Few of Trump’s rivals are challenging him under the federal indictment

The Republican presidential field is growing by the week and candidates are keen to push the party past Donald Trump. But few of the former president’s rivals tried to capitalize on the latest indictment against him on Thursday.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and several lower-ranking candidates directed their criticism at the Justice Department, slamming federal law enforcement for years of investigations into the twice-indicted and now twice-indicted Trump, who always nor is there separate investigations into other matters against him.

Others, like Nikki Haley, former US Ambassador to the United Nations; former Vice President Mike Pence; and former governor of New Jersey. Chris Christieremained silent or said she was waiting for more information to be released.

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson was the only prominent Republican in the race to take a harder line against Trump, echoing an earlier call for him to withdraw from the race.

A federal grand jury on Thursday indicted Trump on seven felonies related to the improper handling of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. He is the first former president to face a federal criminal case. Earlier this year, Manhattan prosecutors charged him with his involvement in hush money payments to women, while a jury later found him guilty in a civil trial of sexually assaulting and defaming writer E. Jean Carroll.

“The corrupt Biden administration has notified my attorneys that I have been charged with what appears to be the Boxes scam,” Trump said on his Truth Social Platform in announcing the charges on Thursday, adding that he was asked to appear in US District Court in Miami on Tuesday.

Two sources familiar with the matter confirmed the charges, saying the allegations included false information and conspiracy to obstruct. The New York Times was the first to report on the nature of the charges.

DeSantis – its closest competitor according to polls – published a tweet late Thursday who sympathized with Trump.

“The use of state law enforcement as a weapon poses a deadly threat to a free society,” DeSantis said. “For years we have seen unequal application of the law based on political affiliation. Why are they so eager to pursue Trump and yet so passive towards Hillary or Hunter? The DeSantis administration will report to the Justice Department, eradicate political bias, and end the use of guns once and for all.”

Speaking to Fox News shortly after news of the indictment broke, Scott, who announced his candidacy late last month, denounced the “arming” of federal law enforcement agencies against Trump.

“We review each case based on the evidence in America,” Scott said. “Everyone is presumed innocent, not guilty, and what we’ve seen in recent years is the use of the Justice Department as a weapon against the former president.”

Trump’s most staunch defenders expect, if not demand, such deference, even from those who hope to best him in the Republican nomination race. Charlie Kirk, the right-wing activist close to the party’s Trump wing, claimed on Twitter that other candidates “should stop campaigning and go to Miami as a show of support.”

“If you don’t, you’re part of the problem,” Kirk added.

A Republican close to Trump, who was not authorized to speak publicly, wondered how “every other Republican candidate [can] “Will you effectively attack Trump now that Joe Biden’s Justice Department is literally trying to put him in a jail cell?”

“How,” this source added, “do you land a single punch without appearing like you’re linking guns with Biden and…” [special counsel] Jack Smith and cheering for what they do?”

Trump’s rivals are getting used to having to respond to his legal threat. After being indicted in Manhattan in March, Trump also drew more sympathy than contempt from his rivals, many of whom said the investigation was politically motivated. Last month, after a New York jury found Trump responsible for the sexual abuse of Carroll, many Republican presidential candidates downplayed or dodged the questions about the verdict. Christie that time said Fox News That the case was part of an “unacceptable” pattern of behavior was exceptional.

The contours of GOP racing have changed somewhat since then. DeSantis — who delivered a scathing rebuke to “porn stars” in the days leading up to Trump’s first indictment but then backed away when the indictment came — kicked off his campaign with a not-so-subtle pitch designed to steer Republican voters away from the drama of the Trump years. Christie, once a close ally, made his candidacy official this week, signaling his intent to attack Trump’s mistakes. Pence also joined the race this week and offered some of his harshest condemnations of Trump to date.

But save for Hutchinson, whose campaign was largely geared towards Trump-weary voters, no one jumped at the chance to pillory him. Pence, who was silent on Thursday, declined to answer on Wednesday when asked by NBC News in Ankeny, Iowa, whether Trump should end his campaign if a federal indictment were dropped.

Hutchinson didn’t hold back on the issue, criticizing Trump’s “willful disregard for the Constitution” and “his disregard for the rule of law.”

“Donald Trump is entitled to the presumption of innocence,” Hutchinson said in a statement. But “the ongoing criminal case will be a major distraction.” This reinforces the need for Donald Trump to respect his office and end his campaign.”

Others called for Trump to be pardoned, either by Biden or by themselves, if they won the presidency.

“It would be a lot easier for me to win this election if Trump weren’t in the running, but I stand for principles over politics,” businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, a long-term candidate, said in a statement. “I pledge to immediately pardon Trump on January 20, 2025 and restore the rule of law to our country.”

“Excuse Trump now!” tweeted Perry Johnson, a Michigan businessman who was disfellowshipped from last year’s GOP primary for governor for failing to collect enough valid signatures, is now seeking a long-term presidential nomination.

But Christie, who had been heavily critical of Trump in the early days of his campaign, said he wanted to wait for the indictment to be released before expressing his views on the matter.

“Like I said before, no one is above the law” he tweeted“no matter how much they wish.”

Brian Ashcraft

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