FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Florida’s top three elected Republicans wasted little time in condemning the Justice Department’s decision to indict former President Donald Trump.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott — all of whom have courted and benefited from the MAGA faction of the Republican Party devoted to Trump — all condemned the indictment.
DeSantis, who is challenging Trump for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, posted a carefully calibrated statement on Twitter in which he asserted bias in federal law enforcement — a theme that has been pushed by many Republican leaders and believed by many Republican primary voters.
“The weaponization of federal law enforcement represents a mortal threat to a free society,” DeSantis wrote.
He suggested that Trump has been subjected to a different standard than Hunter Biden, son of the president, or Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee. That’s also widely believed by many Republican voters.
“We have for years witnessed an uneven application of the law depending upon political affiliation. Why so zealous in pursuing Trump yet so passive about Hillary or Hunter?”
And, he promised, if elected he would exert his authority over the Justice Department. “The DeSantis administration will bring accountability to the DOJ, excise political bias and end weaponization once and for all.” He did not say he’d pardon Trump if the former president is convicted and DeSantis is elected president.
Neither DeSantis nor anyone else offering early reactions has seen anything official. Thursday night’s hot takes were based on news accounts and Trump’s own statement on his social media platform that he’s been indicted, and his declaration of innocence.
South Florida Democrats were for the most part initially quiet.
The indictment was handed down by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of Florida. Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg tweeted just before midnight that there was “Huge news from South Florida!” He said he was referring to the Florida Panthers victory at home in overtime in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
U.S. Rep. Jared Moskowitz posted two comments on Twitter. One mocked the assessment from Republicans on the House Judiciary that the indictment of Trump was part of a “WITCH HUNT.” Moskowitz’ response: “Oh please! You would bring back the Salem Witch Trials if you could.”
“We should wait to hear all the facts before passing judgment. He deserves a fair trial. But this song slaps!” he wrote in a comment retweeting a video that offered a musical take with lyrics that stated emphatically that Trump is “guilty.” For emphasis, it repeated the word more than 30 times in the 30-second video.
DeSantis, Rubio and Scott, while asserting the Justice Department was wrong to indict Trump, didn’t say that he isn’t guilty.
“There is no limit to what these people will do to protect their power & destroy those who threaten it, even if it means ripping our country apart & shredding public faith in the institutions that hold our republic together,” Rubio wrote.
Rubio’s assessment was rebuked by some on social media. University of Florida political scientist Michael McDonald tweeted that the senator’s comment was the “Most self-aware thing Rubio has ever said.”
Broward Democratic activist Seth Platt shot back, “You are talking about January 6 right?” And even the celebrity chef Tom Colicchio rebuked Rubio on Twitter. “He broke the law.”
Scott’s statement was the strongest of the three top elected Florida Republicans, asserting that President Joe Biden was responsible for the indictment. (The White House said it has kept a hands off approach to the workings of the Justice Department, a departure from Trump administration practices.)
“Biden is single-handedly destroying the justice system in America. After tonight, Biden will go down as the most corrupt and despotic President in our nation’s history. On the day his $5M bribe is exposed to the public, his DOJ indicts Trump for something he himself has done,” Scott wrote on Twitter.
That’s a reference to claims made Thursday by U.S. Reps. Reps. Anna Paulina Luna, a Republican representing a St. Petersburg-Clearwater district, and Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., both of whom have endorsed Trump for reelection. They said an FBI document said a source claimed Biden, when he was vice president, and his son were bribed. Biden said the claims were a “bunch of malarkey.”
“But hypocrisy is not Biden’s worst sin. That would be his destruction of equal justice under the law. He cannot be allowed to serve another term as President,” Scott added.
Former U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a Miami-Dade County Democrat, responded to DeSantis, Rubio and Scott in a Friday morning Twitter post.
“The Republican establishment has no respect for the rule of law. Their continued defense of an indicted ex-President for political power & gain is not only shameful but a grave threat to our national security undermining our democracy & leading us towards authoritarianism,” Mucarsel-Powell wrote. Some Democrats are hoping she’ll challenge Scott for re-election in 2024.
WPEC-Ch. 12 and WPTV-Ch. 5 reported a small number – perhaps 20 – Trump supporters turned out to show support for him Thursday night near Mar-a-Lago, where the former president lives during high season. In warmer months, he lives at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., where he was Thursday night.