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Trump's calls for political vengeance worry Senate GOP

Trump's calls for political vengeance worry Senate GOP

Some Senate Republicans are expressing concerns over former President Trump's calls for political vengeance after the 2024 election, warning that retaliatory prosecutions will lead the country down a bad road.

The Senate GOP’s top leaders, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Senate GOP Whip John Thune (S.D.), have shown no desire to embrace Trump’s calls to prosecute senior Biden administration officials or his long-time nemesis Hillary Clinton.

And some GOP senators are pushing back against conservative colleagues who want to freeze Justice Department funding or defund special counsel Jack Smith's criminal prosecutions of Trump.

They don’t want to stumble into a government shutdown by waging war over the Justice Department's budget or taking other retaliatory steps favored by Trump’s allies.

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) says he thought Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s case against Trump was “an unjust prosecution.”

But he’s concerned about Trump’s vow to retaliate with politically motivated prosecutions from his own Justice Department if he’s elected in November.

“This is not the direction we want this country to go,” he said. “I think it’s time for adults to take over with regard to the Senate, and it’s time for adults to take over in regards [to] how we treat the judicial climate in this country.

“I don’t want to see a tit for tat on prosecution. I think that’s the wrong direction. I think that’s the wrong path for us to go down,” Rounds said. “I think we’ve got to get back to what the Founding Fathers wanted in the first place, which is a judiciary which is not full of political appointees that are hard far left or hard far right.”

Trump made waves when he told Phil McGraw, the host of the television show “Dr. Phil,” in an interview Thursday that revenge “can be justified.”

“Well revenge does take time, I will say that. And sometimes revenge can be justified, Phil, I have to be honest. Sometimes it can,” Trump said.

Trump last month said he would consider appointing Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to serve as U.S. attorney general in his administration, an idea that didn’t get a warm response from some Senate Republicans.

Asked about the prospect of Paxton, who was acquitted on impeachment charges in the state Senate last year, heading the Justice Department, Texas Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) offered a measured response.

“I’m sure he’ll have a lot of people to choose from,” said Cornyn.

Paxton challenged the 2020 election results in four battlegrounds states and spoke to a pro-Trump rally in Washington before the crowd stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said he won’t support an effort to freeze Justice Department funding or to defund the special counsel in response to a Manhattan jury last week finding Trump guilty on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.

“The New York action was not guided by or directed by the Justice Department. So it’s a misdirection. There’s a different target to aim at. So I’m not going be joining an effort to defund the Justice Department. We need to have the FBI and our Justice Department doing their jobs,” he said.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said attempting to freeze Justice Department funding or to defund two criminal prosecutions of Trump won’t get anywhere with Democrats in control of the White House and Senate.

“I don’t think that’s a feasible or constructive approach, but we’ll see what the CJS subcommittee comes up with,” she said, referring to the Appropriations subcommittee on commerce, justice and science, which is headed by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.).

There was no discussion about how to respond to Trump’s conviction at the Tuesday Senate Republican lunch meeting, which is hosted by GOP leadership, according to a senator who attended.

“Those guys all have a not so much love-hate relationship with Trump but a hate-hate [relationship]. They just want to get past it,” the senator said.

“The leadership doesn’t want to get drawn into any of that,” the lawmaker said of Trump’s legal travails.

Senior Senate Republicans in the past have poured cold water on calls by Trump and his House allies to defund the Department of Justice and FBI in response to what Trump says is their political persecution of him.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) last year criticized as “irresponsible” the inflamed rhetoric of Trump allies, in particular Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), who wrote on social media a year ago that “we have reached a new war phase” and vowed “an eye for an eye” in response to the indictments against Trump.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) has led a group of Senate conservatives in pledging to oppose any funding increases for the Justice Department in the wake of the guilty verdict against Trump in Manhattan.

The pledge, so far signed by 14 senators, declares “we are unwilling to aid and abet this White House in its project to tear this country apart.”

“To that end, we will not allow any increase to non-security funding for this administration, or any appropriations bill which funds partisan lawfare,” it states.

The top three members of elected Senate Republican leadership — McConnell, Thune and Senate GOP conference Chair John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) — had not yet signed it as of Friday afternoon.

Senate GOP Policy Committee Chair Joni Ernst (Iowa) and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Steve Daines (R-Mont.) are the two members of the elected GOP leadership who have signed it.

One GOP senator, who requested anonymity, criticized the pledge as “so vague.”

“I don’t agree with that,” the senator said, pointing out that the pledge says signatories won’t allow expedited consideration or passage of “Democrat legislation or authorities that are not directly relevant to the safety of the American people.”

“I’ve got bills out there with Democrats on it. Is that a Democrat priority?” the lawmaker grumbled.

Some Republicans, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), are trying to turn down the temperature of the Senate rhetoric in the wake of Trump’s conviction.

Murkowski emphasized that Trump has an opportunity to appeal the verdict.

“From what I observed with the trial, the process for a jury trial was handled as jury trials go,” she said, when asked about Trump’s claims that he was convicted by a “kangaroo court.”

Murkowski said Manhattan Judge Juan Merchan was “trying to manage a very public proceeding” and “attempted to ensure there was not only a fair process to it but a level of decorum within the courtroom, which I think is important.”

“From what we were able to see of it, the process that was taken was one that people would look at and say that’s how you handle a jury trial,” she said.

But she acknowledged there is a legitimate debate about whether the charges of falsifying business records should have been advanced at all given that the public has known about Trump’s hush-money payments to adult film actor Stormy Daniels for years and prosecutors didn't act on it until last year.

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