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Response warier to latest charges

by Compiled Democrat-Gazette Staff From Wire Reports | June 10, 2023 at 4:45 a.m.
Current and former Arkansas officials, all Republicans, are shown in these undated file photos. From left are U.S. Reps. Rick Crawford and Steve Womack, both R-Ark.; Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders; and former Gov. Asa Hutchinson. (Left and center left, courtesy photos; center right, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford; right, AP/Charlie Neibergall)

When a Manhattan grand jury in March indicted former President Donald Trump over hush money payments covering a purported sexual relationship with porn actor Stormy Daniels, Arkansas' congressional delegates denounced District Attorney Alvin Bragg, accusing the prosecutor of leading a political effort against the former president.

After Friday's unsealing of the second Trump indictment, the all-Republican delegation's response was not as uniform.

U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, a Jonesboro Republican, called on Attorney General Merrick Garland to provide a "full readout" regarding the indictment, noting Trump's position as President Joe Biden's possible opponent in next year's presidential election.

"And for the sake of our country, this case better be a slam dunk and involve seriously dangerous crimes. Since this case allegedly involves classified information, it will be difficult to verify this -- once again forcing such public accusations in a classified space," he added.

"A secretive indictment of your political opponent is a terrifying precedent with significant potential to maim our democracy and is a tactic used in dictatorships -- not the United States."

Rep. Steve Womack cautioned against making any conclusions before Trump's day in court.

"Protecting America's secrets is of critical importance. So is equal justice under the law and keeping politics out of our justice system," the Rogers congressman said in a statement. "Mr. Trump will have a chance to defend himself. That's how our system is designed. Until it plays out, a rush to judgment -- either way -- is out of order."

Hot Springs Republican Bruce Westerman, through his office, declined to comment. A spokesperson with Little Rock Republican French Hill did not respond to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's inquiry.

The offices of Republican U.S. Sens. John Boozman of Rogers and Tom Cotton of Little Rock also did not return a request for comment.

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders -- who served as Trump's press secretary from July 2017 to July 2019 -- issued a tweet Thursday evening accusing the Biden administration of "weaponizing" the Department of Justice to go after Trump.

"It's a two-tiered system of justice aimed directly at Donald Trump and conservatives," she tweeted. "The American people should choose our next President, not politicized prosecutors hand-picked by Joe Biden."

Former Gov. Asa Hutchinson called on Trump to drop out of the 2024 presidential race after his first indictment. A candidate for the Republican Party's nomination himself, Hutchinson repeated that call on Thursday.

"With the news that Donald Trump has been indicted for the second time, our country finds itself in a position that weakens our democracy. Donald Trump's actions -- from his willful disregard for the Constitution to his disrespect for the rule of law -- should not define our nation or the Republican Party," Hutchinson said.

"This is a sad day for our country. While Donald Trump is entitled to the presumption of innocence, the ongoing criminal proceedings will be a major distraction. This reaffirms the need for Donald Trump to respect the office and end his campaign."


Many of Trump's challengers for the GOP nomination jumped to his defense after news of the indictment broke.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Trump's top rival for the 2024 nomination, accused the Justice Department of political bias in charging the former president.

"The weaponization of federal law enforcement represents a mortal threat to a free society," DeSantis tweeted. "We have for years witnessed an uneven application of the law depending upon political affiliation."

He questioned why the Justice Department had been "so zealous" in bringing charges against Trump and "so passive" about going after former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton or Biden's son Hunter.

Campaigning in New Hampshire on Friday, former Vice President Mike Pence said he was "deeply troubled" to see the indictment because he believed it would further divide the nation. He also called on Garland to make the indictment public as soon as possible.

"You need to stand up and explain to us why this was necessary before the sun sets today," Pence said.

Trump's United Nations ambassador, Nikki Haley, also decried the indictment, saying, "This is not how justice should be pursued in our country."

"The American people are exhausted by the prosecutorial overreach, double standards and vendetta politics," she said Friday. "It's time to move beyond the endless drama and distractions."

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina said Thursday that he felt the justice system's "scales are weighted" based on politics. "In America, every single person is presumed innocent, not guilty," Scott said on Fox News, decrying "the weaponization of the Department of Justice against the former president."

Biotech entrepreneur and "anti-woke" activist Vivek Ramaswamy said the federal case was part of "an affront to every citizen." Reiterating his comments that he would pardon Trump, Ramaswamy called it "hypocritical for the DOJ to selectively prosecute Trump but not" Biden over his own classified documents case.

DeSantis, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, promised that if elected he would exert his authority over the Justice Department. "The DeSantis administration will bring accountability to the DOJ, excise political bias and end weaponization once and for all." He did not say he'd pardon Trump if the former president is convicted and DeSantis is elected president.

Neither DeSantis nor anyone else offering early reactions had seen anything official. Thursday night's hot takes were based on news accounts and Trump's own statement on his social media platform that he's been indicted, and his declaration of innocence.

Florida's U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, who like DeSantis have courted and benefited from the MAGA faction of the Republican Party devoted to Trump, also condemned the indictment.

South Florida Democrats were for the most part initially quiet.


DeSantis, Rubio and Scott, while asserting the Justice Department was wrong to indict Trump, didn't say that he isn't guilty.

"There is no limit to what these people will do to protect their power & destroy those who threaten it, even if it means ripping our country apart & shredding public faith in the institutions that hold our republic together," Rubio wrote.

Scott's statement was the strongest of the three top elected Florida Republicans, asserting that Biden was responsible for the indictment. (The White House said it has kept a hands-off approach to the workings of the Justice Department.)

"Biden is single-handedly destroying the justice system in America. After tonight, Biden will go down as the most corrupt and despotic President in our nation's history. On the day his $5M bribe is exposed to the public, his DOJ indicts Trump for something he himself has done," Scott wrote on Twitter.

That's a reference to claims made Thursday by U.S. Reps. Anna Paulina Luna, R-Fla., and Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., both of whom have endorsed Trump for reelection. They said an FBI document said a source claimed Biden, when he was vice president, and his son were bribed. Biden said the claims were a "bunch of malarkey."

"But hypocrisy is not Biden's worst sin. That would be his destruction of equal justice under the law. He cannot be allowed to serve another term as President," Scott added.

Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, a frequent Trump critic, said in a statement that "like all Americans, Mr. Trump is entitled to the presumption of innocence."

At the same time, Romney said he believes the charges are serious. The Justice Department has exercised "due care" and given Trump the time and opportunity to avoid charges that would not have been given to others, he said.

"Mr. Trump 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," Romney said.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy tweeted that "it is unconscionable for a President to indict the leading candidate opposing him."

The Republican added, "I, and every American who believes in the rule of law, stand with President Trump against this grave injustice."

McCarthy said the House GOP "will hold this brazen weaponization of power accountable."

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, meanwhile, said the indictment was a "sham" and "the continuation of the endless political persecution of Donald Trump."

"Let's be clear about what's happening: Joe Biden is weaponizing his Department of Justice against his own political rival," Scalise tweeted.


A White House official said it had no foreknowledge of the indictment and learned of it from news reports.

Otherwise, the White House is staying mum on the Trump indictment, emphasizing the independence of the Justice Department, as it seeks to combat criticism from Republicans that the Biden administration is targeting his chief 2024 rival.

"We are just not going to comment on this case," White House principal deputy press secretary Olivia Dalton told reporters Friday on Air Force One, "and I'd refer you to the DOJ, which runs its criminal investigations independently."

She added: "This is a president who respects the rule of law and has said that since day one. That's precisely why we're not commenting here. He believes in respecting the independence of the DOJ and protecting the integrity of their processes."

Asked whether the White House was preparing for any unrest as a result of Trump's indictment, Dalton said "we're always prepared" but declined to share any specifics or whether any outreach had been made to state and local officials in Florida.

House Democrats say Trump's indictment is an affirmation of America's justice system.

"For four years, he acted like he was above the law. But he should be treated like any other lawbreaker. And today, he has been," tweeted Rep. Adam Schiff of California, who rose to national prominence as the lead prosecutor in Trump's first impeachment trial.

"Today's federal grand jury indictment tells us that former President Donald Trump put our national security in grave danger as he pursued yet another lawless personal agenda by pilfering and hoarding government documents," said a statement from Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, who was House manager for Trump's second impeachment and is the ranking member of the Committee on Oversight and Accountability.

"He will have his day in court, in Miami and Manhattan and Atlanta too if it comes to it," tweeted Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, referencing the New York indictment in the hush money case and an investigation in Georgia. "But I am grateful to live in a nation where no man is above the law."

While the White House has been careful not to comment on Trump's indictment, one of Biden's Democratic primary rivals, Marianne Williamson, is speaking up to dispute suggestions that the case is politically motivated.

The author and self-help guru called the case a "sobering development" and noted that Trump is innocent until proven guilty, but also not above the law.

She added that Jack Smith, who has been appointed special counsel in the case, is "independent and is not working at the behest of the Biden administration."

"Such charges are false and those who are making them know that," Williamson said in a statement, adding that "the goal of the system is to be an impartial witness to the facts."

Information for this article was contributed by Alex Thomas of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette; Holly Ramer, Meg Kinnard, Zeke Miller and additional reporters for The Associated Press; and Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel (TNS).

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