For the GOP, an imminent Trump indictment takes center stage

On Monday, Republicans braced for the impact of former President Donald J. Trump’s impending indictment, with his allies on Capitol Hill showing investigative powers to target the prosecutor prosecuting Mr. Trump as the main rival for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, Governor. Florida’s Ron DeSantis took his first swipe at Mr. Trump’s personal conduct.

Mr Trump’s call over the weekend for his supporters to take to the streets to protest what he described as his impending arrest left even some of his right-wing allies scared of what was to come. Memories are still fresh of Jan. 6, 2021, when Mr. Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol in a violent riot that has since resulted in more than 1,000 arrests.

As police barricades rose outside the Criminal Courts Building in Manhattan on Monday, prominent Republicans, including Mr. Trump’s allies, were divided on whether to encourage mass protests. Some influential right-wing voices have called for caution and for his supporters to stay away, particularly from New York, where any potential unrest would result in prosecution from the same official who should indict Mr. Trump. Others have said that not protesting the indictment of a former president is tantamount to giving up their constitutional rights.

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

The day’s events represented an uneasy calm before an expected political and legal firestorm. A Manhattan grand jury is expected to indict Mr Trump soon over silent payments that prevented a pornographic actress, Stormy Daniels, from speaking out in 2016 about an affair she said she had with Mr Trump years earlier.

Three Republican House committee chairmen on Monday launched an extraordinary preemptive strike against Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, demanding that he provide communications, documents and testimony about his investigation, a rare attempt by Congress to become involved in an active criminal case. asked.

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

Mr. Trump’s lawyers quietly pushed the Republican-led House to intervene. Last month, a Trump attorney, Joseph Tacopina, wrote to Mr. Jordan asking Congress to investigate the “gross 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 disrupting the 2024 election campaign.

In Florida, Mr. DeSantis, who had been pressured by Trump allies to speak out against the case, broke a two-day silence on Monday, joining the chorus of other Republicans who have accused Mr. Bragg to “militarize” his office.

But Mr. DeSantis went further. The governor, who has yet to declare his candidacy for president but is traveling the country, including key early primary states, pointed to Mr. Trump’s conduct at the heart of the investigation.

“I don’t know what goes into paying silent money to a porn star to get silence on some type of alleged affair,” Mr. DeSantis said to laughter from the crowd during the event in Panama City, Florida. I can’t talk about it.

“But what I can talk about,” he continued, “is if you have a prosecutor who ignores the crimes that happen every day in his jurisdiction, and he chooses to go back there has many years, to try to use something on silent payments from a porn star, you know, that’s an example of pursuing a political agenda and arming the office.

Mr Trump fired back in his typically caustic and personal terms, making innuendo about the governor’s sexuality and raising questions about whether Mr DeSantis – who is married to a woman – was inappropriately involved with students when he was a teacher in his early twenties.

“Ron DeSanctimonious will likely discover FALSE ACCUSATIONS AND FALSE STORIES in the future, as he grows older, becomes wiser and better known, when he is unjustly and unlawfully attacked by a woman, even “underage” classmates. (or maybe a man!) I’m sure he’ll want to fight these misfits like I do!” Mr. Trump wrote on his social media site.

Mr. DeSantis, who has tried to avoid engaging in escalating attacks on Mr. Trump, has previously dismissed the former president’s claims about student relations. “I don’t spend my time trying to smear other Republicans,” he said last month.

Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, the highest-ranking House member to endorse Mr. Trump to date, predicted in an interview that the expected indictment “only strengthens President Trump to go from strength to strength.” ‘Before”. And Mr. Trump actually won the endorsement of Mr. DeSantis’ home state on Monday – Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, who said the expected indictment had pushed her to unequivocally choose his side.

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

Mr. Trump has long measured the strength of his political stance by the stark measure of the size of the crowds that show up for him, in good times and bad. When the “Access Hollywood” video first broke in 2016, Mr Trump found solace in the small group of supporters standing in solidarity with Trump signs outside Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, briefly giving them back visit with a fist pump. And, once he became president, the first mini-drama of his tenure in the White House had to do with his insistent exaggerations about the size of the crowd at his inauguration.

And so it was no surprise, despite the shadow of January 6, that he urged his followers on his social media site on Saturday to “PROTEST, PROTEST, PROTEST!!!”

On Saturday, Mr. Trump scheduled his first major rally of the 2024 campaign in Waco, Texas, far from any courthouses. The timing coincides with the 30th anniversary of the federal government’s standoff and the eventual murderous siege in Waco of a compound run by the religious sect Branch Davidian – an event emblematic of the right-wing anti-government tradition.

While the rally is expected to be well attended, not all prominent pro-Trump voices online have heeded and repeated the former president’s call for supporters to rally at the protests.

“Better to stay at home” informed Jeffrey Clark, the former Justice Department official who came close to being named acting attorney general by Mr Trump in late 2020 as the president sought to undo his election defeat.

Some Trump allies have indulged in unsubstantiated trap conspiracy theories, claiming that the feds will somehow infiltrate any protest to encourage violence, or that leftist agitators will trigger violence or incite the crowds to attend.

“How many federal/federal assets are in place to turn the protest against the political arrest of Pres Trump into violence?” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican from Georgia who is one of Mr. Trump’s close allies, wrote on Twitter.

Jesse Kelly, a unionized right-wing radio host, said on Monday that ‘what is happening to Trump is beyond injustice’ but still urged Trump supporters to stay away from any protests. .

In a tweet, Mr. Kelly complained that Mr. Trump had no helped with legal bills people involved in January 6. In another, he included a screenshot of Mr Trump urging people to protest and captioned it, “It’s an abuse of his supporters and I despise him.”

Late Monday, Mr. Trump attempted to call a “Prayers for Trump” streaming call co-hosted by Roger J. Stone Jr., his most senior confidant. As technical difficulties plagued their connection, Mr Stone called on people to be “peaceful”, “civil” and “legal” in their protests.

As House Republicans gathered this week in Orlando, Fla., ostensibly to chart their political agenda and how to position themselves for upcoming tax fights on Capitol Hill, the disruptive force that Mr. Trump remains for the party was exposed, even as GOP lawmakers lined up almost evenly against his lawsuits.

Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who owes his post partly to support for Mr Trump, was among those urging Trump supporters to stay away from protests on Sunday, for example. “I don’t think people should protest this, no,” he said.

Ms. Stefanik, one of Mr. Trump’s staunchest defenders, dissented. “I believe people have a constitutional right to free speech to speak up when they disagree,” she said.

A few hundred miles away, Mr. DeSantis was attempting his own balancing act when it came to Mr. Trump. He slammed Mr. Bragg as “a Soros-funded prosecutor,” using colloquial right-wing language to disparage George Soros, the liberal billionaire philanthropist, for his indirect financial support. At the same time, Mr. DeSantis appeared to downplay a former president facing possible criminal charges.

“We have so many things pending before the Legislature,” Mr. DeSantis said. “I have to spend my time on issues that really matter to people.”

The report was provided by Alain Feuer, Luke Broadwater, Michael C. Bender And Chelsia Rose Marcius.


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