GOP Downplays Cases Against Democrats In Attacks On ‘Rigged’ Justice System

WASHINGTON ― Republicans are rallying around Donald Trump in the wake of his unprecedented conviction in New York, claiming that the U.S. justice system is being “weaponized” for political purposes to specifically tear down the former president, who is running for another term in the Oval Office.

“The prosecution of President Trump wasn’t about justice. It was about weaponizing the Democrat-controlled Justice Department to attack their political opponent,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said during a press conference on Tuesday.

Trump isn’t the only high-profile figure who is in legal trouble amid an election year, however. Longtime Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.), who recently switched parties; Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar (Texas); and President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter; are also facing federal charges, with both Menendez and Biden standing trial this week.

When HuffPost pointed this out to Trump-supporting GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill this week, they doubled down on their “weaponization” claims and said there was reason to cast doubt on the justice system writ large.

“It does look like from time to time the DOJ has been guilty of having political motives ― I guess every layer, not just the Department of Justice ― but every layer of justice seems to have a little bit more political play than it has in the past,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told HuffPost.

“You gotta cast a skeptical eye toward all of it right now,” he added.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), another member of the Senate judiciary committee, said the DOJ has “gone from sticking their big toe in the water to jumping in the deep end.”

“It seems the courts are involved in every election that’s occurring, and I don’t think it’s a good development,” he continued, saying that the DOJ could have perhaps waited to bring some charges until after the November election.

Much of the GOP’s attacks on the New York case against Trump have focused on the credibility of Judge Juan Merchan and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office, accusing both of being biased against Trump. They’ve even suggested Biden was behind the whole thing by somehow ordering Bragg to charge Trump for falsifying business records to cover up hush money payments to an adult film star, even though presidents have no control over state-level prosecutors.

Attorney General Merrick Garland roundly rejected that allegation during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday, calling it a “conspiracy theory” and “an attack on the judicial process itself.”

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) also noted during the hearing that the Justice Department had chosen not to prosecute Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) over sex trafficking allegations.

“He is a living testament to the fact and direct evidence that you have not weaponized the Justice Department. He was investigated for sex trafficking and while many expected a prosecution, you chose not to prosecute,” Cohen said to Garland, the hearing witness.

That hasn’t stopped Republicans from insisting the Department of Justice is singularly focused on prosecuting Trump, however.

Asked about Hunter Biden standing trial this week, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) told reporters he didn’t think one case disproved their theory that Trump is being persecuted. He also complained that the DOJ chose not to charge Biden for his handling of classified documents.

“We have rogue prosecutors around the country that have dragged President Trump through this process because of who he is. Everybody knows if it wasn’t him, the charges in Manhattan would never have been brought,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, defended the younger Biden from charges that he illegally purchased and possessed a gun while abusing or being addicted to drugs in 2018, a violation of federal law.

“I don’t think the average American would have been charged with the gun thing,” Graham told HuffPost. “I don’t see any good coming from that.”

Hunter Biden admitted that he was habitually using crack cocaine at the time. He, too, has argued he’s being unfairly targeted by the Justice Department and has pleaded not guilty.

Democrats dismissed the GOP’s attempts to wave off Trump’s historic conviction in New York, a first for a former president who is expected to be formally picked for the Republican presidential nomination next month.

“All these cases show that no one is above the law and prosecutors are making decisions based on the facts and statutes,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said. “The justice system is working.”

The Justice Department is also pursuing separate charges against Trump for hoarding classified documents after his presidency and attempting to overthrow his 2020 election loss. But those cases aren’t likely to proceed until after the November 2024 election.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), a vocal Trump critic, said he didn’t “see the kind of weaponization that might be suggested” in the way the Department of Justice prosecutes cases. Still, he disapproved of the New York case against the former president, calling it “not an appropriate first step.”

Most Republicans are still supporting Trump despite the fact that he’s now a convicted felon, and many are heartened by the fact that it helped his presidential campaign raise over $50 million in just one day, contributing to a massive $140 million haul in May.

But not every Republican is pleased. Asked if she could believe that her party is rallying around a convicted felon, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), another Trump critic, said, “I never thought we would.”

Arthur Delaney and Jonathan Nicholson contributed reporting.