Editorial: Republicans are weaponizing congressional oversight to thwart Trump prosecution

Special counsel Jack Smith
Special counsel Jack Smith speaks to the media on Aug. 1 about an indictment of former President Trump.
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

With March 4, 2024, set for Donald Trump’s trial on federal charges related to his attempt to overturn the 2020 election, one might think that members of Congress, like other Americans, would sit back and let the judicial process proceed. But some House Republicans have a different idea: defunding the special counsel who is prosecuting the former president.

The scheme is unlikely to succeed, but this malicious attack on special counsel Jack Smith and his investigations will further shore up Trump’s claim to victimhood in the eyes of his supporters and further corrode confidence in public institutions.

Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.), who famously described the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol as “not an insurrection,” has proposed amendments to an appropriations bill that would ban federal funding for the prosecution of any major presidential candidate prior to the Nov. 5, 2024, election. Clyde’s targets are not only the U.S. Justice Department but also local prosecutors who receive federal funds. Trump faces trial in New York and Georgia on charges sought by local district attorneys.


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Clyde isn’t alone in seeking to meddle in the prosecution of Trump. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) introduced a bill to defund Smith’s office and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) has said she would propose a similar measure. Rep. Andy Ogles (R-Tenn.) has introduced legislation to prohibit paying Smith’s salary.

In announcing his amendments, Clyde trotted out the nonsense about Trump’s prosecutions that is gospel among MAGA Republicans. “The American people get to decide who wins the White House — not Deep State actors who have shamelessly attacked Donald Trump since he announced his first bid in 2015,” Clyde said. “It is imperative that Congress use its power of the purse to protect the integrity of our elections, restore Americans’ faith in our government, and dismantle our nation’s two-tiered system of justice.”

An actual two-tiered system of justice would look like what Clyde proposed, in which someone accused of crimes could get a free pass simply by announcing a campaign for the presidency. Because he is seeking to return to the White House, Trump already has received a form of special treatment. Citing Trump’s status as a candidate, Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland appointed Smith, a respected veteran prosecutor, to preside over investigations of Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election and his alleged retention of classified national security documents.

That hasn’t stopped Trump or his supporters from claiming that Smith is biased or a pawn of President Biden. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), who has disgraced himself with his toadying to Trump, said after Trump was indicted for alleged mishandling of national-security documents: “It is unconscionable for a President to indict the leading candidate opposing him. Joe Biden kept classified documents for decades. I, and every American who believes in the rule of law, stand with President Trump against this grave injustice.”

After Trump was indicted in Georgia by the Fulton County district attorney in connection with his efforts to overturn the election, McCarthy complained that “Biden has weaponized government against his leading political opponent to interfere in the 2024 election.” He added: “Now a radical DA in Georgia is following Biden’s lead by attacking President Trump and using it to fundraise her political career.”

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It isn’t just Republicans in Congress who are backing Trump, a man unfit for office. In last week’s televised debate — in which Trump did not participate — most of the candidates raised their hands to indicate that they would support Trump if he won the Republican nomination, even if he were convicted.


Biden “weaponizing” the Justice Department is a constant GOP talking point, backed by no evidence. This week Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, demanded information about a prosecutor’s visit to the White House to interview a witness in Trump’s classified documents case, saying it raises questions about a “coordinated effort” to “investigate and prosecute President Biden’s political opponents.”

If there is “weaponization” associated with the prosecutions of Trump, it is the weaponization of congressional oversight by Republicans to protect a disgraced former president, who now faces four separate indictments for criminal conduct.