From a pardon offer to condemnation: Trump’s rivals respond to his indictment

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Many of Donald Trump’s rivals for the 2024 Republican nomination have found plenty to criticize the former president about, but are lining up to support him after his indictment on federal charges.

Wary of alienating the frontrunner's loyal base, most of the challengers have turned their criticism on the Justice Department rather than capitalizing on Trump's second indictment, this time over his refusal to return classified documents. One longshot candidate has even pledged to pardon Trump if elected.

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Here’s what they had to say:

Ron DeSantis

The Florida governor, Trump’s closest challenger, quickly condemned the indictment as “political bias” in a tweet.

“The weaponization of federal law enforcement represents a mortal threat to a free society. We have for years witnessed an uneven application of the law depending upon political affiliation,” DeSantis wrote.

He also promised to “bring accountability to the DOJ.”

Mike Pence

Trump’s former vice president, who escaped an attack by Trump’s supporters during the Capitol insurrection, tried to thread the needle.

“I’m deeply troubled to see this indictment move forward,” Pence said in an interview with conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt. “I had said that I had hoped that the DOJ would see its way clear not to move forward here. But let me be very clear. No one is above the law.”

Tim Scott

The South Carolina senator denounced the indictment in a Fox News interview on Thursday and echoed claims of the weaponization of the Justice Department.

“You don’t have to be a Republican to see injustice and want to fix it,” Scott said. “You don’t have to be a Democrat to see injustice and want to fix it. You just have to be an American and stand up for the right thing.”

If elected, Scott said, he “would purge all of the injustices and impurities of the Justice Department.”

Vivek Ramaswamy

The Ohio biotech entrepreneur went the furthest in his defense of Trump, saying that he would pardon him “promptly” if he were elected in 2024. Echoing fellow Republicans, he accused President Joe Biden of instructing the Justice Department to target his political rival. Biden said he has had no contact with the department on this.

“It would be much easier for me to win this election if Trump weren’t in the race, but I stand for principles over politics,” he said in a lengthy Twitter statement Thursday.

Chris Christie

The former New Jersey governor, who called Trump a “self-consumed, self-serving mirror hog on Tuesday,” was more measured Thursday.

“Let’s see what the facts are when any possible indictment is released,” Christie, a former federal prosecutor, said in a tweet. “As I have said before, no one is above the law, no matter how much they wish they were. We will have more to say when the facts are revealed.”

Asa Hutchinson

The former Arkansas governor was the most critical of Trump and reiterated his call for him to drop out of the race.

“Donald Trump’s actions—from his willful disregard for the constitution to his disrespect for the rule of law—should not define our nation or the Republican party,” Hutchinson said in a statement.

Nikki Haley

Trump’s former UN Ambassador, who has treaded very lightly in criticizing the party’s standard bearer, offered more of the same Friday.

“This is not how justice should be pursued in our country,” her campaign said in a statement. “The American people are exhausted by the prosecutorial overreach, double standards, and vendetta politics. It’s time to move beyond the endless drama and distractions.”

Read more: Former VP Mike Pence goes up against former boss, Trump, in US presidential run bid

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