GOP plans aggressive ‘weaponization’ investigations following Trump conviction

Congressional Republicans returned to Washington this week to bolster their defense of former President Donald Trump following his conviction on 34 counts related to falsifying business records.

Unleashing a wave of initial reactions hours after a New York jury found Trump criminal last week, his strongest supporters are focusing on what they claim is a militarized justice system by ramping up House investigations and blocking the regular work of the Democratic-led Senate. .

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) outlined a “three-pronged approach” Tuesday at a weekly conference on how the Republican majority can target the Justice Department, New York and other jurisdictions to investigate Trump — pledging to use House oversight. powers while reducing funds in the government appropriations process and taking other unspecified legislative actions.

“We’re going to do everything we can, everything that’s our responsibility in Congress, to address this issue appropriately,” Johnson said during his weekly news conference that followed.

One of Trump’s staunchest allies is preparing to take a more aggressive approach. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) has threatened to file a resolution before the end of the week to impeach President Biden. Greene left a meeting Tuesday with Johnson demanding “in the strongest possible way” that he allow the House to vote on removing Biden or she would force such a vote.

On the other side of the Capitol, a faction of 11 conservative senators led by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) vowed to slow down the Senate’s work by voting against all of Biden’s judicial and political nominees and refusing to expedite consideration of any “Democratic legislation.”

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) condemned Republican plans to open investigations into the lawsuits against Trump, who is also accused of election interference in Fulton County, Ga., as well as federal charges related to allegations of mishandling classified documents and searching for classified documents. to overturn the 2020 elections.

“12 jurors came to a unanimous conclusion, and the former president was guilty of 34 crimes, and that, one way or another, is an indication of militarization when it was about a state prosecution that had nothing to do with President Biden or the Justice Department. , Jeffries said. “The American people understand that we need more common sense and less chaos in Washington, D.C.”

The historic verdict against a former president solidified support from Hill Republicans, who have sowed doubt about the fairness of the justice system by viewing the convictions as an abuse of power and a threat to American democracy as the election approaches . Although a majority of Republicans across the ideological spectrum have condemned the move, some fear the ferocity of the denunciations will erode trust in government and the courts.

Republicans highlighted several reasons why they vigorously came to Trump’s defense in the New York case, in which Trump was convicted of concealing a hush money payment used to cover up an alleged affair with voters in 2016. Many have noted that New York County District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D) campaigned for his current position by highlighting the success of the cases against the Trump family.

“It’s never about what President Trump has or hasn’t done, it’s about who he is,” Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) said Tuesday. “He is the leading Republican candidate for president and Democrats have made it clear they will stop at nothing, even if it means weaponizing our justice system and trampling on the rule of law to try to keep him out. again at the White House. “

Several House Republicans, from the most conservative to moderate, said their support for Trump was based on the reaction of their voters. Some, who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak candidly, said they made the statements out of fear of how his base would respond if they remained silent.

Trump enlivened his base of loyal voters by portraying himself as a martyr and repeatedly suggesting that if the Biden administration and the justice system didn’t go after him, they would go after his supporters. Congressional Republicans say that message was effective and resonated deeply with their constituents back home.

“It’s less about Trump and more about America,” the representative said. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.). “This goes beyond Trump. [Democrats] We used Trump to weaponize the justice system, and then that could be us. It could be anyone.

Johnson has not yet provided details about any investigations or actions that might be taken, which many Republicans have interpreted to mean that announcing his plan was more of a statement of commitment to Trump than a fleshed-out strategy .

It was clear that the House could seek to reduce state spending through the appropriations process, which funds the federal government. But it has become a talking point for far-right attendees, something that was on display during a House Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday.

Representative Matt Gaetz (R-Florida) accused the Justice Department of collusion with the New York District Attorney’s Office and accused Attorney General Merrick Garland, without evidence, of fueling theories by withholding information about alleged communications.

“We do not control these offices. They make their own decisions,” Garland responded.

There is no evidence that the Justice Department is involved in the New York case. In two federal cases involving Trump’s handling of classified documents and his alleged role in trying to overturn the 2020 election, Garland appointed special counsel Jack Smith in an effort to protect the department from investigations.

The Justice Department is also pursuing Biden’s son, Hunter, over tax evasion charges and allegations that he lied about his drug use when purchasing a gun. The latter case is currently the subject of a trial in Delaware.

Despite this, several House Republicans applauded Johnson’s ambition to continue investigating any potential links in light of the verdict.

“This is not a political issue,” the representative said. Mike Garcia (R-Calif.) spoke about ongoing investigations. “It’s good and bad. We are umpires here and we have to call balls and strikes. When we see something that appears to have been done for political purposes and that raises a lot of conflict and a lot of jurisdictional questions, we have an obligation to look at it.

Rep. John Duarte, one of California’s most vulnerable Republicans, said he would speak “pretty strongly against these prosecutions” at home because Central and South American immigrants now living in his district are dismayed by the action of the American government. like the banana republics in which they grew up.

Other vulnerable Republicans in the swing district declined to comment on Trump’s verdict. Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-Ore.) released a statement last week lamenting that “the national narrative continues to overshadow the kitchen table issues” her constituents discuss, while Rep. Kevin Kiley (R-Calif.) avoided answering questions directly, noting that a “fairly diverse range of commentators” say Trump’s case is ripe for appeal.

“Everyone does what they want,” the representative said. David G. Valadao (R-Calif.), a vulnerable incumbent who voted to impeach Trump. “I have chosen to stay completely out of the presidential race. So I don’t take a position on anything. »

Some members lamented the aggressiveness with which Johnson and other Republicans defended Trump while attacking the justice system.

“What worries me about the future of our country right now is that we’ve become so divided along partisan lines and this whole idea that we’ve weaponized government, I think that’s a challenge for us as a nation,” said a conservative House Republican. said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) — a moderate who voted to convict Trump in the past — is one of the few Republicans who has publicly said the verdict was politically unpalatable for the party. “These distractions gave Biden’s campaign a free pass as the focus shifted from Biden’s indefensible record and the damage his policies have done to Alaska and our nation’s economy, to Trump’s legal drama,” she wrote on X last week.

Still, Republicans appear unsure whether to focus on what they see as the unfairness of lawsuits before 2024, when voters have identified immigration and the economy as their top issues. Swing-district House Republicans did not sharply criticize Johnson for centering the conference on the militarization of government, but cautioned against making it the only issue Republicans will vote on before the election.

“My constituents don’t want to focus on these issues,” Garcia said. “They’re all less interested in national drama and just trying to make ends meet in their own lives.”

The most conservative expressed an opposing view. When asked whether Republicans should focus on the verdict in their 2024 message, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) argued that “one of the greatest threats to democracy is politics and the corruption of our justice system. »

Mariana Alfaro and Leigh Ann Caldwell for contributing to this r

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