Freedom Caucus to Trump: Lay off Sanford attacks

Freedom Caucus to Trump: Lay off Sanford attacks
© Greg Nash

Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus on Monday urged President TrumpDonald TrumpRealClearPolitics reporter says Freedom Caucus shows how much GOP changed under Trump Jake Ellzey defeats Trump-backed candidate in Texas House runoff DOJ declines to back Mo Brooks's defense against Swalwell's Capitol riot lawsuit MORE to drop his ongoing attacks against Rep. Mark SanfordMark SanfordTop cyber Pentagon official overseeing defense contractor project placed on leave Cheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP GOP braces for wild week with momentous vote MORE (R-S.C.) in the wake of Sanford's primary loss earlier this month.

Trump mocked the South Carolina Republican in his home state at a campaign rally for Gov. Henry McMaster (R), saying he “never liked [Sanford] too much.”

"The Tallahassee Trail, must be a beautiful place," Trump said, misidentifying the Appalachian Trail while taking a dig at Sanford’s infamous affair during his time as governor. "Unfortunately for him, he didn't go there."

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Sanford, a vocal Trump critic, had originally explained away an extended absence from his time as governor by saying he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. In fact, he was in Argentina with a woman he was having an affair with.

During a closed-door meeting of the Freedom Caucus Monday evening, a number of lawmakers in the powerful group adamantly called for members to come out in defense of Sanford and condemn president’s repeated attacks against one of their own.

Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsWashington Post calls on Democrats to subpoena Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Meadows for testimony on Jan. 6 Trump to Pence on Jan. 6: 'You don't have the courage' Trump said whoever leaked information about stay in White House bunker should be 'executed,' author claims MORE (R-N.C.) said the group stands by Sanford, who lost his reelection primary against state lawmaker Katie Arrington (R) hours after the president tweeted his endorsement of Arrington.

"Everybody in there is very supportive of Mark Sanford, and I think that's one of the things that overwhelmingly they believe that the president is getting bad political advice,” he said.

The former governor also came to his own defense.

“The context of that is, you know, the president is in South Carolina 100 miles from the district speaking on the gubernatorial race and for some reason decided to tee off on me again,” Sanford said while leaving the meeting. “So, this is the fourth time, so this is why Justin brought that up.”

Michigan Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashAmash warns of turning lawmakers like Cheney into 'heroes' Cheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP Biden: 'Prince Philip gladly dedicated himself to the people of the UK' MORE was among the GOP lawmakers who came to Sanford’s defense following Trump’s tweeted attack on June 12.

Trump had also said that he was applauded and cheered when he called Sanford a "nasty guy" at a GOP conference meeting, a claim multiple lawmakers present called flatly false.

The Freedom Caucus released a statement earlier Monday applauding Sanford’s service.  

"Mark Sanford has been a strong, independent voice fighting for the people of South Carolina's First District. We continue to support him, he is a valued member of the House Freedom Caucus, and it's our honor serving with him," the statement reads. "His thoughtful consideration of legislation and willingness to put constitutional principles ahead of the party line is commendable and will be missed."