Top Republican lawmakers and even some presidential candidates rushed to the defense of former President Donald Trump after he was indicted by the Department of Justice over his mishandling of classified documents pertaining to the nation’s top national security secrets.
The indictment is still under seal, but Trump announced the news on his social media website Truth Social, proclaiming himself innocent and divulging that he is to report to a federal courthouse in Miami next week. News reports said there are multiple counts against him, ranging from willful retention of national defense information to conspiracy.
The Department of Justice has yet to unveil the charges and lay out the evidence against Trump, but that didn’t stop Trump’s top allies on Capitol Hill from claiming, without evidence, that President Joe Biden had ordered the independent special counsel overseeing the matter to bring charges against the former president, who is also seeking the GOP presidential nomination in 2024.
“Today is indeed a dark day for the United States of America,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) tweeted. “It is unconscionable for a President to indict the leading candidate opposing him. Joe Biden kept classified documents for decades. I, and every American who believes in the rule of law, stand with President Trump.”
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, the number two House Republican, added: “Let’s be clear about what’s happening: Joe Biden is weaponizing his Department of Justice against his own political rival. This sham indictment is the continuation of the endless political persecution of Donald Trump.”
While top House Republicans were quick to offer blanket defenses of Trump, Republican leadership in the Senate was silent. Neither Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) nor Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) had weighed in.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who sought to overturn Biden’s win in the 2020 presidential election based on no evidence of widespread fraud, tweeted: “If the people in power can jail their political opponents at will, we don’t have a republic.”
The Justice Department began its investigation into Trump’s trove of classified material in early 2022. Prosecutors sought and received a search warrant for Trump’s ritzy private club in Florida, Mar-a-Lago, where he maintains a residence. The search was executed on Aug. 8, leading to the discovery of 103 classified documents on Trump’s desk and in storage boxes intermingled with his personal papers.
Trump has claimed he had every right to take whatever documents he wanted when he left the White House in January 2021, despite federal law indicating the opposite, and that the mere fact of his taking them made it OK for him to keep them at his Florida home.
Trump’s rivals for the GOP presidential nomination also criticized the DOJ’s indictment of the man standing in the way of their ambitions, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, his top challenger:
The weaponization of federal law enforcement represents a mortal threat to a free society.
We have for years witnessed an uneven application of the law depending upon political affiliation.
Why so zealous in pursuing Trump yet so passive about Hillary or Hunter?
— Ron DeSantis (@RonDeSantis) June 9, 2023
Vivek Ramaswamy, a tech entrepreneur and long-shot 2024 candidate, meanwhile, vowed to pardon Trump if he is convicted.
“It would be much easier for me to win this election if Trump weren’t in the race, but I stand for principles over politics. I commit to pardon Trump promptly on January 20, 2025 and to restore the rule of law in our country,” Ramaswamy said in a statement.
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley also criticized the indictment.
“This is not how justice should be pursued in our country,” Haley tweeted. “The American people are exhausted by the prosecutorial overreach, double standards, and vendetta politics. It’s time to move beyond the endless drama and distractions.”
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said in a short interview on Fox News that he would “pray for our nation and continue to pray that justice prevails.” He echoed other Republicans in lamenting the “weaponization” of the Department of Justice.
Only former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, another long-shot candidate, called on his rival Trump to withdraw from the race.
“This is a sad day for our country,” Hutchinson said in a statement. “While Donald Trump is entitled to the presumption of innocence, the ongoing criminal proceedings will be a major distraction. This reaffirms the need for Trump to respect the office and end his campaign.”
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) took a position outside the GOP mainstream. He praised the Department of Justice for exercising “due care” in its investigation, saying that Trump had “brought these charges upon himself by not only taking classified documents, but by refusing to simply return them when given numerous opportunities to do so.”
Trump was also indicted in April in New York on charges that he falsified records regarding a $130,000 hush money payment to a porn star. The former president is also facing two other criminal investigations.