Trump’s GOP advocates in Congress take action after months of preparation

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former President Donald Trump’s indictment for mishandling classified documents is set to proceed in federal court in Florida. But about a thousand miles away, part of Trump’s defense is well engaged in a different venue — the halls of Congress, where Republicans have been preparing for months to wage an aggressive counteroffensive against the Department of Security. Justice.

The federal indictment against Trump, unsealed on Friday, includes 37 counts, including allegations that the former president intentionally possessed classified documents, showed them to visitors, deliberately defied demands Department of Justice to return them and allegedly made false statements to federal authorities about them. The evidence details Trump’s own words and actions as told by attorneys, close aides and other witnesses.

The Republican campaign to discredit federal prosecutors skims over the substance of those charges, which were brought by a grand jury in Florida. Instead, GOP lawmakers are working, as they have for several years, to foster a broader argument that law enforcement — and President Joe Biden — are conspiring against the former president and possible Republican presidential nominee in 2024.

“Today is indeed a dark day for the United States of America,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy tweeted shortly after Trump said on his social media platform Thursday night that a indictment was imminent. McCarthy blamed Biden, who declined to comment on the matter and said he was not at all involved in Justice Department decisions.

McCarthy called it a “gross injustice” and said House Republicans “will hold this brazen weaponization of power accountable.”

Republican lawmakers in the House have already laid the groundwork for Trump’s defense effort since he took the majority in January. A series of near-constant hearings featuring former FBI agents, Twitter executives and federal officials have sought to paint the narrative of a corrupt government using its powers against Trump and the right. A GOP-led House subcommittee on the ‘militarization’ of government is investigating the Justice Department and other government agencies, while at the same time Republicans are investigating Biden’s son, Hunter Biden .

“This is a sad day for America,” Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, a top Trump advocate and ally, said in a statement Thursday. “God bless President Trump.”

Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs was more strident. “We have now reached a war phase,” he tweeted. “An eye for an eye.”

Democrats say Republicans are peddling conspiracy theories, with potentially dangerous consequences. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, both New York Democrats, released a joint statement on Friday calling for calm around the Trump case, saying that all the world should “let this matter go peacefully through the courts”.

Recent Republican rhetoric “not only undermines the Justice Department, but betrays the essential principle of justice that no one is above the law, not even a former president or a self-proclaimed billionaire,” he said. said Rep. Jamie Raskin, the top Democrat. to the House Oversight Committee.

Key elements of the GOP’s strategy include discrediting prosecutors and investigating investigators — a playbook Republicans used during Trump’s presidency as his own Justice Department probed his ties to Russia, and also used in April when Trump was indicted in a New York secret money investigation.

In the days leading up to New York’s indictment, House Republicans launched a full campaign against Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan Democratic prosecutor who filed charges against the former president.

Accusing that the accusation was “pure politics,” Jordan held a court hearing near Bragg’s offices in New York to examine what they called a “pro-crime, anti-victim” policy. Jordan is also the top Republican on the militarization subcommittee.

As Special Counsel Jack Smith prepared to release the indictment this week, Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill were working overtime to prepare the former president’s defense. Jordan sent a series of letters to the Justice Department, demanding documents related to its investigation into Trump’s handling of classified records. Jordan cited Special Counsel John Durham’s recent report which found that the FBI rushed into its investigation into Russia’s ties to Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016 and systematically ignored or rationalized evidence that undermined its premises.

In the June 1 letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, Jordan requested information about the ongoing investigation to “ensure that ongoing investigations are not poisoned by this same politicization.”

Just as the indictment was unsealed on Friday, Jordan sent another letter to Garland, this time exposing the testimony of a former FBI official who testified before the committee about the raid on the estate of Trump at Mar-a-Lago in Florida. Jordan wrote that Steven D’Antuono, former deputy director of the FBI’s Washington field office, told the committee that the Justice Department “didn’t follow the same principles” as previous raids.

Defending Trump also has the potential to ease tensions among House Republicans as they face their own troubles on Capitol Hill, after a conservative-led revolt against the recent debt ceiling agreement split the party this week and blocked most laws from passing.

But even if Republicans are able to shape public perception of the probes, there’s one thing they can’t do: control the outcome of Trump’s trial. The former president faces great legal risk, whatever the public thinks, under two indictments — and potentially more as prosecutors in Georgia and Washington investigate his actions that led to the Jan. 6 insurgency.

Still, some Republicans argue that the multiple indictments could help Trump improve his standing in the polls of Republican voters and reinforce the impression that the government is conspiring against him.

Republican Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina told CNN she believes the indictment “gave Donald Trump the nomination” in the 2024 GOP primary.

And as the House panel has stepped up its efforts to defend the former president, the word “militarization” has taken hold among Trump’s Republican allies. Almost every GOP lawmaker used the term — as did a member of Trump’s legal team hours before the charges went public.

“It puts a stamp of reality on something that is really unreal in terms of the militarization of the Justice Department,” James Trusty, one of Trump’s attorneys, said on ABC Friday morning. Trump announced later that day that Trusty was leaving his team.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas tweeted that “weaponizing our Department of Justice against the enemies of the Biden administration. will cause enormous damage to the rule of law and have a lasting impact.

Cruz’s GOP colleagues in the Senate were more muted, with Republican leader Mitch McConnell and others who criticized the former president refusing to weigh in on the indictment.

Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the only GOP senator to vote to convict Trump in his two impeachment trials, was a rare voice of criticism. While Romney stressed that Trump was entitled to the presumption of innocence, he said he believed the charges were serious and that Trump brought them against him.

“These allegations are serious and, if proven, would be consistent with his other offensive actions in the national interest,” Romney said.

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This story has been corrected to reflect that Rep. Jim Jordan is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, not the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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