Key House Republican leaders lined up to defend former President Donald Trump on Thursday following the news that Trump has been indicted by a Manhattan grand jury – a sign of the powerful grasp Trump still has on his party on Capitol Hill.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy tweeted that “The American people will not tolerate this injustice,” as he criticized Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. “The House of Representatives will hold Alvin Bragg and his unprecedented abuse of power to account,” he said.
The number two House Republican – Majority Leader Steve Scalise – called it “outrageous.” In a tweet, Scalise called the indictment “one of the clearest examples of extremist Democrats weaponizing government to attack their political opponents.”
Rep. Elise Stefanik, the House GOP conference chair, released a statement saying the indictment was “a political witch hunt” and a “dark day for America.”
The response from key congressional Republicans came as the indictment against Trump was filed under seal and will be announced in the coming days. The charges are not publicly known at this time, one source told CNN.
Notably, however, the top two Senate Republicans have so far remained silent in the wake of news of the indictment.
The silence from Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Whip John Thune underscores the divide within the Republican party over the former president. McConnell and Thune have made no secret about their desire to move past Trump, while McCarthy has credited Trump for helping him win the speakership.
Sen. John Cornyn, a member of Senate GOP leadership, provided CNN with a brief comment about the news of the Trump indictment.
“It looks to me like this is an opportunity for this DA to try to make headlines and gain publicity,” he said.
Trump in contact with key allies
Trump called key allies on Capitol Hill Thursday night to shore up support in the wake of his indictment, including members of House GOP leadership and lawmakers who serve on the committees that are trying to investigate the Manhattan district’s attorney office, according to a senior GOP source familiar with the conversations.
In the phone calls, which the source described as “check-ins,” Trump told allies he plans to fight the charges and continued to rail against the indictment and Bragg.
Stefanik has been in contact with Trump since he was indicted, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.
The No. 4 House Republican, Stefanik continues to be the highest-ranking House Republican to endorse Trump for his 2024 presidential bid and has been a key ally to the former president. At the House GOP retreat in Florida, Stefanik – who serves on a subcommittee on the so-called weaponization of the federal government – revealed she spoke to Trump and briefed him on the House GOP’s plans to aggressively investigate the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.
Trump also has spoken with Sen. Lindsey Graham since the indictment, according to a person familiar with the matter
GOP lawmakers quick to react to indictment
The news of the indictment broke just hours after lawmakers on Capitol Hill departed for a two-week Easter recess. The halls of the Capitol were quiet. On social media, Republicans were much louder.
It was only a matter of minutes after news of the indictment broke before some of his fiercest defenders on Capitol Hill rushed to his defense.
“Outrageous,” House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan tweeted.
“BREAKING: Trump has been indicted! This is another political witch hunt targeting the people’s President,” Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert tweeted.
“President Donald Trump always fought for us. He puts the American people above corrupt interests. For that reason alone, the powerful will never stop coming for him,” Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida tweeted.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a key Trump ally who is also close to House GOP leadership, has tweeted that she plans on traveling to New York City on Tuesday to protest Trump’s indictment.
While McCarthy has previously said he doesn’t think people should protest an indictment, Greene – who has become an ally to McCarthy – has struck a different tone, and argued it’s people’s right to peacefully organize.
Greene serves on the House Oversight Committee, one of the key committees trying to investigate the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, and told CNN she regularly keeps Trump up to date on their investigative priorities.
A handful of senators were quick to jump in as well to criticize the Manhattan district attorney.
“This indictment doesn’t pass the smell test,” Sen. Thom Tillis said in a statement. “The Department of Justice already looked into the facts and decided there was no case to be made against President Trump. This is the same District Attorney who is notorious for letting violent criminals off the hook in Manhattan, but has been laser focused on pursuing a politicized prosecution of a former President.”
Graham used inflammatory rhetoric to suggest that the former president could avoid prosecution in New York by committing a violent crime, implying that the district attorney does not prosecute violent offenses.
“He would be released IMMEDIATELY!,” Graham tweeted.
One moderate Republican congressman held back from immediately assailing Bragg or the indictment, a marked departure from many of his colleagues.
“I trust the system,” Rep. Don Bacon told CNN. “We have a judge. We have jurors. There is appeals. So I think in the end, justice will be done. If he’s guilty it will show up. But if not, I think that will be shown too.”
And GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska warned against “rushing to individual judgment” on the indictment before hearing the evidence, in a statement to CNN.
“No one is above the law in this country, but everyone deserves a fair legal process. The indictment of a former President is unprecedented and must be handled with the utmost integrity and scrutiny,” the statement said.
“Instead of rushing to individual judgment, we must also evaluate the evidence as it becomes available and use it to inform our opinions and statements about what is actually happening.”
Even before an indictment, three Republican chairmen including Jordan, Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer and House Administration Committee Bryan Steil sent a letter requesting testimony from Bragg and information related to his investigation. Bragg’s office pushed back, but the Republican chairmen have doubled down.
This story has been updated with additional information.