Editor’s Note: This report has been updated to clarify that the indictment charges former President Trump with showing a classified document about the Iran attack to a writer without security clearance. .
Senate Republican leaders, including Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), remain silent on indicting former President Trump on 37 criminal charges, leaving him to writhe in the wind and break with Republican leaders in the House who rushed to Trump’s defense.
McConnell, who is careful not to comment on Trump or even repeat his name in public, told his GOP colleagues he wants his party to move on from the former president, whom he sees as a flawed candidate in the election. generals and a flirty. on the Republican candidates for the Senate.
The GOP leader’s top aides in the Senate — Senate Republican Whip John Thune (SD) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) — have also indicated they don’t want Trump to win the party’s presidential nomination by 2024.
Along with McConnell, they’re letting Trump’s legal troubles play out without coming to the former president’s defense, unlike Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La. ), both of whom issued statements Thursday criticizing the Justice Department before the indictment was released to the public.
“They want him to go so they don’t get very upset if that’s what finally gets him out,” a former Senate Republican aide said of Senate Republican leaders’ silence on the act of accusation of Trump.
Republican senators were more outspoken in defending Trump after liberal Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg unveiled an indictment in early April charging Trump with 34 counts related to business record fraud.
Even Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.) declined to express confidence in Bragg when asked about him in late March.
Special Prosecutor Jack Smith, who Attorney General Merrick Garland brought in in November to investigate Trump, has more credibility with Republicans.
“Jack Smith is very credible,” the former GOP Senate aide said.
“There’s the reflection that he may have finally found the silver bullet” to ending Trump’s political career, the former aide said, noting that Smith has a tape of acknowledging Trump that he had kept classified documents after leaving office that he did not declassify as president.
A Republican Senate aide said the indictment was “pretty damning.”
“The documents he had and who he showed them to and where he stored them are all pretty damning,” the aide said. “I don’t know if it will make a difference in the political landscape, but it certainly looks pretty bad.”
The indictment accuses Trump of showing a classified document outlining the military strategy for an attack on Iran to a writer who did not have a security clearance.
The former president also showed a sensitive military card to a staff member of his political action committee.
Photos included in the indictment showed Trump randomly stashed boxes of sensitive materials around his residence at Florida’s Mar-a-Lago resort, including in a ballroom, hall bathroom, a shower, an office and his bedroom.
A photo showed documents strewn across the floor of a storage room.
Nonetheless, House Republican leaders come out strongly against the indictment.
“It’s going to disrupt the nation because it goes to the heart of equal justice for all, which is not seen today. And we’re not going to put up with it,” McCarthy told Fox News in an interview on Friday. .
Scalise tweeted Thursday night “this sham indictment is a continuation of the endless political persecution of Donald Trump.”
Former Sen. Judd Gregg (RN.H.), a former adviser to McConnell’s leadership team and whose home state will host the second contest of next year’s Republican presidential primary, said the Department of Justice indictment may prove too difficult for Trump. overcome.
“At some point there’s a straw breaking the camel’s back and there’s a lot of straws on Donald Trump’s back right now,” he said.
Gregg called the legal issues facing Trump clearly “outside the norm for a great leader of our nation.”
Last month, a New York jury found Trump liable for sexual abuse and awarded his accuser, writer E. Jean Carroll, a $5 million judgment.
“Most Republicans want somebody else, even the Trump people want somebody else, because they want to win and they recognize that Trump is incapable of winning a general election at this point,” he said. said Gregg.
He said Senate Republican leaders should call on the GOP to move past the former president.
“I would advise them to say, ‘Listen, we need to move on as a party. Let Donald Trump work through his legal issues, which are substantial, but we as a party have to move on and find a presidential candidate who can win,” he said.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said Friday night that the Justice Department’s charges are “serious enough and cannot be casually dismissed.”
She said in a statement that “the mishandling of classified documents is a federal crime because it may reveal national secrets, as well as the sources and methods by which they were obtained.”
Murkowski, who voted to convict Trump on the impeachment charge of inciting the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, joined fellow Republican Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) in being the two only Republican senators to criticize Trump shortly after the indictment became public.
Romney, who voted twice to convict Trump for impeachment in 2020 and 2021, defended the Justice Department against criticism from other Republicans that it is acting unfairly.
“By all appearances, the Justice Department and the special counsel have been diligent, giving Mr. Trump the time and opportunity to avoid charges that would not ordinarily have been granted to others.” , Romney said in a statement.
“Mr. Trump brought these charges to himself not only by taking classified documents, but by simply refusing to return them when given ample opportunity to do so,” he said.
Senate conservatives have come to Trump’s defense, including the senses. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah).
“The actions of the Biden administration can only be compared to the kind of oppressive tactics commonly seen in countries like Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua, which are absolutely foreign and unacceptable in America,” Lee said in a statement. . “It is an affront to our country’s glorious legacy of 246 years of independence from tyranny, for the incumbent President of the United States to leverage the judiciary against a political rival.”
Cruz on his podcast “The Verdict” called the indictment “an assault on democracy”, “garbage” and “a political attack on a completely corrupt and armed Department of Justice”.
Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the third member of the GOP leadership in the Senate, who voted against the debt deal and is considered in the GOP conference at Senate as someone who tried to ally himself with his most conservative party. members, also criticized the indictment.
“This indictment certainly looks like an unequal application of justice,” he said in a statement, noting that “large amounts of classified documents were found in President Biden’s garage in Delaware” but “no indictment”.
Yet many other Republican senators, especially those more closely allied with McConnell, remain conspicuously silent on Trump’s legal woes.
A GOP senator who requested anonymity defended the Justice Department lawsuits against accusations that they were necessarily politically motivated because Garland is a Biden appointee.
“Where do you draw the line? said the senator. “Everyone owes their job to someone.
“We have to trust our institutions and there is not a lot of trust right now,” added the senator.
–Updated at 10:47 a.m.
Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.