Republican lawmakers react with fury to Donald Trump's conviction and rally to his defense

The verdict made Trump the first former president to be convicted of felony crimes. And it comes as almost all GOP lawmakers in Congress have forcefully rallied behind him in this year's election.
(From left) North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, U.S. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy look on as former President Donald Trump talks to the media as he arrives at Manhattan criminal court in New York, on May 14, 2024.
(From left) North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, U.S. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy look on as former President Donald Trump talks to the media as he arrives at Manhattan criminal court in New York, on May 14, 2024.FILE Photo | AP

WASHINGTON: Republican lawmakers reacted with immediate fury on Thursday as a New York jury convicted former President Donald Trump on 34 counts of falsifying business records to influence the 2016 election, speaking out with near unanimity in questioning the legitimacy of the trial and how it was conducted.

House Speaker Mike Johnson said it was a "shameful day in American history" and the charges were "purely political."

Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance said the verdict was a "disgrace to the judicial system." And Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, the No. 2 House Republican, said that the decision was "a defeat for Americans who believe in the critical legal tenet that justice is blind."

Within minutes of the verdict being read, Republicans who have in the past been divided over support for their presumptive GOP presidential nominee found common ground in attacking — with few specifics — the judge, the jury and President Joe Biden, even though the conviction came on state charges in a Manhattan court. As the nation's top federal official, Biden has no say in what happens in the New York City courtroom.

The jury found that Trump falsified the records in a scheme to influence his presidential election through hush money payments to a porn actor who had said she had sex with Trump. Few Republicans mentioned the details of the case but many echoed his repeated assertions that it was a "rigged, disgraceful trial."

He is expected to quickly appeal.

The ferocity of the outcry was remarkable, tossing aside the usual restraints that lawmakers and political figures have observed in the past when refraining from criticism of judges and juries.

(From left) North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, U.S. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy look on as former President Donald Trump talks to the media as he arrives at Manhattan criminal court in New York, on May 14, 2024.
The verdict: Inside US courtroom as Donald Trump learned he had been convicted

A lone Republican voice, former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, took that approach, saying ahead of the verdict that the public should "respect the verdict and the legal process."

"At this dangerously divided moment in our history, all leaders — regardless of party — must not pour fuel on the fire with more toxic partisanship," posted Hogan, who is running for the Senate in Maryland, before the verdict was announced. "We must reaffirm what has made this nation great: the rule of law."

There is no evidence that the trial was rigged. Trump's defense has complained about a $15 donation Judge Juan Manuel Merchan made to Biden in 2020 and his daughter's job as a Democratic political consultant, but the judge rejected Trump's lawyers' request for a recusal and said he was certain of his "ability to be fair and impartial."

Still, Republicans have seized on Trump's attacks on the judge and the system in the New York trial and in three other cases—local and federal charges in Atlanta and Washington that he conspired to undo the 2020 election, and a federal indictment in Florida charging him with illegally holding on to top-secret records after his presidency. Many GOP lawmakers, including Johnson, have visited the courthouse in New York to support him.

"This verdict says more about the system than the allegations," said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has been one of Trump's most frequent allies.

The verdict made Trump the first former president to be convicted of felony crimes. And it comes as almost all GOP lawmakers in Congress have forcefully rallied behind him in this year's election.

"Congratulations, progressives," posted Utah Sen. Mike Lee. "You've just guaranteed Trump's election."

Republicans shared their criticism, which came as Congress is out of Washington on a weeklong recess, in posts on X, formerly Twitter, in press releases and TV appearances. And the backlash was not only from Trump's GOP friends but from some of his detractors, as well.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has long had a tense relationship with Trump but recently endorsed his 2024 campaign, refrained from attacking the judge or jury and claimed that the conviction will be overturned on appeal.

"These charges "never should have been brought in the first place. I expect the conviction to be overturned on appeal," McConnell said in a post on X.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who had distanced himself from the former president after the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack of Trump's supporters, said "this verdict is a disgrace, and this trial should have never happened."

"Now more than ever, we need to rally around @realdonaldtrump, take back the White House and Senate, and get this country back on track," said Cornyn, who is running to replace Senate Republican Leader McConnell when he steps down from the post after the November election. "The real verdict will be Election Day."

South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican who is also running to be leader and has also been critical of Trump, said the case was "politically motivated from the beginning, and today's verdict does nothing to absolve the partisan nature of this prosecution."

Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Republican who voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial after the Capitol attack, said he disagreed with the verdict but wasn't surprised "given the way the defense was conducted, the trial was managed."

As expected, Democrats rejoiced—and tried to blunt the GOP attacks on the process.

"Trump toadies are going to attack the jury and the court because they have a plan to dismantle our democracy and it relies on everyone believing the justice system is rigged," posted Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.

"It isn't. Donald Trump committed a crime. He got caught. He got convicted. That's the rule of law."

(From left) North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, U.S. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy look on as former President Donald Trump talks to the media as he arrives at Manhattan criminal court in New York, on May 14, 2024.
EXPLAINED| What's next for Donald Trump after conviction in hush money trial?
(From left) North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, U.S. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy look on as former President Donald Trump talks to the media as he arrives at Manhattan criminal court in New York, on May 14, 2024.
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