By Nicky Robertson, Haley Talbot and Lauren Fox | CNN
The top two Republican leaders in the Senate remain silent a day after former President Donald Trump, the current GOP 2024 presidential frontrunner, was indicted by the federal government.
While the charges have yet to be unsealed, the top two Republicans in the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Minority Whip John Thune have not put out statements, a stark contrast to the swift reaction among House GOP leaders who quickly rushed to Trump’s defense.
“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. Joe Biden kept classified documents for decades,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy tweeted Thursday night. “I, and every American who believes in the rule of law, stand with President Trump against this grave injustice. House Republicans will hold this brazen weaponization of power accountable.”
The third ranking GOP senator, John Barrasso of Wyoming, put out a statement Friday, saying, “This indictment certainly looks like an unequal application of justice.”
“Nobody is above the law,” Barrasso tweeted. “Yet it seems like some are.”
House and Senate Republican leaders have diverged for years on how and whether to even respond to Donald Trump’s legal woes. During Trump’s first indictment this spring, McConnell didn’t jump in to defend Trump and when he returned in April after a fall and was asked at a news conference by CNN’s Manu Raju about the indictment, he dodged.
“I may have hit my head, but I didn’t hit it that hard,” McConnell said at the time. “Good try.”
For McConnell, who has not maintained a relationship with Trump since January 6, 2021, the former president could be viewed as a distraction from his ultimate goals of recapturing the Senate. But for McCarthy, an alliance to Trump is an important factor for assuaging those in his right flank, especially at a moment when the House speaker has come under fire for a deal he cut with President Joe Biden on the debt ceiling.
There are still a number of Senate Republicans who have come out backing Trump including Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and who is backing the former president. Daines has stayed in touch with Trump, as he’s sought to recruit candidates in primaries across the country. He tweeted Friday, “The two standards of justice under Biden’s DOJ is appalling. When will Hunter Biden be charged?”
Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, was asked multiple times during an interview on Fox News on Thursday night about the lack of response from Senate leadership. Hawley’s only response was he did not know why leadership had not weighed in yet, and, “I can’t speak for anyone else.”
Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, also a member of the GOP Senate leadership team, tweeted Friday that the presumption of innocence in America should also apply to Trump and attacked Democrats who cheered the news.
“It is sad to see some Democratic politicians cheering this indictment and presuming guilt for sheer political gain, despite the fact that President Biden himself is under federal investigation for mishandling classified documents,” Tillis said in his statement.
Several Republican senators, many of whom have already endorsed Trump in the upcoming presidential election, were quick to jump to Trump’s defense and attacked the Department of Justice.
But in stark contrast to the silence from Senate Republican leadership and staunch support from House GOP members, Republican Sens. Mitt Romney and Lisa Murkowski stressed the severity of the charges Friday.
Romney of Utah, who twice voted to convict Trump on impeachment charges, said, “By all appearances, the Justice Department and special counsel have exercised due care, affording Mr. Trump the time and opportunity to avoid charges that would not generally have been afforded to others.”
In a statement, Romney added, “These allegations are serious and if proven, would be consistent with his other actions offensive to the national interest, such as withholding defensive weapons from Ukraine for political reasons and failing to defend the Capitol from violent attack and insurrection.”
Murkowski, who also voted to convict Trump in an impeachment trial after the insurrection, said Friday evening that the charges against the former president are “quite serious.”
“Mishandling classified documents is a federal crime because it can expose national secrets, as well as the sources and methods they were obtained through. The unlawful retention and obstruction of justice related to classified documents are also criminal matters,” she said on Twitter.
“Anyone found guilty – whether an analyst, a former president, or another elected or appointed official – should face the same set of consequences,” she added.
GOP Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska, meanwhile, called the obstruction allegations against Trump “inexcusable.”
“As a retired brigadier general who worked with classified materials my entire career, I am shocked at the callousness of how these documents were handled,” Bacon told CNN on Friday. The congressman has long been critical of Trump and represents a swing state in Nebraska.
“The alleged obstruction to the requests of the National Archives and FBI, if true, is inexcusable,” he said in the statement, adding: “No one is above the law, and we demand due process and expect equality under the law.”
Meanwhile, top House Republicans took swift aim at the Department of Justice, special counsel Jack Smith, the FBI and Attorney General Merrick Garland in the wake of the indictment.
“We ought to defund and dismantle the DOJ,” ultra-conservative Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona tweeted shortly after Trump announced the news on Truth Social.
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise immediately rushed to Trump’s defense, attacking the Justice Department over his indictment and vowing to hold the administration accountable.
“Let’s be clear about what’s happening: Joe Biden is weaponizing his Department of Justice against his own political rival. This sham indictment is the continuation of the endless political persecution of Donald Trump,” Scalise tweeted.
House Majority Whip Tom Emmer echoed that sentiment Friday morning, tweeting, “This is the ultimate abuse of power, and they will be held accountable.”
Some House Republicans, going much further than the speaker, called for the impeachment of Biden, Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray before seeing the details of the indictment.
“It is time for Congress to rein in the FBI and DOJ, and impeach President Biden, Attorney General Garland, and Director Wray,” Georgia Republican Rep. Mike Collins said in a statement.
This story has been updated with additional information.