Republicans join Trump’s attacks on justice system and campaign of vengeance after guilty verdict

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Embracing Donald Trump’s strategy of blaming the U.S. justice system after his historic guilty verdict, Republicans in Congress are fervently enlisting themselves in his campaign of vengeance and political retribution in the GOP bid to reclaim the White House.

Almost no Republican official has stood up to suggest Trump should not be the party’s presidential candidate for the November election — in fact, some have sought to hasten his nomination. Few others dared to defend the legitimacy of the New York state court that heard the hush money case against the former president, or the 12 jurors who unanimously rendered their verdict.

In fact, any Republicans who expressed doubts about Trump’s innocence or political viability, including his former hawkish national security adviser John Bolton or top-tier Senate candidate Larry Hogan, were instantly bullied by the former president’s enforcers and told to “leave the party.”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., said she’s voting for Trump “whether he is a free man or a prisoner of the Biden regime.”

The firebrand congresswoman also posted the upside-down American flag that has come to symbolize the “Stop the Steal” movement Trump started with allies before the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The swift, strident and deepening commitment to Trump despite his felony conviction shows how fully Republican leaders and lawmakers have been infused with his unfounded grievances of a “rigged” system and dangerous conspiracies of “weaponized” government into their own attacks on President Joe Biden and the Democrats.

Rather than shunning Trump’s escalating authoritarian language or ensuring they will provide checks and balances for a second Trump term, the Republican senators and representatives are upturning longstanding faith in U.S. governance and setting the stage for what they plan to do if Trump regains power.

On Friday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan demanded the prosecutors Alvin Bragg and Matthew Colangelo appear for a June hearing on the “weaponization of the federal government” and “the unprecedented political prosecution” of Trump — despite the fact that Biden, as president, has no authority over the state courts in New York.

“What we’re gearing up for is if Trump wins, he’s going to use the apparatus of the state to target his political opponents,” said Jason Stanley, a professor at Yale and the author of “How Fascism Works.”

Stanley said history is full of examples of people not believing the rhetoric of authoritarians. “Believe what they say,” he said. “He’s literally telling you he’s going to use the apparatus of the state to target his political opponents.”

At his Trump Tower on Friday in New York, the former president returned to the kinds of attacks he has repeatedly lodged in campaign speeches, portraying Biden as the one who is a “corrupt” and the U.S. as a “fascist” nation.

Trump called the members of the bipartisan House committee that investigated the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol “thugs” and said Biden was a “Manchurian candidate,” a phrase inspired by the 1960s movie portraying a puppet of a U.S. political enemy.

A Trump campaign memo contained talking points for Republican lawmakers, suggesting they call the case a “sham,” “hoax,” “witch hunt,” “election interference” and “lawfare” designed by Biden, whom it called “crooked.”

Biden faces no such charges, and the House GOP’s efforts to impeach the president over his son Hunter Biden’s business dealings, have largely stalled out. Hunter Biden is due in court next week on an unrelated firearms charge in Wilmington, Delaware.

President Biden said Friday that “it’s reckless, it’s dangerous, it’s irresponsible, for anyone to say this is rigged just because they don’t like the verdict.”

Asked later at the White House if this could happen to him, Biden said: “Not at all. I didn’t do anything wrong. The system still works.”

As for Trump’s claims the case is being orchestrated by the Democratic president to hurt him politically, Biden quipped: “I didn’t know I was that powerful.”

In the hush money case, Trump was found guilty of trying to influence the 2016 election by falsifying payment to a porn actor to bury her story of an affair. He faces three other felony indictments, including the federal case over his effort to overturn the 2020 election. But they are not likely to be heard before November’s expected election rematch with Biden.

Thursday’s verdict came after a jury in 2023 found Trump to be liable for sexual abuse against advice columnist E. Jean Carroll and a judge in a 2024 business fraud case determined that Trump lied about his wealth for years, ordering him to pay a staggering $355 million in penalties.

Almost to a person, the Republicans in Congress who spoke out provided a singular voice for Trump.

Speaker Mike Johnson on “Fox & Friends” amplified the claim, without evidence, that Democrats are trying to hurt Trump. He said he thinks the Supreme Court should “step in” to resolve the case.

“The justices on the court, I know many of them personally, I think they’re deeply concerned about that as we are,” the Republican speaker said.

The outgoing Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, said he expected Trump would win the hush money case on appeal, but the three senators seeking to replace him as leader echoed Trump with stronger criticisms of the judicial system.

South Dakota Sen. John Thune said the case was “politically motivated.” Texas Sen. John Cornyn called the verdict “a disgrace.” Sen. Rick Scott of Florida said that everyone who calls themselves a party leader “must stand up and condemn” what he called “lawless election interference.”

And Sen. Susan Collins, the Maine Republican who is known as a bipartisan leader, said the prosecutor “brought these charges precisely because of who the defendant was rather than because of any specified criminal conduct.”

With sentencing in the hush money case expected in July before the Republican National Convention, Republican Rep. Chip Roy of Texas said the GOP should move up the convention to speed up Trump’s nomination as the party’s presidential pick.

Republican judicial advocate Mike Davis, a former top Senate aide mentioned for a future Trump administration position, circulated a letter outlining the next steps.

“Dear Republicans,” he said in a Friday post. If their response to the guilty verdict was “we must respect the process” or “we are too principled to retaliate,” he suggested they do two things: One was an expletive, the other: “Leave the party.”

Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, circulated his own letter in which he suggested it was the White House that “made a mockery” of the rule of law and altered politics in “un-American” ways. He and other senators threatened to stall Senate business until Republicans take action.

“Those who turned our judicial system into a political cudgel must be held accountable,” Lee said.

__ Associated Press writers Michelle L. Price, Ali Swenson and Chris Megerian contributed to this story.

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