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GOP in Congress follows familiar route of rallying to Trump’s support

Republicans decry news of New York indictment; Democrats say no one is above the law

Former President Donald Trump addresses the America First Policy Institute's America First Agenda Summit in July 2022.
Former President Donald Trump addresses the America First Policy Institute's America First Agenda Summit in July 2022. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Republican lawmakers on Thursday swiftly condemned the reported indictment of former President Donald Trump, lashing out at the Manhattan district attorney’s office for what they called an unfair and politically motivated attack.

“Outrageous,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, tweeted minutes after The New York Times, Associated Press and other news outlets reported news of the Manhattan grand jury’s vote.

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., also called the news outrageous. “The sham New York indictment of President Donald Trump is one of the clearest examples of extremist Democrats weaponizing government to attack their political opponents,” Scalise tweeted.

Democratic lawmakers, on the other hand, widely pointed to the need to treat everyone fairly under the law, even former presidents who are running for the White House.

“No one is above the law,” New York Democratic Rep. Adriano Espaillat tweeted, a phrase echoed by many liberal lawmakers.

And Colorado Democratic Rep. Jason Crow called it a “somber” moment for the nation: “As we see this process unfold, I hope Americans can find faith in our judicial system and take heart in knowing justice benefits us all.”

Historic first

The Manhattan district attorney’s office later Thursday confirmed the indictment of the 76-year-old Trump, who reportedly was under investigation for his role in paying hush money to a porn star. The exact charge or charges are not yet public, and the office said it has contacted Trump’s attorney to coordinate a surrender for an arraignment at a later date.

But the grand jury vote makes him the first former president in U.S. history to be indicted, an unprecedented moment that deepens his legal exposure as he pushes forward with a comeback bid for the White House.

The reaction from lawmakers underscored the lengths of Trump’s continued sway over the Republican Party, even as the twice-impeached former president faces a burgeoning 2024 presidential primary and a special counsel investigation from the Justice Department.

In responding to the indictment, a historic moment in American politics, congressional Republicans found themselves on familiar ground: rushing to support Trump after he is accused of illegality or wrongdoing.

In statements and press releases, congressional Republicans sought to turn the attention toward Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, attacking his approach to violent crime and delivering broadsides against his office’s investigation of Trump.

“The unprecedented election interference from corrupt Socialist District Attorney Alvin Bragg is a political witch-hunt and a dark day for America,” Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, the House Republican Conference chairwoman, said. “The radical Far Left will stop at nothing to persecute Joe Biden’s chief political opponent ahead of the 2024 presidential election to suppress the will and voice of the American people.”

Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, who lost to Trump in his push to become the Republican presidential nominee in 2016, tweeted that the “Democrat Party’s hatred for Donald Trump knows no bounds.”

“The ‘substance’ of this political persecution is utter garbage,” Cruz said. “This is completely unprecedented and is a catastrophic escalation in the weaponization of the justice system.”

Trump reaction

Trump, in a statement, called the indictment “Political Persecution and Election Interference at the highest level in history.”

“The Democrats have lied, cheated and stolen in their obsession with trying to ‘Get Trump,’ but now they’ve done the unthinkable – indicting a completely innocent person in an act of blatant Election Interference,” Trump said.

The indictment in New York is not the only legal trouble Trump faces. It comes months after the FBI searched Trump’s property in Florida as part of an ongoing criminal investigation into the Republican former president.

After Trump announced he would run for president again, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland appointed Jack Smith as special counsel to oversee two criminal investigations: one into efforts to interfere with the transfer of power after the 2020 presidential election and the other into the handling of materials marked as classified that were found at Trump’s property.

Fundraising emails began flying shortly after news of the former president’s indictment, with Rep. Ronny Jackson, R-Texas, having an email with a breaking news banner hitting inboxes shortly after 6 p.m.: “Out of control liberal prosecutors just INDICTED President Trump!”

Trump sent his own fundraising email about the indictment, including an image of a New York Times headline.

House Republicans appear poised to fight back in whatever way they can. “Hunter Biden: Call your lawyers,” California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, tweeted.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California tweeted that Bragg “has irreparably damaged our country in an attempt to interfere in our Presidential election.”

“The American people will not tolerate this injustice, and the House of Representatives will hold Alvin Bragg and his unprecedented abuse of power to account,” McCarthy said.

Fighting back

Even before the formal indictment in New York, Republicans were turning their sights on Bragg, decrying his moves as politically motivated.

On March 20, several House Republican committee chairs issued a letter requesting documents and testimony from Bragg, asking for all communications between the Manhattan district attorney’s office and the federal Justice Department related to his office’s investigation of Trump.

The letter was signed by Jordan, Rep. Bryan Steil, chairman of the Committee on House Administration, and James R. Comer, who leads the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability.

The Republicans, who signed the letter before Trump’s formal indictment, lambasted Bragg and characterized a possible indictment as “motivated by political calculations.”

“In light of the serious consequences of your actions, we expect that you will testify about what plainly appears to be a politically motivated prosecutorial decision,” the letter read.

Days later, the Manhattan district attorney’s office issued a letter to the lawmakers, saying that their request is an unprecedented inquiry into a pending local prosecution and “an unlawful incursion into New York’s sovereignty.”

“The Letter only came after Donald Trump created a false expectation that he would be arrested the next day and his lawyers reportedly urged you to intervene. Neither fact is a legitimate basis for congressional inquiry,” according to the letter, which was signed by Leslie Dubeck, general counsel for the district attorney’s office.

The lawmakers seek nonpublic information about a criminal investigation that’s pending, which is “confidential under state law,” Dubeck wrote in the letter.

“These confidentiality provisions exist to protect the interests of the various participants in the criminal process-the defendant, the witnesses, and members of the grand jury-as well as the integrity of the grand jury proceeding itself,” she wrote.

Jordan has also requested documents and testimony from two former prosecutors who investigated Trump but left while at the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

The prosecutors, Mark Pomerantz and Carey Dunne, reportedly resigned over the direction of the investigation.

For his part, McCarthy said recently that people should not protest if Trump was indicted. Those comments came after McCarthy on Twitter accused Bragg of abusing his office and said the district attorney was pursuing “political vengeance” against Trump.

“So it’s not here that we’re coming to defend President Trump. What we’re coming to defend is equal justice in America. And I think every American believes in that,” McCarthy said during a news conference earlier this month.

Michael Macagnone and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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