WASHINGTON — New legislation from House Republicans aims to prevent local district attorneys from pursuing charges against former presidents.
The symbolic bill is yet another show of support for Donald Trump, who faces the possibility of criminal charges in Georgia and was arraigned in Manhattan last week for allegedly violating state law with false business records.
Republicans have subpoenaed a former prosecutor from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office, denounced the charges as entirely motivated by politics, and scheduled a Monday hearing to accuse Bragg of failing to prosecute real crimes.
Now comes a proposal that Rep. Russell Fry (R-S.C.) said would “prevent political prosecutions” by moving cases against former presidents from state jurisdiction to federal court, where judges are confirmed by the Senate, an institution reliably influenced by elected Republicans.
“Politically motivated prosecutors should not be able to wield unwarranted power and target our nation’s top leaders for their own personal gain,” Fry said in a statement on his website.
Normally, state prosecutors and local district attorneys are responsible for prosecuting state crimes in state courts, while federal prosecutors, known as U.S. attorneys, pursue federal charges in federal courts. Fry said his bill, which he has not actually drafted, would allow presidents and vice presidents to move state cases into federal courts.
The proposal would seem to take all power away from state courts in cases of criminal behavior by former presidents, David Rapallo, an associate professor at Georgetown University Law School and former Democratic staff director for the House Oversight Committee, said in an interview. And federal judges who wind up with the cases would have to familiarize themselves with state laws and legal precedents.
“It does seem a little ironic coming from people who tout states’ rights and how state courts and state legislatures should be making even more decisions than they currently do,” Rapallo said.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said Tuesday evening that his committee would mark up the bill in a hurry.
“One of the pieces of legislation we expect to bring forward real quickly from our committee is legislation [that says] if you are going to do something like this, you at least have to remove that case to federal court,” Jordan said on Fox News. “You don’t try it in some local court.”
The bill stands little chance of clearing the Democratic-controlled Senate, but it represents an escalation of pro-Trump messaging from House Republicans, who created an entirely new committee to trash the “weaponization of government” against the former president and his supporters, especially by the U.S. Justice Department, which is probing Trump’s efforts to overthrow the 2020 election and his refusal to turn over official records after the end of his term.
The district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia, also is nearing the completion of an investigation related to Trump’s efforts to convince state officials to “find” enough votes to undo his loss there in the presidential election.
A grand jury in New York indicted Trump last month for falsifying business records related to hush money paid in 2016 to a former adult film star who threatened shortly before the election to publicize an alleged tryst with Trump. Trump funneled the money through his lawyer, Michael Cohen, whom he repaid with a series of checks that Bragg said were falsely labeled as legal rather than campaign expenses. Cohen pleaded guilty to federal campaign violations in 2018.
The indictment is the first for a former president, though Trump is an unusual case. Before winning the Republican nomination in 2016, Trump made his name as a real estate mogul in New York, leveraging his reputation into an array of other ventures — sometimes with questionable business practices. The Trump Organization was convicted of tax crimes earlier this year, the now-defunct Trump University reached a $25 million settlement with its defrauded former students in 2016, and Trump’s casino business was fined $10 million in 2015 for various financial misdeeds, such as failing to report suspicious transactions.
Republicans have claimed Bragg went out of his way to charge Trump to make a name for himself, but felony charges for false business records aren’t unusual in New York, according to an analysis of recent cases by the online publication Just Security.
Jordan said on Twitter this week that Trump had been indicted for “no crime” and complained about Bragg’s lawsuit seeking to block Jordan’s subpoena to answer questions from House Republicans.