WASHINGTON – Senior Republicans on Sunday echoed Donald Trump’s claim that a looming indictment in a hush-money case would amount to political “persecution,” while Democrats warned his call for protests could trigger a repeat of the chaos his supporters unleashed at the US Capitol.
In an explosive announcement on Saturday, the former president said he expected to be arrested on Tuesday in connection with a grand jury inquiry into a 2016 payment to a porn star, allegedly to keep her from revealing a past affair with him.
On Sunday, he blasted the possible move as a “witch hunt” on his Truth Social platform, lashing out at the Manhattan prosecutor for “using the power of his office to persecute, indict, and prosecute a former president of the United States of America – for no crime!”
Even potential Republican rivals in the still-evolving 2024 presidential race reacted sharply.
“I’m taken aback at the idea of indicting a former president of the United States at a time when there’s a crime wave in New York City,” Mr Trump’s former vice-president Mike Pence said on ABC’s This Week.
“It just feels like a politically charged prosecution here,” said Mr Pence. “I just feel like it’s just not what the American people want to see.”
The Manhattan District Attorney’s office has not confirmed any plans for an indictment, though multiple signs – including the recent appearances before the grand jury of Mr Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen and the porn star known as Stormy Daniels – point to a quick conclusion.
Mr Trump has denied any untoward involvement with Ms Daniels. But law enforcement agencies are preparing for a possible indictment, with chaotic scenes outside the Manhattan Criminal Court a near-certainty if it does happen.
Building ‘sympathy’ for Trump?
The stunning possibility of a former president being arrested – a historic first – has fanned passions and injected considerable uncertainty into the 2024 campaign.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a vocal supporter of the former president, called a possible indictment “an effort that’s ongoing, never-ending to destroy Donald Trump, everything around Donald Trump”.
Even Governor Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, an outspoken Trump critic and a potential rival for the 2024 nomination, suggested an indictment could generate a powerful backlash.
“I think it’s building a lot of sympathy for the former president,” he told CNN’s State Of The Union.
“It does drastically change the paradigm, as we go into the ‘24 election,” he said, adding of a possible indictment: “It’s going to be a circus.”
Mr Trump’s call on Truth Social for his backers to “Protest! Protest! Protest!” and “Take our nation back!” was seen by Democrats as a worrying echo of his language ahead of the Jan 6, 2021, rioting by his supporters at the US Capitol.
Mr Pence, Mr Sununu and other Republicans defended the right to protest any legal action against Mr Trump, so long as people do so peacefully.
But Mr Pence’s former chief of staff, Marc Short, told CNN that “trying to encourage protests in the shadow of January 6th is reckless”.