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After Trump’s conviction, many Republicans fall in line by criticizing trial

Many prominent Republicans have been quick to echo former president Donald Trump in criticizing the prosecution, the venue and his conviction on 34 counts related to falsifying business records, with only a few coming out in defense of the legal process.

Rather than expressing confidence in the judicial system, Republicans ranging from longtime Trump allies to those who backed his impeachment have expressed dismay over what they have characterized as a political weaponization of the judicial process.

Some repeated Trump’s argument that the judge in the case, Juan Merchan, was not impartial. Several asserted, without evidence, that the case brought in New York was an example of the Biden administration’s weaponization of the judicial system. Others blamed the jury by saying they did not have confidence in the 12 Americans chosen to hand down a verdict in the case.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) told Fox News on Sunday that the Republican Party would “fight back … with everything in our arsenal.”

He referenced how the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), had issued requests for Alvin Bragg, the district attorney in Manhattan, and for the lead prosecutor to appear for a hearing on June 13 by the House Judiciary Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government.

While the Manhattan district attorney serves in an elected local position, Johnson still tied the verdict to the Biden administration, suggesting without evidence that it was the result of a push by President Biden and federal Democrats to prosecute Trump.

“So what we’ll do with our tools that we have in Congress, in the House, is we’ll use our oversight responsibility,” Johnson said. The hearing will “investigate what these prosecutors are doing at the state and federal level to go out to use … political retribution in the court system to go after political opponents of federal officials like Donald Trump.”

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has for years had an acrimonious relationship with the former president but nonetheless endorsed him in March, also criticized the trial process. “These charges never should have been brought in the first place,” McConnell said on X on Thursday. “I expect the conviction to be overturned on appeal.”

Republican National Committee co-chair Lara Trump, the former president’s daughter-in-law, lashed out against Merchan during a Sunday morning interview with CNN’s “State of the Union,” saying that Merchan “should have never been presiding over the case” and that the entire trial was a “waste of time.”

“This is not the United States of America,” she said. “This is the kind of thing you would expect to see in the communist U.S.S.R.”

Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law expert, called the attacks on the courts, combined with the larger broadside against elections, “alarming.”

“They’re all symptoms of an increasingly deep disease, a disease of social and political order, and they can easily pave the path to a dictatorship,” Tribe said in an interview.

Even several moderate Republicans were coming to the former president’s defense, including Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who voted to convict Trump on an impeachment charge of inciting an insurrection in 2021 and has pledged not to support his reelection.

“It is fundamental to our American system of justice that the government prosecutes cases because of alleged criminal conduct regardless of who the defendant happens to be. In this case the opposite has happened,” Collins said in a statement. The senator specifically attacked Bragg, the district attorney, who she suggested “brought these charges precisely because of who the defendant was rather than because of any specified criminal conduct.”

“The political underpinnings of this case further blur the lines between the judicial system and the electoral system, and this verdict likely will be the subject of a protracted appeals process,” she said.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who twice voted to convict Trump on impeachment charges, similarly criticized the district attorney.

“Bragg should have settled the case against Trump. … But he made a political decision,” Romney told Atlantic staff writer and Romney biographer McKay Coppins. “Bragg may have won the battle, for now, but he may have lost the political war. Democrats think they can put out the Trump fire with oxygen. It’s political malpractice.” (There were no publicly known plea discussions before trial. However, Bragg could not have unilaterally settled the case; Trump would have to have agreed to any plea deal.)

Gregg Nunziata, who leads the Society for the Rule of Law, said it’s fair to question whether this case was a good exercise of prosecutorial discretion.

Collins’s remarks, he added, were “criticizing aspects of this particular prosecution, not trying to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the justice system as a whole.”

Former federal judge Jeremy Fogel warned of the consequences of attacking an independent branch of government.

“If you look around the world and you look at democratic countries or formerly democratic countries that became authoritarian, one of the things that happened in each of those cases was a concerted attack on the independent judiciary,” Fogel said.

Many of Trump’s longtime allies were critical of the trial’s results and argued that the convictions will play to his advantage.

Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) likened the case to “fascism.”

“I think that what happened in New York is disgraceful,” Vance told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Friday. “Throwing your political opponents in jail — thank God it only happened in New York and not the rest of the country.”

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the former 2024 GOP presidential candidate seen as a possible Trump vice-presidential contender, told Fox News on Sunday that the conviction will persuade Republican voters.

“There’s no doubt that this verdict has actually brought — unifying our party,” he said. “Without any question what we’re seeing is Never Trumpers calling me and say, ‘Tim, I’m on the bandwagon now. I’ve seen this two-tiered justice system working against the president United States, it can work against me too.’”

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), another Trump vice-presidential prospect, was asked by CNN’s Laura Coates if he respected the jury’s verdict.

“No, I don’t,” he responded. While he told CNN that he believes it’s “partly the jury’s fault,” he has largely blamed Bragg and Merchan.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), a former U.S. Supreme Court clerk, wrote on X after the verdict that the New York trial was a “sham” and “an absolute travesty of justice.”

“This was ALL politics,” he said.

There were a few Republicans who went against the party line — and were met with swift pushback from Trump’s allies.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), a frequent Trump critic who also voted in 2021 to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial, said Friday that the guilty verdict in his hush money criminal trial — and his other legal problems — have made him a flawed challenger against Biden.

“These distractions have given the Biden campaign a pass as the focus has shifted from Biden’s indefensible record and the damage his policies have done to Alaska and our nation’s economy, to Trump’s legal drama,” Murkowski said on X.

Murkowski did not offer any commentary on the verdict other than to say that it is the “first step in the legal process” and that she expects Trump to appeal it.

And when former Maryland governor Larry Hogan, now the Republican candidate for Maryland’s Senate seat, urged “all Americans to respect the verdict and the legal process,” top Trump adviser Chris LaCivita had a had a blunt response on X.

“You just ended your campaign,” he told the former governor.

Marianna Sotomayor and Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.


A previous version of this article misstated the title of Lara Trump. She is co-chair of the Republican National Committee, not co-chair of the Republican Party. The article has been corrected.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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