Jul 19, 2023, 7:21am EDT

The political world reacts to (yet another) coming Trump indictment

REUTERS/Leah Millis

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The News

Washington geared up for yet another Donald Trump indictment on Tuesday morning, when the former president announced that he was a target of special counsel Jack Smith’s probe into the January 6th riot and efforts to overturn the election.

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The investigations into January 6th and Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results have touched on so many different angles that experts cautioned against making assumptions about what the charges might entail.

Rolling Stone reported on Tuesday evening, and other outlets confirmed, that the target letter indicated the investigation related to “conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud the United States; deprivation of rights under color of law; and tampering with a witness, victim, or an informant.”

The timing of the letter suggests Trump will likely face charges in a matter of weeks. While there aren’t any other known targets of the special counsel’s investigation, Randall Eliason, a George Washington University law professor and former assistant U.S. attorney in D.C., said that was likely to change given the assumed conspiracy charge.

“I think people would be surprised if it was a standalone indictment of just him,” he said. “Other target letters could still be coming, they just haven’t got them yet.”

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The View From Jack Smith

Smith did not comment on the news himself, but was spotted by CNN visiting a Subway in Washington. (No word on his sandwich order.)

There was, however, a flurry of news about who has or has not received a grim letter of their own from the special counsel. Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman, both at the center of various investigations, indicated they had not received notice that they were in Smith’s crosshairs (at least not yet).

As for potential witnesses: Former Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, who pushed back against efforts to reverse Biden’s victory in 2020, told CNN through a spokesman that he had been contacted by the special counsel and would “do the right thing.” Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, whose state is also the focus of Fulton County DA Fani Willis’ investigation, told NBC News he had not spoken with Smith’s team.

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The View From Donald Trump

The Trump campaign has plenty of practice at this point dealing with indictment news. After Trump announced the target letter from “Deranged Jack Smith” on Truth Social, the Washington Examiner reported that he checked in with House Republican leaders to discuss a response while his campaign pressured Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to defend him without reservation.

Trump later appeared at a town hall in Iowa with Fox’s Sean Hanity, who said that the former president didn’t seem to be bothered by his legal woes. “No, it bothers me,” Trump responded. “It bothers me for everybody in this incredible sold-out audience.”

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The View From 2024 Republicans

DeSantis once again struggled to strike a balance between defending Trump from legal charges, criticizing some of his underlying behavior, and not letting the whole episode overshadow his own campaign.

The news stepped on his big mainstream media debut, breaking just minutes before he sat down with CNN host Jake Tapper. “I hope he doesn’t get charged,” DeSantis told Tapper, saying he was worried about a trend toward “criminalizing political differences.” However, he added that “I don’t think it serves us good to have a presidential election focused on what happened four years ago in January.”

But the newsiest comments came at a separate event in South Carolina, in which DeSantis delivered his toughest criticism yet of Trump’s actual role in January 6 — even as he raised similar concerns about prosecution.

“I think it was shown how he was in the White House and didn’t do anything while things were going on,” DeSantis said. “He should have come out more forcefully…but to try and criminalize that, that’s a different issue entirely.”

Others reacted similarly. Mike Pence criticized Trump’s actions during the riot during an interview on NewsNation, but said he hoped the former president wouldn’t be indicted and that he is “not convinced” Trump committed a crime.


Vivek Ramaswamy called the expected charges “the ultimate threat” to democracy, but stood by his past criticism of Trump’s “abhorrent” behavior on January 6 in interviews with ABC News and Fox’s Neil Cavuto and said voters should judge the former president.

Nikki Haley told Fox News that “we can’t keep dealing with this drama,” and said Trump’s many ongoing legal problems would be a “further and further distraction” if the party nominated him.

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The View From Capitol Hill

Trump’s Republican allies eagerly lined up behind him to argue the letter was evidence of political targeting by the Justice Department. Speaker Kevin McCarthy went so far as to suggest that Trump’s recent polling gains caused Smith to jump into action.

The comments were more muted from Republican lawmakers who have broken with the former president in the past. “It’s part of the distractions that are always going to be surrounding the former president. And people have to make their own judgments about whether or not they want to have that going forward,” Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. told CNN.

Perhaps the most grim — if somewhat inscrutable — take came from Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., who said voters had become used to the Trump indictment cycle by now. “I think it shows that politicians lie and they know they’re lying,” Lummis told HuffPost’s Igor Bobic. “The liar knows that people know he’s lying, and the people that are being lied to know they’re being lied to. That is political reality in 2023.”