Former President Donald Trump’s unprecedented federal indictment for mishandling classified documents drew mixed reactions from his Republican rivals in the 2024 primary campaign – some voiced muted condemnation, while others called the indictment a “mortal threat to a free society.”
The Justice Department was expected to release a seven-count indictment charging the 76-year-old with intentionally withholding information related to national defense; conspiracy to obstruct justice; withholding a document or record; fraudulently conceal a document or record; concealing a document as part of a federal investigation; plan to conceal; and false statements and representations.
Trump released a statement Thursday claiming his innocence and berating “the corrupt Biden administration” for what he called the “boxes hoax.” He was referring to the classified documents discovered at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach.
This is how his political opponents reacted to the news:
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Trump’s main opponent in the Republican nomination race, condemned his rival’s indictment, which marks the first time in US history that a former president has faced a federal criminal trial.
“The use of state law enforcement as a weapon poses a deadly threat to a free society,” DeSantis tweeted Thursday. “For years we have seen unequal application of the law based on political affiliation. Why are they so eager to pursue Trump and yet so passive to Hillary or Hunter?”
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a former Trump ally-turned-critic, wrote on Twitter that he would wait until “the facts come out” before issuing a full statement — but didn’t Don’t miss the opportunity to grapple with his opponents.
“We do not receive our messages from Trump’s Truth social account,” Christie wrote on Twitter. “Let’s see what the facts are when a possible indictment is released. As I have said before, no one is above the law, no matter how much they wish to be. We will have more to say when the facts come out.”
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson called Trump’s federal indictment — which came in the wake of his New York fraud allegations — a diversion to advance the Republican Party.
“Donald Trump’s actions – from his willful disregard for the Constitution to his disregard for the rule of law – should not define our nation or the Republican Party. “This is a sad day for our country,” he said in a statement.
“While Donald Trump is entitled to the presumption of innocence, the ongoing criminal case will be a major distraction. “This reinforces the need for Donald Trump to respect his office and end his campaign,” Hutchinson said.
Trump’s former Vice President Mike Pence, who this week announced his candidacy for president – just days after he evaded allegations related to classified documents discovered at his Indiana home – has remained silent about the charges.
During an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash on Wednesday, former Vice President Pence said he did not want his former boss to be charged, although he conceded that handling classified material was “a very serious matter”.
“I think it would divide the country terribly,” he said of a possible indictment. “These kinds of actions by the Justice Department would only, I believe, further increase divisions in the country.”
“I hope the DOJ will change their minds and resolve these issues without charge,” he added.
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who served as US ambassador to the United Nations under Trump, also did not publicly respond to news of his indictment.
But in the run-up to Trump’s arrest in New York City on 34 felony charges under the Stormi-Daniels hush money program, Haley accused Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg of seeking “revenge” to score “political points.”
“When it comes to political prosecutions like this, it’s more about revenge than justice,” Haley said in an interview for Fox News’ special report in late March.
Larry Elder, a conservative talk radio host who joined the White House race in April, called Trump’s indictment a “rather partisan prosecution.”
“Hillary breaks the Espionage Act – and yet she’s a skater. FBI/DOJ whistleblowers report a two-tiered justice system,” Elder added. “FBI whistleblower claims Joe and Hunter received $10 million in bribes.”
Presidential candidate and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy released a statement and video accusing the Biden administration of creating two tiers of justice in the United States.
“I never thought we would see the day when the US President would order the Justice Department to arrest his main rival in the middle of an election. “Obama shamefully tried to hire the FBI to subvert Trump’s 2016 campaign, but this time they’re taking no chances: the federal police state is literally arresting Trump,” he said.
“This is an affront to every citizen: we cannot transform ourselves into a banana republic where the ruling party uses police force to arrest its political opponents. “It is hypocritical for the DOJ to specifically prosecute Trump but not Biden,” Ramaswamy added.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) commented on his rival’s charges in an interview with Fox News’ Harris Faulkner, pointing the finger at what he described as “the Department of Justice’s use of arms on a former president.”
“The only thing that makes America a city on a hill is trust in our justice system, and what we see today is a justice system that weighs the scales,” Scott added.