As former President Donald Trump appeared in court Thursday to face criminal charges, his challengers were presented with their own conundrum: should they use the indictment to attack Trump or to attack the Biden administration?

Several candidates for the Republican presidential nomination quickly attacked the Department of Justice, claiming President Joe Biden was “weaponizing” it for political gain. Others have lambasted Trump, saying the indictment makes him unfit to serve as president. And some have remained silent — or, in one case, claimed “we’ve got to move on already.”

The latest charges against Trump — related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election — were announced by special counsel Jack Smith on Wednesday. The former president maintains a massive lead in most national polls, his closest challenger — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — trails him by 35 to 38 percentage points.

Ron DeSantis

The Florida governor released a statement minutes after the indictment was released Tuesday, blasting the Department of Justice for “the politicization of the rule of law.”

“As President, I will end the weaponization of government, replace the FBI Director, and ensure a single standard of justice for all Americans,” DeSantis said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

DeSantis said he had not yet read the indictment — he had only “seen reports” — and he did not mention Trump by name. However, he argued that forcing the former president to stand trial in Washington D.C. is “unfair.”

“Washington, D.C. is a “swamp” and it is unfair to have to stand trial before a jury that is reflective of the swamp mentality,” DeSantis said.

In an interview on the Megyn Kelly Show last week, DeSantis hinted that if elected president, he would pardon Trump.

“I’m going to do what’s right for the country,” DeSantis said. “I don’t think it would be good for the country to have an almost 80-year-old former president go to prison.”

Vivek Ramaswamy

In a press release Tuesday night, the entrepreneur announced a lawsuit against the Department of Justice, attempting to uncover any communication between President Joe Biden, Attorney General Merrick Garland and special counsel Jack Smith.

“My aim in bringing this lawsuit is to finally deliver accountability and transparency: what did Biden and his cronies tell Garland and what did Garland and the deep-staters who put him in as Attorney General tell Jack Smith,” Ramaswamy said in the statement.

“Jack Smith has created a dangerous precedent by criminalizing the behavior of Trump’s lawyers who offered him legal advice, labeling them co-conspirators instead,” Ramaswamy continued. “This jeopardizes the future of our legal system.”

At a Wednesday press conference in Nashville, Ramaswamy said he did not view Trump’s actions as a crime, but as “bad judgement.”

“I would have made very different decisions than (Trump) would have made,” Ramaswamy said. “But a bad judgement is not the same thing as a crime. And I think it sets a dangerous precedent in this country for the party in power to use police force to arrest its political opponents during an ongoing presidential election on the basis of untested legal theories.”

Tim Scott

Like DeSantis, the U.S. senator decried the “weaponization” of the Department of Justice to “against (Biden’s) political opponents” in a post on X. Scott alluded to the ongoing investigation into Hunter Biden’s business activities and suggested there are “two different tracks of justice. One for political opponents and another for the son of the current president.”

“We’re watching Biden’s DOJ continue to hunt Republicans, while protecting Democrats,” he continued.

Mike Pence

The former vice president has repeatedly offered a repudiation of Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, claiming that such action should be disqualifying for presidential candidates.

“Today’s indictment serves as an important reminder: anyone who puts himself over the Constitution should never be President of the United States,” Pence said in a statement posted to X.

On Wednesday, during a stop at the Indiana State Fair, Pence blasted Trump’s “crackpot lawyers” that “kept telling him what his itching ears wanted to hear.”

“With regard to the substance of the indictment, I’ve been very clear: I’d hoped it wouldn’t come to this,” Pence continued. “I’d hoped this issue and the judgement of the president’s actions that day would be left to the American people.” Pence reiterated that sentiment in a private call with donors that afternoon, saying he’d hoped “it wouldn’t come to this.”

On Wednesday evening, Pence appeared on Fox News and repeated that the former president had “no right to overturn the election” and Trump’s assertion that he did was “reckless.”

“Yesterday’s indictment will stand either on its own merits or it will fall,” he said. “I can’t really speak to the legal arguments behind it, but I think the American people deserve to know that on that day, the president asked me to choose between him and the Constitution, and I chose the Constitution, and I always will.”

By Thursday, the Pence campaign was selling T-shirts and hats with the catchphrase “Too Honest” — a phrase quoted in the indictment that Trump allegedly used to describe Pence after the vice president refused to aid his attempts to block electoral votes in January 2021.

Chris Christie

The former New Jersey governor said Trump’s actions “brought shame to his presidency.”

“The events around the White House from election night forward are a stain on our country’s history & a disgrace to the people who participated,” Christie said in a statement posted to X. “This disgrace falls the most on Donald Trump.”

In an appearance on the On With Kara Swisher podcast Thursday, Christie separated himself from those critiquing the Biden administration for weaponizing the Justice Department. “I don’t really think there’s anything political about what Jack Smith is doing,” he said.

Will Hurd

The former congressman made an appearance on NBC News Tuesday afternoon and critiqued both Trump and his GOP opponents who refuse to criticize him.

“Donald Trump is not running for president to make America great,” Hurd said. “He’s running to stay out of prison.”

“The fact that more candidates are so afraid of challenging Donald Trump and being upset by this is nuts to me,” he continued.

Asa Hutchinson

The former Arkansas governor released a statement calling it “a dark day for America when a former President is indicted on criminal charges.” He emphasized that Trump is innocent until proven guilty, but noted that America’s next president should be decided “at the ballot box and not in the court system.”

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“Donald Trump should not be the next President, but that should be decided by the voters,” he said.

Nikki Haley

The former South Carolina governor and ambassador to the U.N. broke her silence Thursday, saying she is “tired of commenting on every Trump drama.”

“Unlike the other candidates, I didn’t rush out with a statement yesterday on Trump’s indictment for one simple reason: Like most Americans, I’m tired of commenting on every Trump drama,” Haley said during a radio show appearance. “I’ve lost track of whether this indictment is the third or fourth or the fifth.”

“We should be focusing on how to stop China,” she added. “We should be focusing on how to close the border. We need to be reversing Bidenomics. Putting a 77-year-old former president in prison doesn’t do any of that. We’ve got to move on already.”

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