News & Politics

The Hottest Sketch Artist at the Trump Trial Is . . . Jake Tapper?

Check out the CNN anchor's drawings of Stormy Daniels and Donald Trump.

Jake Tapper, host of CNN's "The Lead". Photograph courtesy of CNN.

CNN shared drawings last week from a new courtroom sketch artist—but one with a familiar name to viewers: Jake Tapper. 

On the 14th day of Donald Trump’s hush-money trial in New York City, the CNN anchor took out his iPad during a recess. No cameras are allowed in the courtroom, so the reporter started sketching witness Stephanie Clifford (a.k.a. adult-film actress Stormy Daniels) in an attempt to capture the moment. His colleagues were impressed by the quick drawing and encouraged Tapper to create a few more sketches to share with viewers. 

One of Tapper’s sketches of Stephanie Clifford (a.k.a. Stormy Daniels) at the witness stand. Photograph courtesy of Jake Tapper.

“I think it’s one of those things like when a dog can ride a bicycle,” says Tapper. “The bicycle riding isn’t particularly good, but the fact that it’s a dog doing it makes everybody say, ‘Oh, wow, look at that!’” 

Although the illustrations are Tapper’s first foray into courtroom sketches, the journalist says drawing has been a lifelong passion. After discovering strips like “Peanuts” and “Doonesbury” as a child, Tapper fell in love with the world of cartoons. He practiced political cartooning throughout high school and even had his own strip in his college paper at Dartmouth. At some point, Tapper considered making a career out of it. 

“That was actually what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to have a daily comic strip,” says Tapper. “I tried after college, but it just did not happen for me. I pursued some other stuff and ended up in journalism.”

Still, the self-described “failed cartoonist” is happy for an opportunity to incorporate drawing into his day job. When adapting his skills to the courtroom, Tapper made sure he was presenting the scene in a more realistic way than his typical cartoon style. 

“It’s a serious proceeding, and I wanted to be respectful,” said Tapper. “I didn’t want it to look like I was just saying ‘Wocka Wocka!’ and having fun.”

Because no cameras are permitted in the courtroom, Tapper tried to bring the experience to viewers through his drawings. For example, he ensured that an image of Stormy on the stand included a computer screen so people could understand how much time she spent looking through evidence.

Another sketch of Stephanie Clifford at the witness stand, viewing evidence on a computer screen. Photograph courtesy of Jake Tapper.

In another sketch, he put the defense attorney, judge, witness, and defendant in a single frame. It’s an attempt to show the layout of the room but also a way to show people Trump was not looking at Stormy during her testimony.

“I heard people mention that he avoided eye contact with her, but I didn’t really understand how that was possible until I was actually there,” Tapper says. 

A sketch of Donald Trump, judge Juan Merchan, defense attorney Susan Necheles, and Stephanie Clifford in court. Photograph courtesy of Jake Tapper.

Despite sharing his work with CNN viewers last week, Tapper doesn’t consider himself a courtroom sketch artist. 

“I will not compare myself to the masters of that craft—like Jane Rosenberg or Christine Cornell—who were in that courtroom,” says Tapper. “They capture the essence of a moment. I’m less able to do that.”

It’s unlikely we’ll get more courtroom sketches from Tapper in the future. As he puts it, “The dog already rode the bicycle.” However, drawing remains a major part of his life. The journalist is currently working on a graphic novel about Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie. In fact, the reason he brought his iPad to the courtroom was to work on the novel during the break. The sketches of the scene were simply a moment of reprieve from the intense project.

“It’s been really fascinating and terrifying to draw those images,” says Tapper. “But it was much more fun to draw Stormy Daniels.”

Omega Ilijevich
Editorial Fellow