NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Top Republicans, including some of Donald Trump's potential rivals for the GOP's 2024 presidential nomination, rushed to his defense Saturday after Trump said he is bracing for possible arrest.
The reaction underscores the political risks faced by would-be opponents who are eager to convince voters that it is time to move on from the former president. But they also recognize the multiple investigations — Trump's post on social media about the Manhattan district attorney's probe led to the public declarations of support — remain deeply unpopular with his supporters and they fear alienating his loyal base.
Among those coming to Trump's side were House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who said a possible indictment would be "an outrageous abuse of power by a radical DA who lets violent criminals walk as he pursues political vengeance" against Trump.
McCarthy, R-Calif., said he would direct relevant GOP-led House committees "to immediately investigate if federal funds are being used to subvert our democracy by interfering in elections with politically motivated prosecutions." McCarthy has not endorsed Trump's White House campaign, but Trump helped McCarthy secure the speakership after a contentious, multiple rounds of voting.
The comments came hours after Trump claimed in a social media post that he expects to be arrested this coming week as New York prosecutor Alvin Bragg mulls charges in an investigation into hush money payments to women who alleged sexual encounters with Trump. A Trump lawyer and spokesman said Saturday that Trump, who has long denied the charges, had been responding in that post to media reports and had no independent knowledge of any pending legal action.
Trump, in a message on his Truth Social network, nonetheless declared that, "THE FAR & AWAY LEADING REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE & FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, WILL BE ARRESTED ON TUESDAY OF NEXT WEEK." He then called on his supporters to "PROTEST, PROTEST, PROTEST!!!" recalling the pleas he made before the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Any potential violence spurred by Trump's comments could change the tenor of reaction. But on Saturday, several of Trump's declared and potential rivals were quick to blast the district attorney's investigation.
"Well, like many Americans, I'm just, I'm taken aback," said former Vice President Mike Pence, who is widely expected to enter the race in the coming weeks and has been escalating his criticism of Trump.
In an interview with SiriusXM's Breitbart News, he said the inquiry "reeks of the kind of political prosecution that we endured back in the days of the Russia hoax and the whole impeachment over a phone call. And the one thing I know is, I know that former President Trump can take care of himself."
Pence had been noncommittal when asked Thursday if Trump should drop out if he is indicted. "I think it's a free country. Everybody can make their own decisions," he said.
Trump has said he would continue his presidential campaign even if indicted.
Vivek Ramaswamy, the conservative tech investor who is already a declared candidate, called on Bragg to "reconsider."
"A Trump indictment would be a national disaster," Ramaswamy tweeted. "It is un-American for the ruling party to use police power to arrest its political rivals."
"Let the American people decide who governs," he added. "This will mark a dark moment in American history and will undermine public trust in our electoral system itself."
Representatives for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, another potential candidate who is seen as Trump's most serious rival, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, the third-ranking House Republican and an early Trump endorser, said action by the district attorney would be "unAmerican."
"Knowing they cannot beat President Trump at the ballot box, the Radial Left will now follow the lead of Socialist dictators and reportedly arrest President Trump, the leading Republican candidate for President of the United States," she said in a statement, echoing Trump's language.
Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance, who won his race in 2022 with Trump's endorsement, said he had been asked by multiple reporters if an indictment would lead him to rescind support for Trump.
"The answer is: hell no. A politically motivated prosecution makes the argument for Trump stronger," he tweeted. "We simply don't have a real country if justice depends on politics."
Prosecutors have been investigating hush money payments made to two women who alleged sexual encounters with Trump decades ago. A grand jury has been hearing from witnesses including former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who says he orchestrated payments in 2016 to the women in exchange for their silence.
Trump denies the encounters and has cast the investigation as a "witch hunt" by a Democratic prosecutor bent on sabotaging Trump's latest presidential campaign. Trump has said he believes an indictment would help him in the 2024 race.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a longtime ally agreed.
"The prosecutor in New York has done more to help Donald Trump get elected," Graham said Saturday at the Vision '24 conference in North Charleston, South Carolina. "They're doing this because they're afraid of Donald Trump.
Colvin reported from New York. Associated Press writers Holly Ramer in Keene, New Hampshire, and Michelle R. Smith in Providence, Rhode Island, contributed to this report.