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Republicans rally behind Donald Trump after classified documents indictment | Donald Trump

Republicans rally behind Donald Trump after classified documents indictment | Donald Trump

Republicans, including some rivals for the 2024 presidential nomination, have rallied quickly to support Donald Trump, after news of the former US president’s indictment on several federal counts relating to his retention of classified documents.

The news was broken by Trump himself on his own social media platform Truth Social, seemingly pre-empting any announcement from the Department of Justice, and forcing many Republicans to flock to his defense.

Kevin McCarthy, the House speaker, lamented “a dark day for the United States of America” and said: “It is unconscionable for a president to indict the leading candidate opposing him.”

Joe Biden did not indict Trump. The former president was indicted by Jack Smith, the special counsel appointed by Merrick Garland, the US attorney general whom Biden nominated.

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After four years in which Trump’s attempts to influence the Department of Justice were widely reported, Biden has sought to safeguard department independence.

Saying he “and every American who believes in the rule of law stand with President Trump against this grave injustice”, McCarthy promised to “hold this brazen weaponisation of power accountable”.

Trump’s campaign fired out a list of supportive statements from senior party figures including McCarthy’s deputy, Steve Scalise, governors Jim Justice of West Virginia and Sarah Huckabee Sanders of Arkansas and a battery of US senators.

On the far right of the party, Trump’s allies were quick to his support.

Jim Jordan of Ohio, chair of the House judiciary committee, said: “Sad day for America. God Bless President Trump.”

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Marjorie Taylor Greene, the powerful House extremist from Georgia, said Republicans needed “to stop fighting each other”, so they could battle Democrats “arresting their political enemies and [working] together in their corrupt ways to get it done”.

Clay Higgins, from Louisiana, issued perhaps the most outlandish response with the conspiracy-laden language that has become common currency through much of the right of the party.

“This is a perimeter probe from the oppressors,” he said. “Hold. [Trump] has this. Buckle up … know your bridges. Rock steady calm. That is all.”

McCarthy also made reference to an investigation of classified material found at offices kept by Biden after leaving the vice-presidency in 2017. Another special counsel, Robert Hur, is at work. An investigation into records kept by Trump’s vice-president, Mike Pence, closed this month.

Pence is now a competitor to Trump in the Republican primary. Before news of the indictment, speaking in Iowa, Pence said it would prove “extremely divisive” for the US while sending “a terrible message to the world”.

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Trump faces unprecedented legal jeopardy, including state and federal indictments and a $5m civil penalty after being held liable for sexual abuse and defamation. Indictments also loom over his election subversion but he maintains huge leads in most polling averages when it comes to the Republican primary.

Trump’s closest challenger, Ron DeSantis, said: “The weaponisation of federal law enforcement represents a mortal threat to a free society. We have for years witnessed an uneven application of the law depending upon political affiliation.”

The rightwing Florida governor referred to Republican attempts to incriminate Biden in relation to alleged wrongdoing by his son, Hunter Biden, and his predecessor as the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton.

Notably, DeSantis did not refer to Trump by name, instead saying he would “bring accountability to the DoJ, excise political bias and end weaponisation once and for all”.

Tim Scott, a US senator from South Carolina, also reached for a Republican talking point, lamenting “the weaponisation of the Department of Justice against the former president”.

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Vivek Ramaswamy, a biotech entrepreneur and rank outsider, went harder: “It would be much easier for me to win this election if Trump weren’t in the race, but I stand for principles over politics. I commit to pardon Trump promptly on 20 January 2025 and to restore the rule of law in our country.”

Two challengers who have bucked party orthodoxy to attack Trump also commented on his indictment.

The former New Jersey governor Chris Christie said: “Let’s see what the facts are when any possible indictment is released. As I have said before, no one is above the law, no matter how much they wish they were.”

Asa Hutchinson, a former governor of Arkansas, made the most optimistic call.

“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.”

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Martin Pengelly in Washington

Published: 2023-06-09 12:49:17

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