making him look perpetually unhappy.

When Mr Trump strides down the aisle of the courtroom, trailed by his entourage of lawyers and secret service agents, everyone stops and stares.

Was that a wink? A scowl? What’s another word for “orange complexion”?

My hot scoop is I think he carries a tin of mints in his right pocket which rattles every time he swooshes past me. Hold the front page.

“Come to order, Part 59 is now in session”, another stern-looking officer shouts.

I’ve sat in the same seat almost every day of the trial –  a few rows behind Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg.

Mr Trump takes his seat on Thursday
Mr Trump takes his seat on Thursday - GETTY IMAGES

I have a clear view of the back of Mr Trump’s head most of the time, but I think one police officer gets a kick out of standing in my eyeline.

There are big screens with a live feed of the witness box and Mr Trump himself - although the picture is so small that making out his expressions – or sleeping patterns – is no easy feat.

One reporter flashes a pair of compact binoculars. I order a set on Amazon Prime for $21.

The temperature inside the courtroom has become a point of contention for Mr Trump, who claims it’s “freezing” and it’s part of a conspiracy against him.

The room itself is divided.

While I’m in a long dress and a jumper, with my coat firmly on the floor, other reporters are bundled up in puffer jackets.

One member of the jury is wearing a woollen blazer, while another is in a short-sleeved polo shirt.

When we’re eventually given a short break, going to the toilet is a military operation.

You can’t stand up until Mr Trump has exited the room and the swarm of police officers give you the all clear.

Reporters waiting for the doors to the courthouse to open
Reporters waiting for the doors to the courthouse to open - SUSIE COEN

Then you must sprint to the loos, quickly, or you’ll be at the back of yet another enormous line. There’s one soap dispenser which oozes green gunge.

I wolf down a homemade chicken and cheese sandwich and try not to think about the health risks.

Mr Trump had called for his supporters to come out and protest but the only members of the public I meet are retired tech worker David Fried, 67, and his wife Wendy.

The couple, from California, are visiting their children and decided to queue up at 6am in the hope of getting into court because they “decided it would be fun”.

“I would say I’m not a fan of Trump”, Mr Fried says.

On Thursday morning there’s a hubbub in court as news of Harvey Weinstein’s quashed rape conviction travels around the room.

Weinstein was tried in this courtroom – and even sat in the same spot as Mr Trump – four years ago.

Friday morning starts with an Australian journalist handing out cinnamon sticky buns from a Greek bakery.

A second colleague dishes out enormous grapes from a red carrier bag.

The end of the week sees Mr Pecker’s testimony finally come to a close. I’ll miss his array of brightly coloured ties.

Rhona Graff, Mr Trump’s executive assistant for 34 years, is the second witness called.

The former president smiles as she describes working for him as “stimulating” and “exciting”.

Bizarrely, Mr Trump bolts up and tries to touch his loyal colleague’s hand as she steps down from the witness stand.

I can feel the room collectively try to stay awake when the next witness, Cohen’s former banker, describes the minutia of opening a new business account.

Mr Trump has his eyes closed and even the most severe police officer is yawning.

Eventually, Judge Juan Merchan says we can “call it a week”.

Once Mr Trump and his entourage storm past, we’re eventually allowed to filter out of court.

A police officer gathers our colour-coded pieces of card like a teacher collecting homework.

“Have a great weekend, take care”, he says.

Until next week, Mr Trump.