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Missouri and Illinois Republicans denounce indictment of Donald Trump

A photo collage of Missouri Senators Eric Schmitt and Josh Hawley and Illinois Congresswoman Mary Miller.
Brian Munoz and Carolina Hidalgo
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St. Louis Public Radio
From left, Missouri Sen. Eric Schmitt, Illinois Rep. Mary Miller and Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley all criticized the indictment of former President Donald Trump.

Updated at 10:30 a.m. on Friday with comments from Reps. Bush and Cleaver:

Missouri and Illinois Republicans harshly denounced a Manhattan grand jury’s decision to indict former President Donald Trump in a case involving allegations of hush money payments to an adult film star.

The unprecedented indictment of a former president comes as Trump is running for the presidency for a third time — and hopes to maintain his hold on Missouri’s GOP faithful.

After several weeks of speculation about what the panel would decide, the New York Times and other media outlets reported Thursday that a New York citizens grand jury voted to indict Trump. The exact charges are not yet known, but the case has centered on allegations that payments were made to adult film star Stormy Daniels to conceal an affair before the 2016 election.

Reaction to the news from Missouri and Illinois Republicans was swift.

U.S. Sen. Eric Schmitt said in a statement that “this is a purely partisan case against President Trump, plain and simple.” He went on to say that the indictment is misplaced when “actual violent crimes in New York City go uncharged and violent criminals walk free.”

“This is a political prosecution in search of a crime, and sets an extremely dangerous precedent going forward,” Schmitt said.

U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley echoed much of Schmitt’s sentiments in a tweet sent shortly after the revelation became public.

“Tonight’s indictment of Donald Trump isn’t about the law. It’s about power. Raw power,” Hawley said. “It’s the Democrat Party telling the nation they will stop at nothing to control the outcome of the next presidential election. It is an assault on our democracy, pure and simple.”

U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, who represents a portion of Jefferson County, said District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s case has only been about one thing from the start — targeting Trump for political gain.

“Bragg’s case is so questionable that any respected prosecutor would have long since walked away. The truth will be exposed in the days and months ahead,” Smith said.

U.S. Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, said Americans will see the indictment as a “political witch hunt.”

And Rep. Mark Alford, R-Raymore, said in a tweet that Trump’s “indictment is a direct undermining of our judicial institutions.”

“Never before have we seen something like this,” Alford said. “Anyone who tells you this is not political persecution is lying. What a joke!”

Illinois Congresswoman Mary Miller, a staunch Trump ally who represents a portion of the Metro East, said in a statement "every American should be concerned about this blatant political weaponization of the justice system.”

"The Left claims they stand for democracy, but they pursue bogus investigations to try and remove their political opponents from the ballot so voters cannot vote for the candidate of their choice, which is the definition of democracy,” Miller said.

As of Friday morning, Republican Reps. Ann Wagner, Blaine Luetkemeyer and Sam Graves had not responded to requests for comment.

Tears well up in the eyes of Rep. Cori Bush (MO-01) as she talks about abortion and health care issues
Brian Munoz
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St. Louis Public Radio
Congresswoman Cori Bush, D-St. Louis, tweeted out on Friday that Trump "should not only be indicted, he should be convicted."

'No one is above the law — not even a former president'

Democrats who represent Missouri and Illinois were less critical in reacting to the news of Trump's indictment.

For instance: Congresswoman Cori Bush, D-St. Louis, said on Friday that Trump "should not only be indicted, he should be convicted."

"He needs to be held accountable for not only falsifying his business records, but for his blatantly lawless attacks on our democracy before, during, and after his time as white-supremacist-in-chief," Bush said in a tweet.

Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, D-Kansas City, emphasized that even though he does not personally like Mr. Trump or agree with his politics, "there is no jubilation here."

"This is a sad day for all Americans, as this is the first time a former president has been indicted in over 240 years of our Republic," Cleaver said. “No matter how much one may like or dislike former President Donald Trump, he is innocent of all charges until convicted by a jury of his peers. I encourage all Americans to allow the legal process to play out peacefully and according to the rule of law.”

Illinois Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said Bragg must “be allowed to continue his investigation without interference.”

“Any attempt to undermine this process is contrary to the rule of law; and political violence or threats of violence cannot be tolerated,” Durbin said. “As this process continues, former President Trump should be afforded the due process protections that he is guaranteed by our Constitution, just like any other American. But no one is above the law — not even a former president.”

Former President Donald Trump speaks on Saturday, June 25, 2022, at a “Save America!” Rally at the Adams County Fairgrounds in Mendon, Ill.
Brian Munoz
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St. Louis Public Radio
Former President Donald Trump remains popular among GOP voters in Missouri. But some Missouri Republicans are wary of his third run for the presidency, contending his loss in 2020 showed he can't beat a Democratic candidate in a general election.

Will Trump's sway over Missouri GOP last?

News of the indictment comes as Missouri Republicans mull their choices in the run-up to next year’s presidential primary.

Trump won Missouri’s electoral votes in landslides in 2016 and 2020, which resulted in big wins for the state’s GOP ticket up and down the ballot. The former president was especially popular in rural parts of the state, a major source of political power for Missouri Republicans.

Burlison said last month at the Missouri Republican Party Lincoln Daysin Springfield that state Republicans could suffer if the GOP nominates someone similar to John McCain or Mitt Romney in 2024.

“They're not inspired by those kinds of candidates,” Burlison said. “I think that when you look at candidates like Trump, you have to recognize that here's a guy who didn't need to be president to be famous. When you look at other candidates, sometimes you wonder — are they really just trying to get the next rung on the ladder?"

But some state Republicans expressed unease about Trump’s third run for the presidency at Lincoln Days. They contend that Trump can’t win a general election, and therefore any boost to Missouri GOP candidates wouldn’t mean as much if Republicans can’t win the presidency.

While Schmitt has endorsed Trump’s third bid for the presidency, Hawley has stayed neutral so far. Jeff Roe, a Missouri native who runs one of the most prominent GOP consulting firms in the country, signed onto a political action committee assisting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

While polling has generally showed DeSantis a formidable threat to Trump’s path to the nomination, there’s conjecture that the indictment may actually boost the former president’s political prospects — especially if it creates sympathy among the GOP base.

That could be why some GOP statewide contenders, like Attorney General Andrew Bailey and gubernatorial hopeful and current Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, issued statements condemning the grand jury's decision.

Still, Trump’s legal woes may not end in Manhattan. He’s also facing federal investigations regarding his handling of classified documents and the Jan. 6 insurrection. And a Georgia grand jury is looking into whether Trump interfered in the state’s 2020 election.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.