Candidates in the Republican Party primary field have given their initial reaction to the news that lead 2024 contender Donald Trump has been notified by the Department of Justice of his status as a target of the investigation into the January 6 Capitol riot.
It is the first real confirmation that he could face criminal charges for his role in the 2021 siege of Capitol Hill.
Mr Trump wrote in a lengthy statement delivered via his Truth Social platform that special counsel Jack Smith had notified him via letter on Sunday about the development; The Independent had previously reported that Mr Smith was preparing a superseding indictment for the former president related to the Jan 6 attack.
Former UN Ambassador and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley was interviewed on Fox News shortly after the news broke and used it as an opportunity to reiterate the need for a generational change in the party to move on from the distractions of the Trump era.
“The rest of this primary election is going to be in reference to Trump, is going to be about lawsuits, is going to be about legal fees, it’s going to be about judges and it’s going to continue to be a further and further distraction,” she said.
“And that is why I am running. It’s because we need a new generational leader. We can’t keep dealing with this drama. We can’t keep dealing with the negativity.”
Among the first to react was former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson who reiterated his call for Mr Trump to suspend his 2024 campaign.
In a statement released by Asa for America, he said: “I have said from the beginning that Donald Trump’s actions on January 6 should disqualify him from ever being President again. As a former federal prosecutor, I understand the severity of Grand Jury investigations and what it means to be targeted by such an investigation.”
He continued: “Donald Trump has confirmed that he is a target of this investigation and will likely be indicted once again. While Donald Trump would like the American people to believe that he is the victim in this situation, the truth is that the real victims of January 6th were our democracy, our rule of law, and those Capitol Police officers who worked valiantly to protect our Capitol.”
Mr Hutchinson concluded: “Anyone who truly loves this country and is willing to put the country over themselves would suspend their campaign for President of the United States immediately. It is disappointing that Donald Trump refuses to do so.”
This was echoed by former Rep Will Hurd who is running on a “common-sense vision for America” platform and currently polling at one per cent in New Hampshire.
He tweeted: “Losing to Joe Biden was so humiliating to Donald Trump that he was willing to let people die for his lies about a stolen election. That’s what January 6th was.”
Mr Hurd added: “Jan 6 was a dark day for democracy. Trump's inaction then, and now being a target in the investigation, proves he's not fit for office. Our country deserves leaders who will put the Constitution and the American people above all else.”
Meanwhile, speaking at a campaign event in South Carolina, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said about Mr Trump’s reaction to January 6: “I think it was shown how he was in the White House and didn’t do anything while things were going on. He should have come out more forcefully,” he said. “But to try to criminalise that, that’s a different issue entirely.”
He adds: “Criminal charges is not just because you may have done something wrong. It’s: Did you behave criminally? .... I think what we’ve seen in this country is an attempt to criminalise politics and to try to criminalize differences.”
This may be the strongest criticism of the former president’s actions on January 6 by Mr DeSantis even as he pushes the claim that Mr Trump is being targeted politically.
Saying that the former president’s lack of force in his response to the attack on the Capitol is strikingly close to the central part of the House select committee on January 6th’s criticism of Mr Trump in its hearings and report.
Perhaps the most restrained reaction came from one of Mr Trump’s greatest foes: former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
He tweeted: “As a former prosecutor, I want to see any potential indictment before I talk about the case against Donald Trump. That said, let me be clear: his conduct on January 6th proves he doesn’t care about our country and our Constitution.”
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