After months of anticipation and drips of information from grand jury probes about whether Donald Trump would become the first former president to be federally indicted, members of Congress, rival presidential candidates and other political players reacted quickly to reports late Thursday that the drama could soon move to a criminal courtroom.
Trump posted on his social media site that he’s been summoned to a Miami courthouse on Tuesday. A spokesman for the Justice Department declined to comment Thursday evening. The New York Times, ABC News and multiple other outlets reported that Trump would be indicted on seven counts related to handling of classified documents at his Florida private club, Mar-a-Lago.
News of what would be a historic indictment, which stems from the monthslong probe by special counsel John L. “Jack” Smith, rallied conservatives who framed the indictment as election interference by federal prosecutors.
Some Republican lawmakers lashed out at the Biden administration, rushing to frame the prosecution as a political attack on a leading 2024 candidate for the GOP presidential nomination.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., on Twitter Thursday called it “unconscionable” that the Justice Department could indict President Joe Biden’s leading opponent in the 2024 election and accused prosecutors of a double standard.
“I, and every American who believes in the rule of law, stand with President Trump against this grave injustice. House Republicans will hold this brazen weaponization of power accountable,” McCarthy said.
Some lawmakers even suggested taking direct action against the Justice Department. “We ought to defund and dismantle the DOJ,” hardline Republican Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona tweeted. “I stand with President Trump.”
The public messaging dovetailed with Trump’s hostile posture as he claimed his innocence and vowed to fight the case. “This is indeed a DARK DAY for the United States of America,” Trump said in his post. “We are a Country in serious and rapid Decline, but together we will Make America Great Again!”
Other GOP lawmakers also slammed the department for what they described as a double standard, saying federal prosecutors have not charged Biden after classified documents were found at his property.
Democrats largely defended the move. “Our democracy is strong today. No one is above the law — not even a twice-impeached former president,” Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., tweeted. “I stand on the side of justice and fairness over corruption and corrosion of our democratic values.”
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, referred to other criminal probes when he tweeted that Trump “will have his day in court, in Miami and Manhattan and Atlanta too if it comes to it. But I am grateful to live in a nation where no man is above the law.”
Trump breaks news
Trump, with a post on his social media site, started a cavalcade of reports of charges connected to his handling of classified documents after his presidency, which magnifies his legal exposure amid a comeback bid for the White House.
The indictment will test the strength of the former president’s sway in the party as he fights off a field of challenges in the Republican presidential primary. Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a primary opponent of the president, called for Trump to drop out 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 Donald Trump to respect the office and end his campaign,” Hutchinson said.
The swift response of rank-and-file Republicans mirrored their outrage in April when news broke that Trump would face criminal charges in a criminal case brought by the Manhattan district attorney’s office. The former president appeared at a New York City courtroom days later and pleaded not guilty to 34 felony state counts of falsifying business records.
The special counsel in the document probe, Smith, took charge of the case last year when Attorney General Merrick B. Garland put him in charge of two grand jury probes into Trump after his reelection announcement.
Federal investigators searched Mar-a-Lago in August after an 18-month dispute with the National Archives and Records Administration over documents Trump took with him after the end of his term.
After the search, court documents showed that investigators found hundreds of pages of documents marked classified. Additionally, government court filings showed they were investigating charges related to espionage, illegal retention of government records and destruction of government records.
Numerous sources close to the former president have testified in the Miami grand jury probe, including former spokesman Taylor Budowich. Budowich, who currently heads Trump-aligned political action committee MAGA Inc., described the probe as a “bogus and deeply troubling effort” targeting the former president on Twitter.
“America has become a sick and broken nation—a decline led by Joe Biden and power hungry Democrats. I will not be intimidated by this weaponization of government,” Budowich tweeted Wednesday.
The former president will likely challenge many aspects of the case in the legal system, as he did the initial search of his club last year.
That ultimately failed effort to throw out evidence collected during the search also provided the public with its best look so far into the investigation that led to the unprecedented search of Mar-a-Lago last year.