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Where the Republican Candidates Stand on the Trump Indictments

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Where the Republican Candidates Stand on the Trump Indictments

Former President Donald J. Trump faces an expanding collection of felony charges: There’s the indictment in New York City over hush payments to a pornographic actress, plus a federal indictment over his retention of classified documents, plus another federal indictment over his attempts to overturn the 2020 election, which culminated in his supporters’ storming the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. There’s an investigation into election interference in Georgia, too.

Mr. Trump has cast every investigation as politically motivated and legally meritless — and, with few exceptions, the Republicans looking to beat him next year have gone along.

Here is what the other candidates have said.

Like most of the Republican field, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida has framed the charges as products of a corrupt justice system, while offering muted criticism of Mr. Trump’s actions.

“The weaponization of federal law enforcement represents a mortal threat to a free society,” he wrote on Twitter after the indictment in the documents case. A few weeks later, he suggested in an interview with CNN that an indictment in the election case would show the country “going down the road of criminalizing political differences” — and declared on social media that Washington was such a “swamp” that not only Mr. Trump but also any criminal defendant should have a right to be tried somewhere else.

After the first indictment, in New York, Mr. DeSantis sought to link the Manhattan district attorney to the liberal financier George Soros in a way often used as an antisemitic dog whistle: “Like other Soros-funded prosecutors, they weaponize their office to impose a political agenda on society at the expense of the rule of law and public safety,” he said.

He has allowed that Mr. Trump may have behaved inappropriately, while maintaining that he shouldn’t be prosecuted.

  • In a jab in March, he pointed out that he wouldn’t know anything about paying off a porn star.

  • In June, he said he “would have been court-martialed in a New York minute” if he had retained classified documents in the Navy.

  • And in July, he said Mr. Trump should have “come out more forcefully” to stop his supporters from storming the Capitol.

Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and former United Nations ambassador, has shifted from an unequivocal denunciation of the first indictment in March to an argument in July that Mr. Trump’s legal troubles were creating an unacceptable distraction.

She called the New York indictment a “political” prosecution. But after the documents indictment, she joined a few other candidates in trying to have it both ways: She said that if the allegations were true, “President Trump was incredibly reckless with our national security,” while simultaneously saying the case reflected “prosecutorial overreach, double standards and vendetta politics.”

She also said she “would be inclined” to pardon Mr. Trump.

By the time the news broke of a likely third indictment, Ms. Haley sounded exasperated. “The rest of this primary election is going to be in reference to Trump — it’s going to be about lawsuits, it’s going to be about legal fees, it’s going to be about judges, and it’s just going to continue to be a further and further distraction,” she said on Fox News, adding, “We can’t keep dealing with this drama.”

Former Vice President Mike Pence denounced the New York case, calling it “an outrage.” But he has been ambivalent on the documents indictment and the election case. In the latter, Mr. Trump’s pressuring of Mr. Pence to stop Congress from certifying the 2020 results is a major component.

Mr. Pence initially said the documents indictment would be “terribly divisive” and would send “a terrible message to the wider world that looks at America as a standard of not only democracy, but of justice.” He shifted after reading it, saying, “These are very serious allegations, and I can’t defend what is alleged.” Still, he added, “It’s hard for me to believe that politics didn’t play some role in this decision.”

In the election case, while he has said “history will hold Donald Trump accountable” for Jan. 6, Mr. Pence has refused to say the courts should.

“I’m not convinced that the president acting on bad advice of a group of crank lawyers that came into the White House in the days before Jan. 6 is actually criminal,” he said. In a CNN interview, he added that whether charges were appropriate depended on Mr. Trump’s intentions and “state of mind,” which he said he didn’t know.

After Mr. Trump was indicted in the election case on Aug. 1, he issued his harshest statement yet. “Today’s indictment serves as an important reminder: Anyone who puts himself over the Constitution should never be president of the United States,” he said.

Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina called the New York indictment a “travesty” and said the district attorney had “weaponized the law against political enemies.”

By contrast, he called the documents indictment a “serious case with serious allegations.” But even then, he, like Ms. Haley, continued to denounce it as an example of a biased justice system.

Unlike Ms. Haley, he refused to say whether he would pardon Mr. Trump if elected.

Mr. Scott’s message was largely the same regarding the election indictment, which he responded to by citing the case against Mr. Biden’s son Hunter, who was offered a plea deal. “We’re watching Biden’s D.O.J. continue to hunt Republicans while protecting Democrats,” he said.

With former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey building his campaign around his willingness to criticize Mr. Trump, the indictments have been obvious fodder for him.

After previously condemning Mr. Trump’s actions in relation to the riot on Jan. 6, Mr. Christie continued attacks in that vein after the election indictment.

“The events around the White House from election night forward are a stain on our country’s history and a disgrace to the people who participated,” he wrote on social media. “This disgrace falls the most on Donald Trump. He swore an oath to the Constitution, violated his oath and brought shame to his presidency.”

After charges were filed in the documents case, he was also critical of Mr. Trump.

“It is a very tight, very detailed, evidence-laden indictment, and the conduct in there is awful,” he said at a CNN town hall event. He was also critical of the candidates’ describing it as political, saying, “They’re playing games.”

He was less supportive of the New York indictment. Though he did not condemn it the way other Republicans did, he argued that its allegations were not very serious — “I don’t think this is the crime of the century,” he said — and that it could help Mr. Trump politically.

Former Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas has been one of the few vocal Trump critics in the Republican field, alongside Mr. Christie and former Representative Will Hurd.

He held his fire after the New York indictment, saying the grand jury had “found credible facts to support the charges.” But he emphasized the presumption of innocence and added, “It is essential that the decision on America’s next president be made at the ballot box and not in the court system.”

After the documents indictment, however, he called on Mr. Trump to drop out of the race.

He repeated that call when it looked as if an indictment in the election case was imminent. “I have said from the beginning that Donald Trump’s actions on Jan. 6 should disqualify him from ever being president again,” he said, adding, “Anyone who truly loves this country and is willing to put the country over themselves would suspend their campaign for president of the United States immediately.”

The entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy is Mr. Trump’s fiercest defender. He has repeatedly cast the indictments as examples of “the ruling party” using “police power to arrest its political rivals,” and has urged other candidates to pledge to pardon Mr. Trump.

“I would have made different and I believe better judgments for the country,” he told Fox News. “But a bad judgment is not the same thing as a crime, and when we conflate the two, that sets a dangerous precedent.”

After news that Mr. Trump appeared likely to be indicted over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, Mr. Ramaswamy said, “The left calls Jan. 6 a threat to ‘our democracy,’ but the ultimate threat is when politically unaccountable actors literally remove democratically elected officials from office.” His premise was that an indictment could lead to use of the 14th Amendment to disqualify Mr. Trump from running.

He has also argued without evidence that President Biden ordered Attorney General Merrick B. Garland and the special counsel, Jack Smith, to indict Mr. Trump in the documents case. “We should know whose invisible hand is guiding these indictments, which is why I filed a Freedom of Information Act demand,” he said in July. The next month, he said he would file a similar demand over the election case.

Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota has mostly avoided talking about the indictments.

In a CBS News interview, he said he would “follow every rule related to handling classified documents” if elected but did not discuss Mr. Trump’s actions when pressed. His campaign did not respond to a request for comment on the election case. In an interview on CNN, he called it a “distraction” that voters did not care about.

His most unambiguous comments came after the documents indictment, when he told ABC News: “People are very concerned about a double standard in this country. They’re concerned that if we have lost trust in our institutions, if we don’t believe that the D.O.J. is going to enforce the laws equally between the two political parties, that’s even more serious than the charges themselves.”

Mayor Francis Suarez of Miami expressed unease with the New York case, suggesting that indicting a former president was a “slippery slope” away from democratic norms.

“If you don’t like someone’s policies or if you don’t like someone’s personality, that’s OK — exercise your right to vote, use the democratic process to express it,” he told The Miami Herald. “And I actually think that’s a way bigger statement about what this country is and what this country should be than going after somebody prosecutorially.”

He has said little about the merits of the federal cases. But he did suggest, in an interview with MSNBC, that he would consider pardoning Mr. Trump. “Certainly if I became president, one thing I would look at as president is using the pardon power to heal the country,” he said.

Former Representative Will Hurd of Texas has been more scathingly critical of Mr. Trump’s behavior than any other candidate except Mr. Christie.

“Losing to Joe Biden was so humiliating to Donald Trump that he was willing to let people die for his lies about a stolen election,” he said after Mr. Trump announced that he was a target in the election case. He added that Mr. Trump’s inaction on Jan. 6, “and now being a target in the investigation, proves he’s not fit for office.”

When the indictment in that case arrived, he said it was clear that “Trump’s presidential bid is driven by an attempt to stay out of prison and scam his supporters into footing his legal bills.”

He was equally forceful on the documents case, calling the details in the indictment “shocking” and telling CNN, “He absolutely could have put people’s lives at risk for not returning these documents.”

Anjali Huynh contributed reporting.



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