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Republicans who see Trump conviction as politically motivated vow to ‘indict the left’

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NEW YORK (AP) — In the days since Donald Trump was convicted of 34 felonies in his criminal hush money trial, Republicans who view the case as politically motivated have coalesced around a new rallying cry: Prosecute the left.

Candidates, officeholders and members of the former president’s family have amplified Trump’s calls for retribution against political enemies and urged their fellow Republicans to start charging Democrats with crimes.

“Time for Red State AGs and DAs to get busy,” Rep. Mike Collins of Georgia wrote on the social platform X, formerly Twitter, after a Manhattan jury found Trump guilty.

Influential conservative activist Charlie Kirk urged Republican prosecutors to get “creative” in bringing charges: “Indict the left, or lose America,” he said on X.

In a podcast interview, Trump’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., said, “We have to fight fire with fire.”

And the former president on Tuesday suggested he might try to retaliate against Hillary Clinton, his 2016 opponent, if he returns to the White House.

“Wouldn’t it be terrible to throw the president’s wife and the former secretary of state, think of it, the former secretary of state, but the president’s wife, into jail? Wouldn’t that be a terrible thing? But they want to do it,” Trump said in an interview on Newsmax. “It’s a terrible, terrible path that they’re leading us to. And it’s very possible that it’s going to have to happen to them.”

The calls to weaponize the judicial system against Democrats are a degree more intense than some other suggestions for retaliation that Republicans have made since the guilty verdict, such as calls to investigate the prosecutors in the Manhattan case or for voters to give their own verdict by sending Trump back to the White House in November.

They represent a show of loyalty to Trump, who has spent months calling the cases against him a form of partisan “election interference” and referring to President Joe Biden’s administration as “evil” and “corrupt.” They also signal a growing feeling among some Republicans that the felony conviction of a former president for falsifying business records to illegally influence an election crossed a boundary in judicial norms.

“What just happened today is a line we can’t uncross,” conservative talk show host Megyn Kelly said after Trump was found guilty. “And these Democrats will rue the day they decided to use ‘lawfare’ to stop a presidential candidate. I’m not talking about violence. I’m talking about tit-for-tat.”

In a post on X, Republican House candidate Brandon Gill of Texas lamented what he viewed as “raw power” rather than an “equally applied legal system” in the charges being brought against Trump: “Might makes right,” he said. “Republicans must wake up to the new reality and respond accordingly.”

The outcry comes as Trump and other Republicans have claimed, without evidence, that Biden and his administration were pulling the strings behind the New York trial. The case was led by a state-level prosecutor, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

Biden addressed Trump’s attacks on the judicial system during a fundraiser Monday night in Connecticut, calling them “dangerous for American democracy,” and noted that the former president was convicted in a state case rather than a federal one. Attorney General Merrick Garland criticized the idea that the federal government was involved as a conspiracy theory during an appearance Tuesday before the House Judiciary Committee, calling it an attack on the judicial process.

“We do not control the Manhattan district attorney,” Garland said Tuesday. “The Manhattan district attorney does not report to us. The Manhattan district attorney makes its own decisions about cases that he wants to bring under his state law.”

Republicans have pointed to real elements of the case to argue it was politically driven. For one, Bragg, a Democrat, campaigned for office in 2021 in part on his qualifications to take over the office’s investigation into Trump. The judge in the case, Juan M. Merchan, donated $15 to Biden in 2020 and has a daughter who works in Democratic politics, though he has said neither affected his ability to be impartial. And prosecutor Matthew Colangelo joined Bragg’s office after serving in the Biden administration’s Department of Justice.

Trump also has criticized Bragg for bringing the case in 2023, when his alleged crime was connected to a campaign seven years earlier. Bragg has defended his timing, saying he brings cases “when they’re ready.”

Congressional Democrats condemned Republican calls to use the justice system to target Democrats as “reckless” and potentially dangerous to democracy. They said in interviews that such a reaction was uncalled for since Trump had a fair trial by jury and has the right to appeal.

“A jury of 12 people unanimously found that beyond a reasonable doubt he committed 34 crimes,” said Democrat North Carolina Rep. Deborah Ross, the vice-ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee. “That is entirely different than coming up with specious charges and having members of Congress dictate who should be sued in frivolous ways.”

Maryland Rep. Glenn Ivey, another Democrat on the committee, said there’s a history of Republicans prosecuting Democrats and vice versa, but he feels “relatively confident that these cases will continue to be resolved by jurors who come to the jury box taking their job seriously and trying to follow the evidence and the law.”

As Trump awaits his sentencing next month, prominent Democrats also are facing high-profile prosecutions. New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez is currently on trial on federal bribery charges in New York, while Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas and his wife were indicted last month on conspiracy and bribery charges.

Opening statements began Tuesday in a federal case against President Biden’s son Hunter, who was charged in Delaware with three felonies stemming from a 2018 firearm purchase when he was, according to his memoir, in the throes of a crack addiction.

Trump has given different signals in the past on whether he believes prosecuting political enemies is appropriate.

In a campaign video last August, he called on Republican attorneys general and district attorneys to “closely” watch the trials against him: “It’s an eye for an eye, or it’s fight fire with fire.” But in a town hall in February, he responded to concerns that his second term would be focused on settling old scores by saying, “My revenge will be a success.”

When asked whether he would seek revenge on the morning show “Fox & Friends” on Sunday, Trump struggled to answer, calling it “a really tough question” because “these are bad people.” He said when he was president, he could have locked up Hillary Clinton but declined to do so.

“Then this happened to me,” he said, “and so I may feel differently about it.”

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Associated Press writers Christine Fernando in Chicago and Michelle L. Price in New York contributed to this report.

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The Associated Press receives support from several private foundations to enhance its explanatory coverage of elections and democracy. See more about AP’s democracy initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

By ALI SWENSON
Associated Press

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