An Anti-Trump protester holding signs in front of the Manhattan Criminal Court on March 20, 2023 in preparation for a possible Donald Trump indictment. Image Credit: Meir Chaimowitz / Shutterstock.com
As rumors swirl about what may be an upcoming indictment against former president Donald Trump from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, Republican Party leaders are in a bit of a pickle.
For years now, they have gone along with—and some have fed—Trump’s insistence that the government is stacked against him and therefore against the right wing. Some have gone along out of conviction, undoubtedly, but others almost certainly were trying to keep the base voters without whom the Republicans cannot win an election.
Now, as it appears that some of the legal cases in which Trump is embroiled might be coming to the point of indictments, they are in a difficult position. Trump is blowing up his social media website with increasingly unhinged accusations and demanding that his supporters “take our nation back.” His language echoes that of the weeks before the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, during which Trump supporters tried to overturn the results of a presidential election. And few Republican leaders actually want to launch a war against the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.
So far, at least, Trump’s demands for his supporters to rally around him again have produced anemic results, suggesting his power is waning. When senior reporter for HuffPost Christopher Mathias reported from outside the Manhattan DA’s office, he found that the media there far outnumbered the protesters. “So many reporters here I just saw a reporter start interviewing someone but they turned out to be a reporter too,” he tweeted.
As a number of people have pointed out, Trump rallied his supporters in late 2020 around the idea that a key election had been stolen. His supporters are likely to find the idea that he must be protected over financial crimes committed in New York, possibly related to a sexual encounter with an adult film actress, less compelling.
And then there is the issue that those who turned out to support him in January 2021 found themselves on the hook for crimes, all on their own, without his help. Just today, a jury found four more people affiliated with the Oath Keepers guilty of conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding, conspiracy to prevent an official from doing their duty, destruction of government property, and civil disorder. The jury found two others guilty of entering and remaining on restricted grounds. Meanwhile, Trump spent the day “truthing” on social media.
So, if Trump’s influence is waning and he is perhaps facing indictments—remember, there are a number of investigations outstanding, and for all that Trump is talking about an indictment about his hush-money payment, we do not know what any of them will turn up—what direction should Republicans who signed on with Trump now jump?
Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, and Ryan Lizza of Politico reported this morning that House leadership has gathered for their annual three-day retreat at a luxury resort in Orlando, Florida. Led by House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-OH), far-right representatives were preparing to demand that members of the Manhattan District Attorney’s office testify about any such indictment.
Indeed, this afternoon, the chairs of three House committees—Jordan, House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer (R-KY), and House Administration Committee Chair Bryan Steil (R-WI)—sent a letter to Bragg criticizing his investigation as an “unprecedented abuse of prosecutorial authority,” even though there has been no announcement of any charges.
The chairs claim they want to know if federal money was used in the investigation, but Representative Daniel Goldman (D-NY) noted: “Defending Trump is not a legitimate legislative purpose for Congress to investigate a state District Attorney. Congress has no jurisdiction to investigate the Manhattan DA, which receives no federal funding nor has any other federal nexus.”
Representative Glenn Ivey (D-MD), a former state’s attorney for Prince George’s County, went further, saying that he was “stunned” that the House Republicans were trying to obstruct a criminal investigation and intimidate an elected state law enforcement official.
House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) says the chairs are just “asking questions.” He appears to be trying to prevent an attack on the legal system while also keeping his far-right extremists happy. He says that people should not protest if Trump is arrested, but also seems to be trying to keep his claim on Trump voters by claiming that Bragg’s investigation is politically motivated.
Florida governor Ron DeSantis has his own problems with the whole situation. He wants Trump’s voters but does not want to be saddled with a scenario in which Trump tries to hole up at Mar-a-Lago to resist an indictment in New York. Today, DeSantis said he would not get involved in an extradition order, although Florida law allows him to intervene in a contested extradition.
His lack of support for the former president apparently outraged Trump, who promptly accused DeSantis of sexually assaulting a teenaged boy. The tension between the two Republican leaders has prompted speculation that Trump will fight extradition if only to force DeSantis to choose between alienating Trump’s supporters or kowtowing to the former president. Either would wound his presidential hopes, perhaps fatally.
Other Republicans are trying to deflect attention from the former president’s potentially criminal behavior and to focus instead on what they say is overreach by prosecutors. But when former Vice President Mike Pence this weekend said he was “taken aback at the idea of indicting a former president of the United States,” former Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele tweeted “Why the hell are you ‘taken aback by the idea of indicting a former President’ who has engaged in criminal behavior? Why continue to make excuses for Trump who would rather see you hanged & rancid behavior you decry in others?”
Other Republicans have apparently decided to stay out of this whole mess. It is notable that Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) voice is missing right now, as he recovers from his fall.
Meanwhile, the Fox News Corporation’s troubles over the defamation lawsuit against it by Dominion Voting Systems have just gotten worse. Fox News producer Abby Grossberg has sued the company in New York and Delaware, saying company lawyers tried to coerce her into giving misleading testimony in the lawsuit to set up her and FNC personality Maria Bartiromo to take the blame for the airing of Trump’s conspiracy theories against Dominion.
Regardless of how that lawsuit proceeds, Grossberg’s quite graphic account of the misogyny at the network will not help its profile right now.
And what is most astonishing about all of today’s sordid news is that, so far, nothing has happened. If and when it does, it’s going to be quite a ride.
What did happen today, though, is that the Biden administration issued the president’s economic report and that American aid worker Jeff Woodke, who was taken prisoner more than six years ago in Niger and held captive by a terrorist group, has been released. Secretary of State Blinken told reporters, “As you know, I have no higher priority or focus than bringing home any unjustly detained American, wherever that is in the world.” He thanked the government of Niger, Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens, and “all of those who have been working at the department” to get Woodke released.
Heather Cox Richardson is a Professor of History at Boston College. This story first appeared in a slightly different form on the author’s Substack, Letters from an American.