Republicans must once again decide whether, and how, to defend former President Donald Trump against his legal troubles.
Last Friday, the Justice Department unsealed its bombshell 37-count indictment against Trump, laying out the U.S. government's argument that Trump lied, schemed and tried to hide classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago residence after he'd left the White House. He is the first former U.S. president to face federal charges.
While some Republicans have stayed silent — or even condemned Trump's actions — many have rushed to his defense, often coming up with creative ways to insist that the Justice Department should not prosecute the former president.
Trump is accused of breaking seven laws and charged with 37 felony counts.
Here's how some in the GOP are defending Trump:
The bathroom was secure
Florida Rep. Byron Donalds: “There are 33 bathrooms at Mar-a-Lago. So don’t act like it’s just in some random bathroom that the guests can go into.”
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy: “Is it a good picture to have boxes in a garage that opens up all the time? A bathroom door locks.”
The federal indictment alleges that Trump stored classified documents "in various locations around Mar-a-Lago, including in an office space, his bedroom and the particularly unconventional storage areas of a bathroom and a shower.
The indictment even featured a color photo of more than two dozen boxes on the bathroom’s marble floor.
And while most bathroom doors do lock, they usually lock from the inside.
Trump's not a spy
The WSJ Editorial Board: “However cavalier he was with classified files, Mr. Trump did not accept a bribe or betray secrets to Russia. The FBI recovered the missing documents when it raided Mar-a-Lago, so presumably there are no more secret attack plans for Mr. Trump to show off.”
Fox News host Mark Levin: “There’s not one syllable of evidence in here that any information under the Espionage Act was passed to any spies, to any enemies, to any foreign countries — not one.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham: “Espionage charges are absolutely ridiculous. Whether you like Trump or not, he did not commit espionage. He did not disseminate, leak or provide information to a foreign power or to a news organization to damage this country. He is not a spy. He’s overcharged.”
Thirty-one of the 37 charges against Trump stem from the Espionage Act of 1917. The indictment accuses Trump of illegally retaining documents that detail some of America's most closely guarded secrets and "endeavoring" to obstruct the government’s efforts to retrieve them, among other charges.
Stealthy government spies like the ones seen in Hollywood thrillers are charged under the Espionage Act, but so too is an individual who “willfully retains” national defense information and then fails to return it to the government officials when they attempt to recover it.
Trump could declassify anything he wanted
Rep. Beth Van Duyne: “As President, Trump could declassify anything he wanted.”
Many of the former president's defenders have maintained that Trump could declassify anything as president, and Trump himself has claimed that he declassified the documents.
“You’re the president of the United States, you can declassify just by saying it’s declassified, even by thinking about it,” Trump told Fox News host Sean Hannity in September 2022.
But the indictment argues that Trump knew his administration did not complete the standard declassification process, and it accuses Trump of having shown the documents to people without security clearances, including a book author.
“See as president, I could have declassified it,” Trump was heard saying on a recording. “Now I can’t, you know, but this is still a secret.”
What about Biden?
McCarthy: “We have a sitting president who possessed classified documents dating back decades to his time as vice president and as a senator. Yet he is now weaponizing the federal government to go after his leading political opponent. Where is the equal justice under the law?”
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz: “The press is having a field day of saying there were documents in a bathroom at Mar-a-Lago. Well, gosh, last I checked Joe Biden had classified documents in an unlocked garage next to his antique Corvette and it’s an absolute double standard.”
Some of the former president’s supporters have drawn comparisons between his handling of classified information and that of President Joe Biden, but experts say the cases are markedly different.
Biden’s lawyers discovered a “small number” of classified documents in a closet at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington, the president’s special counsel said, and the White House counsel’s office notified the National Archives the same day.
In Trump’s case, the National Archives notified his staff in May 2021 that some documents appeared to be missing. It was not until January 2022 that Trump and his staff shipped 15 boxes of documents back to the archives, which discovered that they contained classified documents. The FBI later obtained information that Trump had more government documents before issuing a subpoena for their return.
An August search at Mar-a-Lago later revealed that more than 100 classified documents remained on the property, ultimately leading to the charges against the former president.
Hillary Clinton was let off the hook
South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace: “Hillary Clinton used a hammer to destroy evidence of a private email server and classified information on that server and was never indicted. The same standard should apply to everyone, including Donald Trump.”
Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert: “Yesterday, Hillary Clinton had the nerve to sell merchandise as she gloated about Trump being indicted. The two-tiered justice system in our nation is completely out of control. Hillary has committed more crimes than just about anyone and here she is selling hats and laughing.”
The FBI investigated Clinton for months over her use of a private email server as secretary of state to determine whether she mishandled classified information.
In 2016, James Comey, who was then FBI director, said that Clinton was “extremely careless” in her handling of classified information but that “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring a case against her and that her actions did not rise to the level of criminality or warrant charges.
But Trump has now been charged with mishandling classified documents and attempting to obstruct the government’s efforts to retrieve them, which experts say are more serious allegations than Clinton ever faced.
The Biden administration is exacting revenge on Trump
Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley: “We are seeing for the first time in American history ... a sitting president of the United States try to throw his opponent into jail.”
Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs: “We mourn yet another example of the weaponization of our gov’t against its people. We will use every process, every court, every legislature, every state, every local, every voice, and every law, to restore our nation. We are Americans and we will prevail, if God is willing.”
Some Trump allies have repeatedly claimed that the indictment of the former president on criminal charges is evidence of Biden's Justice Department persecuting its chief political rival.
Biden, intent on signaling the Justice Department's purported independence from politicking, has not commented on the indictment, and he has also instructed his staff to refrain from speaking out publicly against the former president.
Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Jack Smith, the former chief prosecutor for the special court in The Hague, as a special counsel presiding over the two investigations into the former president, saying the move was “in the public interest” because both Trump and Biden are candidates in the next election.
Trump called the attorney general’s decision “appalling” and a “horrendous abuse of power.”