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Democrats and Republicans respond to Trump's indictment in a hush-money scheme

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

A prosecutor's office in New York says it is in touch with attorneys for former President Donald Trump to, quote, "coordinate his surrender" for an arraignment.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Trump's under indictment in an investigation into hush money payments to an adult film star. Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen made those payments. The reimbursement was then logged with Trump's businesses as a retainer for legal services. Falsifying business records would be a crime.

PFEIFFER: Reaction in Congress was split along party lines, and both sides of the aisle noted the historic event.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh joins us now to bring us some of those comments. Trump himself was signaling that this could happen very soon, Deirdre. So how are Republicans on Capitol Hill reacting?

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: They immediately attacked the prosecutor and the process as political. Both the House and Senate wrapped up business, and members were traveling back to their districts yesterday when the news broke. But Republicans knew this could happen, and they were ready to respond. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy blasted the Manhattan DA, tweeting that Alvin Bragg, quote, "irreparably damaged our country in an attempt to interfere in our presidential election." He vowed the House would hold Bragg to account. Other Republican lawmakers dismissed the indictment, calling it an abuse of power. But few were talking specifically about Trump's behavior in terms of the hush money payments to an adult film star.

MARTÍNEZ: What about Democrats?

WALSH: They say the indictment shows that no one is above the law. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement that Trump will be able to avail himself of the legal system, and a jury, not politics, can determine his fate according to the facts and the law. The No. 2 Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin, said any political violence or threats of violence cannot be tolerated. But privately, some Democrats I've talked to recently about the prospects of this indictment in this specific case involving hush money said they believe the DA was building a strong case, but they thought some of the other legal investigations - the ones involving January 6, Trump's handling of classified documents and his attempt to interfere in Georgia's election in 2020 - were probably stronger legal cases. But now they're stressing that justice should be applied equally, and they hope the president and his allies will just peacefully respect the system.

MARTÍNEZ: What about potential Republican rivals to former President Trump for his 2024 nomination? What are they saying?

WALSH: They're really rallying around the former president. Former Vice President Mike Pence, who himself is considering a 2024 bid, said on CNN last night in an interview that the indictment was an outrage. Pence said the case about a campaign finance issue should not have been brought by the prosecutor.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE PENCE: And it appears to millions of Americans to be nothing more than a political prosecution that's driven by a prosecutor who literally ran for office on a pledge to indict the former president.

WALSH: And Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who's expected to also jump in the 2024 primary, put out a statement that didn't mention Trump by name but called the indictment un-American. And DeSantis said that Bragg was, quote, "stretching the law to target a political opponent."

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So there are all these Republicans who are rallying around a former president who is a Republican. What does this say about Trump's hold on the Republican Party?

WALSH: It again just shows he has immense influence. Polls show Trump as the front-runner for the 2024 Republican nomination. Lawmakers and his own political rivals recognize the Republican base strongly backs Trump, and that base expects party leaders to rally around the former president. There's a belief from Trump's allies that this legal action can actually activate his supporters and strengthen his position heading into the 2024 Republican primary. And some of his allies last night were just saying this helps pave the way for him to win the general election, too.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Deirdre Walsh. Thanks a lot.

WALSH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.