GOP’s usual embrace of Trump muted after criminal referral

Dec 19, 2022, 7:05 AM | Updated: Dec 20, 2022, 3:48 pm
FILE - Former President Donald Trump gestures as he announces he is running for president for the t...

FILE - Former President Donald Trump gestures as he announces he is running for president for the third time as he speaks at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Nov. 15, 2022. Trump is facing a new legal threat, but there is little sign that the Republican Party is defending the former president with the same intensity and urgency that defined his previous legal clashes. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — The Republican Party quickly and forcefully rallied behind Donald Trump in the hours after federal agents seized classified documents from his Florida estate this summer.

Four months later, that sense of intensity and urgency was missing — at least for now — after the Jan. 6 House committee voted to recommend the Justice Department bring criminal charges against him. Leading Republicans largely avoided the historic criminal referral Monday, while others pressed to weigh in offered muted defenses — or none at all.

Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell called for “an immediate and thorough explanation” after the FBI executed the August search warrant at Mar-a-Lago. On Monday, he told reporters he had only one “immediate observation” about the criminal referral: “The entire nation knows who is responsible for that day.” Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who called for Attorney General Merrick Garland’s resignation in the wake of the search, was silent on the committee’s referral, focusing instead on alleged FBI missteps.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Trump critic who suggested the former president likely benefited — politically, at least — from the FBI’s summertime search, said Trump was at least partly responsible for the deadly attack on the Capitol.

“No man is above the law,” Hogan told The Associated Press shortly before the committee’s vote.

The divergent responses are a sign of how quickly the political landscape has shifted for Trump as he faces a new legal threat and mounts a third bid for the presidency. It’s a marked change for a party that has been defined, above all, by its unconditional loyalty to Trump under any and all circumstances for the last six years.

Monday’s hearing of the Jan. 6 House committee, composed of seven Democrats and two Republican Trump critics, likely marks Congress’ final attempt to hold the former president accountable for the attack on the U.S. Capitol by hundreds of his loyalists as elected officials worked to certify Democrat Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential election victory. The criminal referral, which is nonbinding, is the culmination of a yearlong investigation that included more than 1,000 witnesses, 10 televised public hearing and over 1 million documents.

The committee, which Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy boycotted and dismissed as a “sham process,” will formally disband on Jan. 3 as Republicans take over the House majority.

Ever defiant, Trump predicted the criminal referral would ultimately help him.

“These folks don’t get it that when they come after me, people who love freedom rally around me. It strengthens me. What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger,” Trump said in a statement posted on his social network, condemning the criminal referral as “a partisan attempt to sideline me and the Republican Party.”

This week’s vote comes just one month after Trump formally launched his 2024 White House campaign. He had hoped that his status as an announced candidate might give him new leverage in his many legal entanglements while warding off potential Republican primary challengers.

Such hopes have yet to materialize. Early polls suggest the 76-year-old former president is no lock to win the 2024 nomination as emboldened Republican rivals prepare to line up to run against him.

Already weakened, Trump is also bracing for the potential release of his tax returns, which he has worked for years to keep out of the public eye. The House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday was scheduled to consider the release of six years of Trump’s taxes, as well as those related to his businesses, although it wasn’t immediately clear when any documents might be available to the public.

Trump’s greatest liability heading into the next presidential election may have little to do with his legal challenges, however. Republicans are increasingly worried about his ability to win.

The GOP’s concerns about Trump’s electability intensified after the November midterm elections, when Trump’s hand-picked candidates in several high-profile contests were defeated. The setbacks followed deeper Republican losses in the two previous national elections under Trump’s leadership.

Indeed, the initial weeks of Trump’s third presidential campaign are going so poorly that some Trump allies are privately wondering whether he’s serious about his 2024 ambitions at all.

Trump faced Republican demands to apologize for his decision last month to share a private meal with noted white supremacist Nick Fuentes. Days later, Trump called for the “termination” of parts of the Constitution over his lie that the 2020 election was stolen. And days after that, his hand-picked candidate in Georgia’s high-stakes Senate race, former football star Herschel Walker, lost his runoff election.

Trump has not held a campaign event. Last week, after previewing a “MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT,” he unveiled a line of digital trading cards depicting him as a superhero.

At the same time, Trump’s legal challenges are mounting.

Garland last month appointed a special counsel to oversee the Department of Justice’s investigation into the presence of classified documents at Trump’s Florida estate as well as key aspects of a separate probe involving the insurrection and efforts to undo the 2020 election. The Fulton County, Georgia, district attorney is separately investigating attempts to overturn that state’s 2020 election results.

It’s impossible to predict how much longer the investigations will last or whether the DOJ will take the unprecedented step of indicting a former president and current candidate. But Trump is no longer shielded from prosecution the way he was as president.

And his party is becoming less willing to stand behind him.

The Republican National Committee announced it would stop paying some of Trump’s legal bills after he launched his 2024 presidential campaign.

Former Vice President Mike Pence, a 2024 presidential prospect himself who aggressively condemned the FBI after it seized classified documents from Trump’s estate, offered somewhat muted criticism of the Jan. 6 committee when given the chance.

“As I wrote in my book, the president’s actions and words on Jan. 6 were reckless. But I don’t know that it’s criminal to take bad advice from lawyers,” Pence told Fox News Channel. He added, “When it comes to the Justice Department’s decision about bringing charges in the future, I would hope that they would not bring charges against the former president.”

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who is also considering a 2024 White House campaign, acknowledged Trump’s role in Jan. 6 but said the criminal referral “isn’t helpful” to the DOJ’s investigation.

“The record is clear that former Pres. Trump is responsible for what happened on January 6, but accountability is most likely to come from the American people who are ready for our country to move beyond the events of January 6,” he tweeted.

So far, only a handful of members of Congress have endorsed Trump’s 2024 bid.

One of them, No. 3 House Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik, called the Democratic-led committee “unconstitutional and illegitimate.” She said Trump was well positioned heading into the 2024 presidential contest.

“As of today — he announced a few weeks ago at this point — the only candidate is Donald Trump, and he is winning significantly against the field,” Stefanik told The Associated Press on Monday. “So, we’ll see what happens. But I think he’s in a very strong position.”


Associated Press writers Jill Colvin and Michelle L. Price in New York; Brian Witte in Annapolis, Md.; and Meg Kinnard in Columbia, S.C., contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

TV anchors T.J. Holmes, Amy Robach leave ABC amid romance

NEW YORK (AP) — T.J. Holmes and Amy Robach, anchors at the afternoon extension of ABC’s “Good Morning America,” are leaving the network after their romance was reported in November. The pair were taken off the air and placed on temporary hiatus after photos surfaced of them holding hands and spending time together. Both were […]
2 days ago
From left, Sweden's Defense Minister Pal Jonson, Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson and Foreign Ministe...
Associated Press

Finnish, Swedish FMs: NATO membership process hasn’t stopped

HELSINKI (AP) — The foreign ministers of Sweden and Finland reiterated in separate interviews published Saturday that the process for the two Nordic nations to join NATO is continuing despite Turkey’s president saying Sweden shouldn’t expect his country to approve its membership. Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström acknowledged in an interview with Swedish newspaper Expressen […]
2 days ago
Associated Press

Gregory Allen Howard who wrote ‘Remember the Titans’ dies

NEW YORK (AP) — Screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard, who skillfully adapted stories of historical Black figures in “Remember the Titans” starring Denzel Washington, “Ali” with Will Smith and “Harriet” with Cynthia Erivo, has died. He was 70. Howard died Friday at his home in Miami after a brief illness, according to a statement from publicist […]
2 days ago
Associated Press

Delaware Gov. John Carney tests positive for COVID-19

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Delaware Gov. John Carney has tested positive for COVID-19, the governor’s office announced on Saturday. Carney tested positive late Friday using an at-home antigen test after experiencing mild symptoms, according to a news release. Carney, 66, said he’s “feeling fine” and is isolating himself — following U.S. Centers for Disease Control […]
2 days ago
Associated Press

Man accused in substation vandalism is released from custody

TACOMA, Wash. (AP) — One of the two men charged with vandalizing electrical substations in Washington state over the holidays to cover a burglary was ordered released from federal custody Friday to seek substance abuse help. A federal judge issued the order for Matthew Greenwood, 32, after renewed efforts by his attorney to get Greenwood […]
2 days ago
Associated Press

Dismissal of lawsuit over Columbus Day name change upheld

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A federal appeals court has upheld a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit alleging that the mayor of Philadelphia discriminated against Italian Americans in renaming the city’s Columbus Day holiday to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. A U.S. District judge ruled a year ago that the plaintiffs, a council member and three Italian American […]
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
GOP’s usual embrace of Trump muted after criminal referral