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GOP's reaction to Trump ripping DOJ indictments: Silence


Congressional Republican leaders have mostly been silent about President Trump's tweet that his own Justice Department should have weighed the political consequences before indicting his two earliest GOP supporters on Capitol Hill.

Critics in the legal community, meanwhile, have called it a "disgrace," "dangerous and stupid," and possibly an "impeachable offense."

The muted GOP reaction from Capitol Hill isn't surprising. Republican leaders and rank-and-file lawmakers have been reluctant to directly call out or criticize the unorthodox leader of their party, fearful of becoming the target of his ire and his tweets.

But Trump's Labor Day tweet may represent the most egregious example to date of the president interfering with ongoing Department of Justice (DOJ) investigations and engaging in what many are calling blatant obstruction of justice.

"This tweet alone may be an impeachable offense," legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said on CNN's "New Day." "This is such a disgrace. This is so contrary to the traditions of the Department of Justice." 

Eric Holder, who served as attorney general under President Obama, knocked Trump's tweet as "so dangerous and stupid it's mind boggling. This is a fundamental threat to the rule of law."

Trump's tweet also sparked criticism from former officials who served under the president.

"That's just not how the Department of Justice works," Ian Prior, a former Justice Department spokesman in the Trump administration, told The Hill on Tuesday. "They do not prosecute people based on political affiliation and they do not pass on prosecuting people based on political affiliation. That's called selective prosecution and those things get thrown out in court."

Taking to Twitter a day earlier, Trump blasted Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the DOJ for bringing "well publicized" charges against Reps. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) and Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), two vocal Trump defenders, just weeks before the Nov. 6 midterms. The president suggested that the indictments may have cost the party these two deep-red seats - and possibly the House majority.

"Two long running, Obama era, investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen were brought to a well publicized charge, just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department," Trump tweeted. "Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job Jeff......

"The Democrats, none of whom voted for Jeff Sessions, must love him now."

Trump's tweet marked the latest broadside in a months-long war against his own attorney general and Justice Department from a president still furious that Sessions recused himself last year from any DOJ probes into the 2016 election. That decision eventually led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, whose Russia investigation Trump has dismissed as a politically motivated "witch hunt" and something that Sessions must stop.

Now, Trump is getting personally involved in the criminal investigations into two House allies, a departure from protocol which dictates that the DOJ and FBI should operate independently from the White House.

Federal prosecutors last month charged Collins, his son and others with insider trading related to an Australian biopharmaceutical firm where the New York congressman had been a board member and major investor. Weeks later, the DOJ charged Hunter and his wife with misusing campaign funds on things like lavish meals, alcohol and personal trips.

Both Collins and Hunter have maintained their innocence.

Save for a handful of outspoken Trump critics, most of Collins's and Hunter's Hill colleagues have declined to comment about Trump's latest firestorm, or pushed back half-heartedly without uttering the name "Trump."

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a one-time presidential rival to Trump, declined to comment to reporters about Trump's DOJ attacks but took a swipe at the media for being "obsessed" with Trump's tweets.

Spokespeople for House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), both mentioned as possible Speaker candidates, did not respond to requests for comment. Ohio Rep. Steve Stivers, the GOP campaign chief, told The Hill on Tuesday he had not seen Trump's tweet yet.

Outgoing Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) had asked both Collins and Hunter to step down from their committees following the indictments, but Ryan's office did not directly name the president as it emphasized that the Justice Department should operate independently.

"DOJ should always remain apolitical, and the speaker has demonstrated he takes these charges seriously," said Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong.

Asked on Fox News if Trump should be picking fights with Sessions, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said he wished the two men could "work this out between themselves and not do it on social media.

"But the attorney general, I believe is doing the job he thinks he's required to do under his oath," Cornyn added, "and I think the president should keep him in place as long as the two of them can get along."

Trump's DOJ tweet came after a week of memorial services in Phoenix and Washington for the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who had clashed repeatedly with the president on foreign policy, ObamaCare repeal, the merits of torture and what constitutes patriotism.

There is a dwindling number of Trump detractors in the GOP in the wake of McCain's death and the pending retirements of Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), who hasn't shied away from knocking Trump, ripped the president for his tweet over the weekend.

"The United States is not some banana republic with a two-tiered system of justice - one for the majority party and one for the minority party," Sasse said in a statement.

"Instead of commenting on ongoing investigations and prosecutions," the senator continued, "the job of the President of the United States is to defend the Constitution and protect the impartial administration of justice."

Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), another vocal Trump critic, retweeted Sasse's statement, adding "+1" to indicate he agreed with it. But pressed for a comment of his own, Curbelo declined to elaborate.

Another lawmaker who's frequently clashed with Trump, Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), said he was "disappointed" by Trump's attacks on Sessions. But Jones, too, made no direct reference to the president himself.  

"I'm very disappointed by recent comments denigrating AG Sessions for doing his job," Jones said in a statement. "The Attorney General swears an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States, not to prosecute crimes based on political affiliation.

"Lady Justice wears a blindfold for a reason."

Morgan Chalfant, Jordain Carney, Juliegrace Brufke and Mike Lillis contributed.

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