WASHINGTON — Republicans' defense of former President Donald Trump has taken a surprising twist: They're threatening to defund the prosecutor.
For years, Trump and fellow GOP candidates have pilloried progressive Democrats for promoting a "defund the police" movement that seeks to shift funds away from traditional law enforcement and toward community services aimed at reducing crime.
The progressives' slogan proved an effective enough weapon for Republicans against Democrats that Joe Biden felt compelled during his 2020 campaign to call for additional federal spending for police.
But now, as Trump anticipates being indicted over allegations that he illegally paid hush money to adult film star Stormy Daniels in furtherance of his successful 2016 bid for the presidency, House Republicans are threatening federal funding for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's office. More broadly, the GOP is looking to weaken prosecutors whose campaigns were supported by the liberal billionaire George Soros.
"Your decision to pursue such a politically motivated prosecution—while adopting progressive criminal justice policies that allow career 'criminals [to] run[ ] the streets' of Manhattan — requires congressional scrutiny about how public safety funds appropriated by Congress are implemented by local law-enforcement agencies," Reps. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, James Comer, R-Ky., and Bryan Steil, R-Wis., wrote to Bragg on Monday.
Trump predicts he’ll be arrested, calls for protestsMarch 20, 202302:25
The three lawmakers, the chairs of the Judiciary, Oversight and Administration committees, respectively, invited Bragg to testify before them and demanded that he turn over "all communications" between his office and other local and federal law enforcement agencies. They also asked for all communications from his office pertaining to the use of federal money.
Their letter follows Speaker Kevin McCarthy's weekend tweet vowing to "investigate if federal funds are being used to subvert our democracy by interfering in elections with politically motivated prosecutions."
Trump is the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
The Justice Department provides money to state and local prosecutors' offices through a variety of grant programs — including those designed to combat violent crime, hate crimes and sexual assaults — but they account for a small portion of the Manhattan district attorney's budget.
Still, Michael Steele, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee who has become a vocal critic of his party, said GOP lawmakers would be outraged if Democrats wanted to investigate federal funding for a local prosecutor based on an ongoing case.
"Now you’ve got Republicans talking about 'We want to take your money from you,'" he said. "If any Democrat behaved this way, these very same people would be losing their s---. It’s that simple."In an interview on Fox News on Monday, Jordan sidestepped a question about what Congress would do with regard to federal funding for the prosecutor’s office.
“That’s a concern for us,” he said, pivoting to his interest in obtaining records of any of Bragg’s communications with other law enforcement agencies.
But in another twist, it’s political money — not federal cash — that has dominated much of the GOP’s discussion of the possible indictment.
Since Trump announced Saturday — without apparent evidence — that he was likely to be indicted Tuesday, he and other Republicans have targeted the support Soros-backed entities have given to progressive candidates for elected prosecutor jobs.
“I have no interest in getting involved in some manufactured circus by some Soros-DA,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is Trump’s leading rival for the GOP presidential nomination, said in his first public remarks since Trump posited that he would be indicted this week.
Trump and his allies were outraged Monday by what they saw as a weak defense of the former president in which DeSantis also repeated the allegations against him. But the parroting of Trump’s own attacks on Soros and Bragg momentarily — and oddly — put the two leading GOP presidential candidates in the position of sharing a common declared enemy.
The comfortable political ground for all Republicans is to attack liberals, Democrats and the big-city prosecutors they elect. That helps explain the House GOP’s insistence on investigating federal funds that flow to the Manhattan district attorney. The other obvious reason is that it gives them an entry point into seeking testimony and records from a local prosecutor, since Congress oversees federal money. Perhaps of note, House Appropriations Chair Kay Granger, R-Texas, whose panel is in charge of spending, did not sign the letter.
DeSantis and other Republicans have long targeted Soros for backing prosecutors who promote policies of non-enforcement of certain crimes — in part because the same philosophy is at the heart of the “defund the police” movement. The billionaire's name appears eight times in DeSantis' recent book.
In one passage, he contrasts the non-enforcement desires of some Soros-backed officials in Florida with "the duty of a prosecutor to prosecute."
An aide to McCarthy, R-Calif., provided a copy of House Republicans’ 2022 “Commitment to America” agenda in response to a question about the difference between defunding the police and defunding a prosecutor. In it, Republicans promise to “oppose all efforts to defund the police” and “crack down on prosecutors who refuse to prosecute crime.”
But, turning the argument on its head, Republicans are now applying pressure to get a prosecutor to avoid indicting Trump.
Steele said the party has become wrapped around an axle in trying to defend its former and possible future leader.
“Here’s the kicker,” he said. “Donald Trump wouldn’t have had to pay $130,000 to a porn star if he wasn’t having an affair with her while his wife was giving birth to his son. So, chew on that GOP.”
Trump has denied having an affair with Daniels. His youngest son was born in March 2006, a few months before Daniels says she had sex with Trump.