Senate GOP doubts grand jury charges would weaken Trump
Senate Republicans see a special grand jury investigation into President Trump’s business practices by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. as more evidence that Democrats want to keep Trump in the spotlight to drag them down in the midterm elections.
Republicans think the investigation will only further deepen partisan divisions over the former president and believe that even if he’s indicted, it won’t diminish him as a political force in 2022 and beyond.
GOP lawmakers say a lot depends on what Vance is able to prove in court if he brings a criminal case against Trump, his business associates or the Trump Organization itself.
But they say it’s too early to assess whether a criminal indictment against Trump — or even a conviction — will inflict any serious damage on Trump’s popularity among Republican-leaning white working-class voters who are the core of his base.
One Senate Republican who requested anonymity said Trump would have to be “in jail” to be neutralized as a political force.
“It’s one thing if someone’s in jail,” the source said, predicting that otherwise Trump will be able to paint any criminal investigations of his business practices as political retribution.
“This is a continuation of the greatest Witch Hunt in American history,’” Trump declared after The Washington Post reported that the Manhattan DA had convened a grand jury that is expected to consider an indictment of Trump or his associates.
A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday showed a large majority of Republicans want Trump to run again for the White House in 2024.
Sixty-six percent of Republicans surveyed said they want Trump to launch a third presidential campaign, while 25 percent of Republicans say he shouldn’t run.
Polling also shows a majority of Republicans have embraced Trump’s claims that the 2020 presidential election was tainted by widespread fraud, even though those claims were never substantiated in court and even influential Republicans such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) have characterized them as “conspiracy theories,” “lies” or “not substantiated.”
Other Republicans say they doubt Trump’s grip on the GOP base will be weakened by any criminal case that comes from New York, a solidly Democratic state.
“I’ve heard so much about what’s going to happen to Trump I just tune it all out,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). “I don’t think anything coming out of New York is going to affect Trump very much.”
Graham said Democrats are going to try to keep relitigating Trump’s past actions right through the next election.
“We’ll try to make the election about their failed policies, they’ll I’m sure try to make it about President Trump,” he said.
“I think the 2022 election is going to be about the future, not the past. And I keep telling President Trump that,” he said.
At the same time, Graham acknowledged that the GOP’s political fortunes in 2022 and beyond are intertwined with Trump’s.
“His fate is our fate. If we do well in 2022 it helps him because he’s the leader of the party. If we don’t do well it hurts him. So time will tell,” he said.
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said if Trump is indicted or convicted, “people have to be prepared to accept it.”
But he noted that political experts have wrongly predicted Trump’s demise many times before.
“We’ve seen this before where a lot of people thought they had him and upon further review turns out they didn’t,” Cramer said, referring to former special counsel Robert Mueller’s lengthy multimillion-dollar probe into alleged collusion between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russian officials.
“I still expect that this would not go anywhere,” Cramer said of a grand jury investigation into Trump.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who twice voted to convict Trump on articles of impeachment, said it’s hard to predict what the impact on Trump’s political future might be.
“I wouldn’t want to speculate on what his legal future might be, and as to what impact that would have on politics, you’d have to talk to some pundits,” he said. “He seems to have a pretty good hold on the base of our party. I think that’s unlikely to be swayed by almost anything.”
Trump famously declared in 2016: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK?”
But Romney pointed out Trump has a long list of potential legal troubles.
Citing “the number of cases that have been brought with regards to the former president and his businesses,” Romney said, “It’s a long list, so he does have legal issues he’ll have to deal with.”
“We’ll see whether there’s some there there or not,” he added.
McConnell noted in February that Trump would be subject to criminal prosecution and civil litigation once he left office.
“We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation. And former presidents are not immune from being held accountable by either one,” the GOP leader said on Feb. 13, when he condemned Trump’s actions leading up to the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6 as a “disgraceful dereliction of duty.”
Prosecutors in Georgia have launched a criminal investigation into Trump’s attempts to pressure Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” him enough votes to overcome President Biden’s victory in the state.
New York Attorney General Letitia James launched a civil investigation into the Trump organization in 2019 on the basis of former Trump fixer Michael Cohen’s testimony that Trump provided differing valuations of his assets to lenders and the IRS in order to receive lower-interest loans and pay less in taxes.
Some Republican senators think Trump’s legal troubles will be a significant distraction for him going forward.
A senior GOP senator who requested anonymity said Trump will have less time and energy to focus on politics if he’s wrapped up in court battling criminal charges.
“It certainly changes his focus and time commitment,” the lawmaker said of Trump’s priorities if he’s under indictment.
Vance’s decision to convene a special grand jury for six months indicates his two-year investigation into Trump’s business dealings are getting closer to becoming more public.
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said “certainly an indictment would impact anybody.”
He said Trump will be given due process but noted that once a president is out of office, he is subject to criminal charges like any citizen would be if he breaks the law.
“A former president is a citizen like everybody else and is subject to Article III courts like every other citizen of the United States,” Rounds said, making a reference to the Constitution’s division of powers.
Cramer also said the legal process needs to be respected.
“The district attorney has a job to do and he can do it,” he said. “I certainly am not familiar with all the details of the case.
“What his motivation is, whether it’s sincere, legal or political, I can’t judge and I’m not going to judge. I’m not going to impugn his intentions at all,” he said.
Asked if Trump would be diminished as a political force in 2022 if he’s indicted, Cramer said: “I would think it would but on the other hand it might fire up some people.
“You just never know in the era of Trump,” he added. “If it’s an honest, fair prosecutorial process and the evidence is collected in a fair way and is presented in a fair way, that’s all you can ask in a system like ours that is the best in the world.”