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Severity of Trump indictment handcuffs Republican defenses

Some defenses of former president focused on prosecutor decisions, other investigations or the impact on the 2024 race for the White House

Supporters of former President Donald Trump gather Monday outside Trump National Doral resort in Florida.
Supporters of former President Donald Trump gather Monday outside Trump National Doral resort in Florida. (Ricardo Arduengo/AFP via Getty Images)

The documents in Donald Trump’s federal indictment covered nuclear secrets, military plans and intelligence that appeared serious enough for some Republicans to balk at directly defending his actions ahead of a court appearance Tuesday.

The indictment itself, unsealed last week, alleged Trump carelessly handled some of the nation’s most closely held secrets and tried to hide them after federal investigators sought their return.

William Barr, an attorney general in the Trump administration, told “Fox News Sunday” the allegations were “very, very damning” and that he was “shocked by the degree of sensitivity of these documents and how many there were, frankly.”

“We have to wait and see what the defense says and what proves to be true,” Barr said. “If even half of it is true, then he’s toast.”

Nikki Haley, a Republican candidate for the White House in 2024, had tweeted before the indictment was made public that the investigation was “prosecutorial overreach, double standards, and vendetta politics.”

On Monday, the former South Carolina governor criticized the FBI and Justice Department’s conduct of the case but said she was concerned about the allegations laid out in the indictment.

“If this indictment is true, if what it says is actually the case, President Trump was incredibly reckless with our national security,” Haley said on Fox News. “This puts all of our military members in danger.”

Eyes on Miami

A Miami federal courthouse will host the first federal arraignment of a former president Tuesday, on 37 charges related to handling of 31 classified documents after he left office. The scene outside could be intense, as Trump called for his supporters to protest his arraignment.

The former president himself has planned a prime-time speech in response to the charges Tuesday night at his Bedminster, N.J., golf club — the site of one of two instances in which, according to the indictment, Trump shared classified information.

The documents belonged to the CIA, Defense Department, National Security Agency, National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Office, Department of Energy and Department of State, according to the indictment.

The information contained in them was so secret that one document on the nuclear capabilities of a foreign country, marked as Top Secret, even had the identifying information withheld from the indictment.

In an interview Monday on CBS, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., focused instead on special counsel John L. “Jack” Smith’s decision to bring the case because it would bring criticism on the judge, court system, Justice Department and prosecutor.

Rubio said that regardless of the merit of the allegations, Smith should have weighed a prosecution against the “deeply divisive” nature of indicting a former president.

Rubio also tried to downplay the seriousness of the conduct, stating there were no allegations that the information was shared. However, the indictment noted two incidents when Trump allegedly showed classified information to people who should not have been able to see it.

“You’re bringing an indictment that basically alleges no real damage to national security — not that it excuses it — versus what we’re going to see now,” Rubio said. “We’re going to subject this country to a divisive spectacle.”

Other defenses

Some Republicans who have addressed the allegations preferred to assert a double standard between the treatment of Trump and President Joe Biden or former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, both of whom faced investigations for their handling of classified material.

In an interview Sunday on ABC News, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., accused the Justice Department of a double standard, and he cast the prosecution as “election interference” and an attempt to take down the top candidate for the Republican nomination in the 2024 election.

“I’m not justifying his behavior,” Graham said. “If it would be up to me, no one would take classified information.”

Host George Stephanopolous asked: “But you’re endorsing him for president of the United States.”

Graham replied: “What’s happening here is they are trying to delegitimize him.”

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, was one of the few Trump allies who defended the former president’s actions instead of pointing to an alleged double standard. The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who has previously used his position to investigate a New York criminal case brought against the former president, asserted that Trump did nothing wrong.

“If he wants to store material in a box in a bathroom, in a box on the stage, he can do that,” Jordan said.

Jordan also relied on Trump’s prior public statements that he had declassified all the documents at issue.

“He said time and time again he declassified all this,” Jordan said.

Trump’s attorneys have never made that claim in court. And the indictment itself includes a transcript of a recorded conversation where Trump says he could have declassified a document, but did not do so, and then proceeded to show the document to someone without security clearance.

Barr also pushed back on the idea that the indictment was a witch hunt.

“He’s not a victim here. He was totally wrong that he had a right to have those documents. Those documents are among the most sensitive secrets the country has,” Barr said.

Securing the courthouse

Home-state Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., has compared Trump’s indictment to political prosecutions and said he intends to hold a news conference Monday afternoon in nearby Doral, Fla., with former political prisoners and leaders of the city’s Latin American community.

After the release of the indictment, Trump called the probe “election interference at the highest level” and claimed prosecutors had targeted him to prevent him from becoming president again. In an interview on adviser Roger Stone’s podcast Sunday, Trump reiterated a call for protesters to gather outside the Miami courthouse where he will be arraigned.

At a news conference Monday, Miami Police Chief Manny Morales told reporters the city believed it could handle 50,000 people outside the courthouse.

“Make no mistake about it, we are taking this event extremely serious. We know there is the potential for things taking a turn for the worse, but that is not the Miami way,” Morales said.

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