Sign up for The Brief, The Texas Tribune’s daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.
Some Texas Republicans quickly criticized Donald Trump’s criminal indictment Thursday as a politically motivated catastrophe after it was announced that the former president would face criminal charges.
“The Democrat Party’s hatred for Donald Trump knows no bounds. The ‘substance’ of this political persecution is utter garbage,” tweeted U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. “This is completely unprecedented and is a catastrophic escalation in the weaponization of the justice system.”
Republicans, including Trump, have cast the indictment as a political “witch hunt” to discredit the former president ahead of the 2024 presidential election. Recent polls currently favor Trump over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has not yet announced his candidacy. President Joe Biden, a Democrat, is also expected to run again.
On his podcast earlier in March, Cruz predicted that arresting Trump would only boost the former president’s appeal among supporters.
“This is Political Persecution and Election Interference at the highest level in history. From the time I came down the golden escalator at Trump Tower, and even before I was sworn in as your President of the United States, the Radical Left Democrats … have been engaged in a Witch-Hunt to destroy the Make America Great Again movement,” Trump said in a statement.
On Thursday afternoon, the New York Times reported that a Manhattan grand jury voted to indict Trump over his role in paying alleged hush money to Stormy Daniels, an adult film star. Trump is the first former U.S. president to face criminal charges in the country’s history.
The felony indictment has not yet been made public, but Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has asked Trump to surrender to the not-yet-known charges.
Despite the growing rivalry between Trump and DeSantis, the Florida governor accused the New York authorities of weaponizing the legal system against the former president. Given that Trump is based in Palm Beach, DeSantis said Florida will not fulfill an extradition request.
Texas Republicans echoed Trump’s claims that the indictment is politically motivated.
State Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, quoted Joseph Stalin’s Soviet-era secret police chief, Lavrentiy Beria, and wrote on Twitter, “Trump’s indictment reflect methods Stalin and his Communist Party used to destroy their political opponents.”
The indictment comes less than a week after Trump held his first official 2024 campaign rally in Waco last Saturday. During the event, Trump announced his Texas Elected Leadership Team, which included Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Attorney General Ken Paxton and U.S. Rep. Ronny Jackson of Amarillo among others.
During the Waco rally, Trump railed against the impending charges, accusing Bragg of prosecutorial misconduct and likening the indictment to the host of other investigations launched against him.
“The innocence of people makes no difference whatsoever to these radical left maniacs,” Trump told a crowd of thousands last Saturday.
Despite knowing Trump was facing a criminal indictment, Texas leaders embraced the MAGA endorsement. Those same politicians came quickly to Trump’s defense after the indictment dropped.
“This is a dark day in American history. President Trump’s only ‘crime’ was MAKING AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! These cowardly Democrats HATE Trump and HATE his voters even more. When Trump wins, THESE PEOPLE WILL PAY!!” Jackson said in a tweet shortly after the indictment was announced.
Jackson was a top White House physician during Trump’s presidency.
Many Texas Republicans — include top elected leaders — tied the indictment to billionaire George Soros, who has made political donations to Democratic candidates and causes.
The New York Times last week reported that connections between Soros and Bragg “are real but overstated.” The newspaper said Soros donated to a liberal group that financially supported Bragg’s campaign.
“A spokesman for Mr. Soros said that the two men had never met, nor had Mr. Soros given money directly to Mr. Bragg’s campaign,” according to the New York Times.
In a tweet, Paxton said he stands with Trump.
“The radical left has consistently weaponized our courts to silence conservative voices,” the Texas attorney general wrote. “The actions by the Soros-backed Democrat DA in NYC is the latest example of this abuse of power.”
Wesley Hunt, a U.S. Representative from the Houston area who spoke ahead of Trump at his Waco rally, repeated the claim Thursday that the billionaire Soros was tied to the indictment.
“A Manhattan Grand Jury at the behest of a weaponized prosecutor; who received a million dollars from Soros, has indicted a former U.S. President. This unprecedented attack against Trump is an assault on everything we hold sacred about our Republic,” Hunt wrote on Twitter. “If they can come for him, they can come for you.”
The Texas Tribune reached out to every member of Trump’s Texas leadership team for comment. Several did not respond. But Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who also spoke in Waco, replied and called the case against the former president “pathetic.”
“President Donald Trump has said for years that Democrats have been, are, and will continue to weaponize the justice system for their own selfish political agenda. Today’s action proves President Trump right once again,” Miller said in a statement. “The American people see this for what it is and I have no doubt that President Donald Trump will be totally vindicated and, once again, emerge on top.”
Though Trump did not offer Gov. Greg Abbott an endorsement as part of his Texas Elected Leadership Team, the governor decried the criminal charges, calling the indictment “an abhorrent abuse of power.”
At least one Texas Democrat celebrated the impending charges, which are the result of a five-year investigation by the Manhattan district attorney’s office.
Matthew Choi and Patrick Svitek contributed to this story.
Disclosure: New York Times has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
We can’t wait to welcome you Sept. 21-23 to the 2023 Texas Tribune Festival, our multiday celebration of big, bold ideas about politics, public policy and the day’s news — all taking place just steps away from the Texas Capitol. When tickets go on sale in May, Tribune members will save big. Donate to join or renew today.