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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

For the GOP, a looming Trump indictment takes center stage

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at an event promoting his new book in Davenport, Iowa, March 10, 2023. DeSantis spoke earlier this week about Donald Trump’s expected indictment, as Republicans weighed whether to heed the former president’s call to protest.

By Shane Goldmacher, Maggie Haberman, Jonathan Swan and Annie Karni

Republicans on Monday braced for the impact of the impending indictment of former President Donald Trump, with his allies on Capitol Hill flexing their investigative powers to target the prosecutor pursuing Trump while the leading rival for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, took his first swipe at Trump’s personal conduct.

Trump’s call over the weekend for his supporters to take to the streets in protest of what he described as his looming arrest left even some of his allies on the right fearful about what would come next. Memories are still fresh from Jan. 6, 2021, when Trump supporters stormed the Capitol in a violent riot that has since resulted in more than 1,000 arrests.

With police barricades going up outside the Criminal Courts Building in New York City’s Manhattan on Monday, prominent Republicans, including Trump’s allies, were divided over whether to encourage mass protests. Some influential voices on the right urged caution and for his supporters to stay away, particularly from New York, where any potential unrest would invite prosecution from the same official who is expected to charge Trump. Others said not protesting the indictment of a former president was tantamount to ceding their constitutional rights.

“I get that there are some fears and concerns based on what happened on Jan. 6,” said Gavin Wax, president of the New York Young Republican Club, which organized a demonstration in Manhattan on Monday evening that was sparsely attended, with the news media vastly outnumbering protesters. “But it’s ridiculous and pathetic and nihilistic to say that a conservative can’t peacefully protest.”

The day’s events represented an uneasy calm before an expected political and legal firestorm. A Manhattan grand jury is expected to soon indict Trump in connection with hush-money payments that kept porn star Stormy Daniels from speaking out in 2016 about an affair she said she had with Trump years earlier.

Three Republican House committee chairs made an extraordinary preemptive strike Monday against Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, demanding that he provide communications, documents and testimony about his investigation, a rare attempt by Congress to involve itself in an active criminal inquiry.

Referring to the expected indictment, Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio, James Comer of Kentucky and Bryan Steil of Wisconsin wrote, “If these reports are accurate, your actions will erode the confidence in the evenhanded application of justice and unalterably interfere in the course of the 2024 presidential election.”

Trump’s lawyers have quietly pushed the Republican-led House to intervene. Last month, a Trump lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, wrote to Jordan calling on Congress to investigate the “egregious abuse of power” by what he called a “rogue local district attorney,” according to a copy of the letter obtained by The New York Times.

The expected indictment is already roiling the 2024 campaign trail.

In Florida, DeSantis, who had faced pressure from Trump allies to speak out against the case, on Monday broke two days of silence, joining the chorus of other Republicans who have accused Bragg of “weaponizing” his office.

But DeSantis went further. The governor, who has not yet declared his candidacy for president but is traveling the country, including to key early primary states, needled Trump over the conduct at the heart of the investigation.

“I don’t know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair,” DeSantis said to chuckles from the crowd at the event in Panama City, Florida. “I just, I can’t speak to that.”

“But what I can speak to,” he said, “is that if you have a prosecutor who is ignoring crimes happening every single day in his jurisdiction, and he chooses to go back many, many years ago, to try to use something about porn star hush-money payments, you know, that’s an example of pursuing a political agenda and weaponizing the office.”

Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., the highest-ranking member of the House so far to endorse Trump, predicted in an interview that the expected indictment “only strengthens President Trump moving forward.” And Trump did, in fact, score an endorsement from DeSantis’ home state Monday — from Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, who indicated that the expected indictment had pushed her to unequivocally choose sides.

“This is unheard of, and Americans should see it for what it is: an abuse of power and fascist overreach of the justice system,” Luna said in a statement to the Times.

Late Monday, Trump tried to call into a streaming “Prayers for Trump” call co-hosted by Roger Stone, his longest-serving confidant. As technical difficulties disrupted their connection, Stone called for people to be “peaceful,” “civil” and “legal” in their protests.

As House Republicans gathered this week in Orlando, Florida, ostensibly to plot their policy agenda and how to position themselves for the coming fiscal fights on Capitol Hill, the disruptive force that Trump remains for the party was on display, even as GOP lawmakers lined up almost uniformly against his prosecution.

The Republican speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy, who owes his post in part to Trump’s support, was among those urging Trump supporters to stay away from protests Sunday, for instance. “I don’t think people should protest this, no,” he said.

Stefanik, one of Trump’s most fervent defenders, dissented. “I do believe people have a constitutional right of freedom of speech to speak up when they disagree,” she said.

A few hundred miles away, DeSantis was attempting his own high-wire balancing act when it comes to Trump. He criticized Bragg as “a Soros-funded prosecutor,” using the familiar language of the right to bash George Soros, a liberal billionaire philanthropist, for his indirect financial support. At the same time, DeSantis appeared to minimize the significance of a former president facing potential criminal charges.

“We’ve got so many things pending in front of the Legislature,” DeSantis said. “I’ve got to spend my time on issues that actually matter to people.”

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