WASHINGTON ― House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Thursday night that a Democratic prosecutor’s criminal charges against former President Donald Trump represent nothing less than an assault on the United States of America.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg “has irreparably damaged our country” in an effort to tilt the 2024 presidential election in favor of Democrats, according to the most powerful Republican on Capitol Hill.
“As he routinely frees violent criminals to terrorize the public, he weaponized our sacred system of justice against President Donald Trump,” McCarthy said in a prepared statement. “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 was one of several Republicans not just criticizing Bragg’s charges, which remain under seal, but suggesting that Trump should not be prosecuted by a Democrat for violating the law under any circumstances. Their statements don’t specify any possible charges or explain why they might be bogus, implying instead that the case is fundamentally flawed simply because Bragg is a Democrat.
“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,” Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the No. 2 House Republican, said in a tweet.
Even Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, widely expected to be Trump’s top rival for the GOP presidential nomination, called the indictment a purely political attack. “The weaponization of the legal system to advance a political agenda turns the rule of law on its head,” DeSantis said. “It is un-American.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has already endorsed Trump’s 2024 candidacy, called the case “legal voodoo” and “political persecution.” (Meanwhile, the top two Republicans in the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Minority Whip John Thune of South Dakota, have said nothing.)
Bragg’s case relates to hush money payments Trump made to former adult film star Stormy Daniels to prevent her publicizing an alleged tryst just days before the 2016 election. Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to making unlawful campaign contributions for his role in the scheme, since the $130,000 payoff to Daniels amounted to a campaign expense and greatly exceeded legal contribution limits.
The following year, Cohen provided Congress with documents reflecting the series of checks Trump wrote to reimburse him for the initial payment to Daniels.
“So picture this scene,” Cohen told lawmakers during a hearing. “In February 2017, one month into his presidency, I’m visiting President Trump in the Oval Office for the first time, and it’s truthfully awe-inspiring. He’s showing me all around and pointing to different paintings. And he says to me something to the effect of, ‘Don’t worry, Michael. Your January and February reimbursement checks are coming. They were FedEx’d from New York, and it takes a while for that to get through the White House system.’”
Cohen is likely a main witness in Bragg’s case, and Republicans say he’s not credible because he’s a convicted criminal who repeatedly lied on Trump’s behalf when he worked as the former president’s lawyer. Republicans have also noted that federal prosecutors declined to press charges against Trump over the campaign finance violation, which, they argue, indicates a weak case.
Bragg is not a federal prosecutor, so his charges could relate to state business records laws, since the payments to Cohen were labeled as legal expenses. But we don’t know yet, because the charges remain under seal.
Trump may also face charges in Georgia related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, plus federal charges related to the 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol and his refusal to turn over official documents at the end of his term.
Some prominent Republicans have acknowledged the uncertainty of the situation ― and even gone so far as to note that former presidents of the United States are, in fact, subject to the same laws as everyone else.
“No one is above the law, including former presidents,” former Vice President Mike Pence said on CNN Thursday, before adding that “a controversy over campaign finance” shouldn’t be the basis of such an unprecedented prosecution.
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican who opposes Trump’s 2024 presidential bid, even suggested people should wait to see the facts of the case.
“While the grand jury found credible facts to support the charges, it is important that the presumption of innocence follows Mr. Trump,” Hutchinson said. “We need to wait on the facts and for our American system of justice to work like it does for thousands of Americans every day.”
But Hutchinson and Pence are outliers. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), for one, called the indictment “devastating to the rule of law.”
Cruz told HuffPost earlier this month that even if Trump did violate state law by creating fraudulent business expenses, that would only be a trifling offense.
“It may be that you committed a crime this morning if you sped a mile an hour over the speed limit, but our justice system doesn’t target someone you don’t like and go searching for a needle in a haystack to bring a partisan prosecution,” Cruz said.