June 13, 2024




© Aristide Economopoulos for The Washington Post
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg enters the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse on Monday.

In the minutes after it became public that former president Donald Trump had been indicted by a Manhattan grand jury, congressional Republicans quickly directed their anger at District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

“As he routinely frees violent criminals to terrorize the public, [Bragg] weaponized our sacred system of justice against President Donald Trump. The American people will not tolerate this injustice,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said, before ensuring the House will “hold Alvin Bragg … to account.”

House Republicans spent Friday doubling down on the attacks they have lobbed for weeks against Bragg, who has been investigating hush-money payments made to adult-film star Stormy Daniels during Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. They have made Bragg the central target in their defense of Trump, painting him as a case study of a Democratic official who they claim has weaponized the levers of government against a political opponent.

It’s a message Republicans leaned into, even before the indictment, when Trump first posted on social media earlier this month that he expected to be arrested on a Tuesday with little explanation. In the wake of the indictment, Trump has made outreach to lawmakers in House GOP leadership and relevant congressional committees to discuss how to respond to it, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to detail private conversations.

Democrats, in turn, have subtly defended Bragg and the legal system without naming him. In a statement after the indictment, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said, “Mr. Trump is subject to the same laws as every American,” and that a jury, not politics, will “determine his fate according to the facts and the law.”

Republicans who often refrain from commenting on the latest Trump headline have long approved of their colleagues desire to investigate Democrats, citing the constitutional responsibility of a House majority to perform oversight duties. They have taken a similar tone in the wake of the indictment, but suggest that their colleagues should not predetermine Bragg’s motives before launching investigations.

“Regardless of political affiliation, it’s not hard to recognize the partisan intent of the New York indictment,” Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) said in a statement. “This is unprecedented and opens a new era in political warfare that has no place in our country. Congress will investigate the conduct of the Manhattan D.A.’s office to determine if the indictment was justified and not partisan weaponization.”

The response to Trump’s indictment was more muted in the Senate, where top Republican leaders declined to comment on the reported indictment. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who has not spoken to Trump since shortly after the 2020 election, and Minority Whip John Thune (S.D.) stayed silent as all House Republican leaders issued blistering statements on Thursday and Friday.

But defense from some senators echoed House GOP arguments. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), one of Trump’s fiercest allies in the Senate, called the prosecution “irresponsible” and predicted Trump would defeat the case in the courtroom. Fewer Republicans have echoed Trump’s own defense that he is innocent, only going as far as to claim that this is a weak case and that Trump is innocent until proven guilty.

Republicans have targeted Bragg’s record as a district attorney to underscore what they view as the hypocrisy of his decision to indict, pointing to a memo he released shortly after being sworn in, where he said he would change the culture of the office and no longer prosecute some misdemeanors. Republicans say it has contributed to skyrocketing crime under Democrats’ watch, though statistics show violent crime is down in Manhattan year over year.

“Instead of locking up dangerous career criminals wreaking havoc on our city, Alvin Bragg has chosen to abuse our tax dollars and his prosecutorial power to politically target a political foe. Shameful,” Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.), who represents Staten Island, said in a tweet Thursday.

That focus has also allowed Republicans to defend Trump without having to embrace him amid a presidential campaign season where alternatives to Trump are lining up.

Still, some of Trump’s staunchest allies on Capitol Hill declared him innocent even before the indictment was released. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) told reporters at a House GOP conference in Orlando earlier this month that if Trump were to be indicted, any charges would be “fake.” Greene intends to stand with Trump supporters in New York City on Tuesday in protest of Trump surrendering himself that day.

Republicans also have sought to link Bragg’s actions to George Soros, a billionaire Democratic fundraiser whom conservatives have turned into a boogeyman. The link between Soros and Bragg is indirect: Soros funded Color of Change, a liberal organization that in turn supported several progressive prosecutors, including Bragg, in their campaigns, the New York Times has reported.

Yet, since the indictment, 10 percent of the public statements about Bragg online from high-profile, right-wing officeholders and influencers have also mentioned Soros, according to a Washington Post analysis, including the use of phrases like, “Soros-sponsored DA” or “Soros DA Alvin Bragg.”

Almost two weeks before Trump was indicted, House GOP leadership launched three separate probes into Bragg. McCarthy directed Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan (Ohio), Oversight Chairman James Comer (Ky.), and Administration Chairman Bryan Steil (Wis.) to investigate the Manhattan district attorney’s probe into Trump, issuing requests for communications, documents and testimony relating to what they called his “unprecedented abuse of prosecutorial authority.” Republicans have argued they have jurisdiction to investigate Bragg because federal funds are used by district attorneys to fund investigations.

Those requests have since been met with two letters from the Manhattan district attorney’s office general counsel, Leslie Dubeck, indicating that compliance with the House GOP’s requests would interfere with a pending criminal investigation.

It remains to be seen whether Jordan ultimately subpoenas Bragg over Trump’s indictment. Jordan himself defied a congressional subpoena, issued by the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection last year, in which he was called to testify about efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

A subpoena of a Manhattan district attorney amid an ongoing criminal investigation would be a dramatic and unprecedented escalation, though largely symbolic. The office has already suggested that Bragg would be unlikely to comply with the subpoena, leaving House Republicans to make a criminal referral for contempt of Congress to the Justice Department.

By statute, the Justice Department would then be responsible for deciding whether to bring a criminal case but is unlikely to ultimately prosecute Bragg based on the Justice Department’s long-standing practice of not providing information about ongoing investigations.

“There’s not tons [House Republicans] can functionally do, but it’s very clear that everyone is enraged over this,” said a GOP operative close to House Republicans, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to outline the conference’s thinking. “From leadership all the way down to the Freedom Caucus — you even had RINO establishment Republicans who loathe Trump, like [Sen. Thom] Tillis (N.C.) saying this is ridiculous.”

Republican investigators have made clear the indictment will not slow down their committee’s work, if anything stressing it will accelerate it. It could also sharpen their focus on other Democrats to investigate more aggressively.

After Trump posted to Truth Social overnight “WHERE’S HUNTER,” referencing Biden’s son who has been the target of a House investigation, House Republicans began to amplify his concerns.

“Is Alvin Bragg looking into Hunter Biden’s art sales and business records in New York City?” Jordan tweeted Friday morning.

Jeremy Merrill and Liz Goodwin contributed to this report.