Former President Donald Trump’s Indictment Sparks Divided Reactions from Senate Republicans
The indictment of former President Donald Trump in a classified documents matter has ignited a flurry of responses from Senate Republicans. Special counsel Jack Smith’s investigation into the mishandling of classified documents after Trump left office resulted in charges related to “felony violations of our national security laws as well as participating in a conspiracy to obstruct justice.” Interestingly, more Senate Republicans were willing to condemn Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s charges against Trump in March regarding alleged hush money payments than are willing to address the Justice Department case.
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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has chosen not to comment on the federal indictment, stating to reporters last Tuesday, “I’m not going to start commenting on the various candidates we have running for president. There are a lot of them; it’s going to be interesting to watch.” McConnell has also refrained from commenting on the New York charges.
Several members of McConnell’s leadership team, including Sens. Roger Wicker (R-MS), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and Katie Britt (R-AL), have followed his lead. However, Sens. John Thune (R-SD), John Cornyn (R-TX), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), who have been critical of Trump, have expressed their disapproval of the conduct alleged in the indictment.
“There are very serious allegations in the indictment,” said Thune, who serves as Senate GOP whip. “I think the Justice Department, as they attempt to prove their case, they’ve got a high burden of proof to convince people that they’re handling this fairly and as they would for any other elected official.”
When asked about the credibility of the Justice Department charges compared to those brought forth by Bragg, the No. 2 Senate Republican replied, “Oh yeah. That one was clearly, in my view, politically motivated, and the facts were pretty thin, and the law was actually pretty thin in that case.”
On the other hand, he continued, the special counsel’s indictment was “serious” and “very detailed.”
Cornyn, who has advocated for the GOP to move past Trump, initially declined to comment on the impending charges but later stated, “Well, it’s not good,” after reading the indictment.
Capito, who serves as conference vice chairwoman, emphasized the seriousness of the charges, stating, “These are serious charges. And they need to be taken seriously by everybody. And as these things unfold, they tend to get bigger because there’s additive information.”
While Trump does have some allies in McConnell’s orbit, such as Senate GOP Conference Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY), who initially expressed support for Trump after the charges were announced, most have avoided the topic since the full indictment was released.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) expressed concern that the special counsel’s indictment demonstrates preferential treatment by the Justice Department towards Democratic suspects compared to Republicans.
“And whether it’s classified under Hillary Clinton and she destroys it or whether it’s classified and Trump has it, there should be equal treatment of the law,” Grassley said. “But you see, one was handled one way and President Trump another way.”
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) agreed, stating, “It seems there’s two systems of justice here: one for President Trump and one for everybody else that has had classified documents.”
Other Republicans supporting Trump following the full indictment include Sens. J.D. Vance (R-OH), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
When questioned about the indictment, Graham declined to specifically defend the conduct but cautioned that he would view any additional federal indictments as an effort to ensure at least one Trump conviction.
“If the special counsel indicts President Trump in Washington, D.C., for anything related to Jan. 6, that will be considered a major outrage by Republicans because you could convict any Republican of anything in Washington, D.C.,” Graham said. “I fear that’s where this is going, as sort of an insurance policy.”
Trump’s usual Senate GOP critics, such as Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), have voiced their support for the charges and argued that the alleged misconduct renders the former president unfit for the Oval Office.
“I’m looking at what I’ve seen, and it looks pretty damning to me,” Murkowski told reporters. “I don’t think that it is good for our Republican Party to have a nominee and, in fairness, the front-runner under a series of indictments.”
Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), the only member of the Senate running for president in the 2024 cycle, has referred to the federal charges as a “serious case with serious allegations” while also expressing his belief that prosecutors are applying a “double standard.”
“You can’t protect Democrats while targeting and hunting Republicans,” Scott said.
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