GOP rushes to defend Trump as Biden fundraises off guilty verdict in hush money case

Both Joe Biden and Donald Trump called attention to what’s at stake in November’s election in the moments after Trump’s conviction Thursday, as Republicans rushed to the former president’s defense.

“There’s only one way to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office: At the ballot box,” Biden wrote on social media, linking to a fundraising page.

Trump, while lambasting the prosecution in his New York hush money criminal trial as a “disgrace,” similarly pointed to this fall’s presidential election.

“The real verdict is going to be November 5 by the people. And they know what happened here, and everybody knows what happened here,” Trump told reporters outside the Manhattan courtroom.

News of Trump’s conviction on 34 felony charges of falsifying business records, sent shockwaves through campaigns up and down the ballot. Republican candidates in races for governor, Senate and House largely aligned themselves with Trump, while Democrats largely avoided the specifics of the case but said justice had prevailed.

The former president’s allies on Capitol Hill were quick to rally around him, with top Republicans attacking the justice system in the wake of the verdict – while also highlighting the importance of the 2024 election and making fundraising appeals of their own.

House Speaker Mike Johnson, who had traveled to the Manhattan courthouse during the trial to defend Trump, decried what he described as “the weaponization of our justice system,” saying in a statement, “President Trump will rightfully appeal this absurd verdict — and he WILL WIN.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who’s had a frosty relationship with the former president, said in a short statement: “These charges never should have been brought in the first place. I expect the conviction to be overturned on appeal.”

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise wrote on social media, “I won’t stand by while the leader of our party is ambushed by our own government. Will you stand with Trump before midnight tonight and condemn this witch hunt once and for all?” The Louisiana Republican included a link to a fundraising site.

New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, the House GOP Conference chair and a potential Trump running mate pick, slammed what she referred to as a “sham trial.”

“We must redouble our efforts and work around the clock to ensure President Trump is victorious this November to save America from Biden’s failed Far Left Democrat agenda,” she said in a statement.

South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, who is also a possible Trump running mate, claimed on Thursday that the US justice system “hunts Republicans while protecting Democrats.”

“This was certainly a hoax, a sham. This was devastating for the average American watching,” Scott told CNN’s Abby Phillip on “NewsNight.” Spinning the verdict into a positive, he added, “Even the ‘Never-Trumpers’ are now calling and joining the team. Donors who sat on the sidelines are now joining the team because November 5th is a day of reckoning.”

Senate GOP candidates back Trump

Republican Senate candidates also quickly sided with the former president.

Tim Sheehy, who is challenging Democratic Sen. Jon Tester in Montana, issued a statement declaring the verdict “RIGGED” and called the case “state-sponsored political persecution.”

Kari Lake, the Republican poised to face Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego in Arizona’s Senate race, said Americans had “just witnessed the most egregious example of election interference and an outright mockery of the rule of law in the 246-year history of our Republic. This entire process right down to the verdict itself has been nothing but a shameful political stunt.”

“This is a terrible day for America and for trust in our justice system,” said Pennsylvania Republican Dave McCormick, who is challenging Democratic Sen. Bob Casey. “This case should never have been brought in the first place, and this miscarriage of justice is despicable.”

Democrats, meanwhile, offered more muted reactions — and many didn’t comment at all in the immediate aftermath of the verdict.

“I respect our justice system and the rule of law. The process played out, and we should always demand accountability from our elected leaders,” Gallego said on social media.

And some Republicans who have been more critical of Trump kept their distance from the former president Thursday.

When news broke that the jury had reached a verdict, former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who’s running for Senate in the traditionally blue state, called for Americans to “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,” Hogan said in a statement before the verdict was announced.

That post elicited a terse response later from Trump senior adviser Chris LaCivita: “You just ended your campaign.”

Presidential rivals’ reactions

Not only is Trump the first former president to be found guilty of a felony, he’s also the first major-party presidential nominee to be convicted of a crime in the middle of a campaign for the White House. If he defeats Biden in November, Trump would be the first sitting president in history to be a convicted felon.

The Biden campaign said in a statement that the verdict in New York showed that “no one is above the law.”

“The threat Trump poses to our democracy has never been greater. He is running an increasingly unhinged campaign of revenge and retribution,” campaign spokesman Michael Tyler said. “A second Trump term means chaos, ripping away Americans’ freedoms and fomenting political violence – and the American people will reject it this November.”

The Biden campaign also sent a text message to supporters warning that Trump was likely “setting fundraising records” following Thursday’s verdict.

Independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who learned of the verdict while speaking with reporters ahead of his appearance at a cryptocurrency convention in Austin, Texas, dismissed the importance of the case.

“I’ve been disciplined about not commenting on the court cases and talking about issues that I think are of deep concern to Americans, and not the issues that, you know, are being used to divide us, the culture war issues. I’m not going to comment on it,” Kennedy said.

This headline and story have been updated with additional information.

CNN’s Aaron Pellish, David Wright, Ali Main, Kevin Liptak, Morgan Rimmer, Veronica Stracqualursi, Matt Holt, Haley Talbot, Kristin Wilson, Lauren Fox and Kit Maher contributed to this report.

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