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D.C. Memo: Justice Department indicts Trump

Plus: GOP right-wing revolt freezes all legislation in the House

Former President Donald Trump
Former President Donald Trump
REUTERS/Octavio Jones

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department’s indictment of former President Donald Trump for his handling of national security documents was defended by congressional Democrats, but the party may not benefit if Trump’s legal troubles force him to quit his second bid for the White House.

Polls have consistently showed that President Joe Biden would beat Trump in a rematch, while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the likely GOP nominee should Trump abandon the race, would give Biden more trouble.

Still, Minnesota Democrats defended the indictment.

It was issued by special counsel Jack Smith, who, with his team of prosecutors, has been scrutinizing whether Trump had broken laws governing the handling of national security documents found at Mar-a-Lago and whether he had obstructed government efforts to retrieve them. Trump was found to have more than 300 documents with classified markings at his Florida residence.

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“Our democracy is strong today. No one is above the law — not even a twice-impeached former president,” Rep. Betty McCollum, D-4th District, tweeted. “I stand on the side of justice and fairness over corruption and corrosion of our democratic values.”

Meanwhile, congressional Republicans on Friday continued to defend Trump, who says he’s innocent of wrongdoing.

“Democrats have always been eager to execute their political witch hunt against Donald Trump,” Rep. Tom Emmer, R-6th District, tweeted. “Nothing proves it more than a sitting administration indicting him over the same thing Joe Biden has done. This is the ultimate abuse of power, and they will be held accountable.”

Meanwhile, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-California, said “Today is indeed a dark day for the United States of America. It is unconscionable for a president to indict the leading candidate opposing him.”

The continued loyalty of GOP lawmakers to Trump provoked a rebuke  from Rep. Dean Phillips, D-3rd District.

“The former President may or may not be guilty — a jury of his peers will decide that,” Phillips said. “But I’m blown away by statements being issued by people who’ve taken an oath to our Constitution.”

It is the second time that Trump has been indicted. In April, Trump was indicted on the state level over an alleged hush money scheme to pay off adult film star Stormy Daniels.

The federal indictment, which remains under seal, is said to consist of seven counts, including conspiracy to obstruct, willful retention of documents and false statements. The former president is expected to surrender to authorities in Miami on Tuesday.

While congressional Republicans, and some of Trump’s GOP rivals for the White House, including DeSantis, condemned the Justice Department for what they said was a politically motivated move, others hoping to become the Republican nominee urged Trump quit the 2024 race for the White House.

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Donald Trump’s actions — from his willful disregard for the Constitution to his disrespect for the rule of law — should not define our nation or the Republican Party,” said former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson. “Ongoing criminal proceedings will be a major distraction. This reaffirms the need for Donald Trump to respect the office and end his campaign.”

Trump attracted additional Republican rivals this week as former Vice President Mike Pence, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum officially launched their campaigns.

Revolt by GOP House right wing freezes all U.S. House action  

The most conservative Republicans in the U.S. House unleashed their revenge on House Speaker McCarthy this week for what they say were broken promises regarding the debt limit agreement and for other grievances.

The Freedom Caucus members and several other GOP lawmakers – none from Minnesota – say the debt limit agreement did not go far enough to cut government spending and that they were misled about negotiations with the White House. Their revolt has frozen the House from considering any legislation for the foreseeable future.

“House leadership could not hold the line. Now we hold the floor,” tweeted Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida. 

The 11 GOP defectors voted “no” on a procedural motion known as a rule that would allow several Republican bills to come to a vote.

The minority party, in this case House Democrats, usually vote against the rule on GOP-sponsored legislation. So, all Democrats opposed this week’s rule and the defection of the ultra-conservative Republicans in the narrowly split House resulted in its rejection.

That made it impossible for McCarthy to bring up the bills he wanted to pass the chamber this week. The last time a rule failed was in 2002. 

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For two days, Rep. Tom Emmer, R-6th District and the GOP whip, tried to convince the defectors to come back into the fold, with no success. Emmer and the other GOP leaders downplayed the embarrassing stalemate.

At a press conference, Emmer cited his experience as a hockey player and coach to explain the mess.

“Championship teams are not created the very first day of practice,” he said. “You have to build a team. You have to then get a team to work together. You have to believe in something as a group. Then you have to develop a game plan.”

Emmer also said it was Republican efforts that resulted in the “historic” debt ceiling bill that was approved by the House last week and said “each and every week, it’s been  another success for Republicans in the House.” 

Lawmakers were told to stand by and not stray far from the U.S. Capitol as Emmer and other GOP leaders tried to woo back the defectors, causing the cancellation of some speeches and fundraisers. Finally, on Wednesday night, McCarthy adjourned the House until Monday.

The legislation that crashed this week included bills prohibiting gas-stove bans and stripping federal agencies of some of their authority, all popular with the right wing of the party. The conservative National Review called the revolt “counterproductive.”

This and that  

Rep. Ihan Omar, D-5th District, was honored by Democratic colleagues on the House Budget Committee this week when they voted her the second-ranking Democrat on that panel. The promotion means the progressive lawmaker will now be on the front lines of wars over budget cuts with the House GOP. 

Seniority usually determines the pecking order on a congressional committee. Omar served on the panel in her first term. She was returned to the Budget Committee earlier this year when House Republicans voted to oust her from the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Now she is the No. 2 Democrat on the panel.

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“I am thrilled to be voted in as Vice-Ranking Member of the House Budget Committee by my Democratic colleagues,” Omar said in a statement. “Budgets are a reflection of our values.”

Meanwhile Rep. Pete Stauber, R-8th District, and Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar had a bipartisan victory this week as President Biden signed into law their bill that would require the Federal Aviation Administration to establish a task force to strengthen the resiliency and cybersecurity of a system that alerts pilots of hazards on flight routes. 

A glitch in the antiquated Notice to Air Missions, or NOTAM system, resulted in the grounding of thousands of flights in January. 

“Travelers in the United States deserve safe and dependable air travel service, not nationwide ground stops caused by system failures like we saw earlier this year,” Klobuchar said.

In addition, Stauber was honored this week for his support of federal funding for research on Down syndrome, receiving the 2023 Quincy Jones Exceptional Advocacy Award from the Global Down Syndrome Foundation.

“My third son Isaac happened to be born with Down syndrome,” Stauber said in a statement. “Just over 21 years ago, this precious boy was born into our family, and none of us would change a thing.”

Stauber and his wife have seven children, the youngest two adopted.