A grand jury convened by the U.S. Department of Justice indicted former President Donald Trump this week on four felony charges related to Trump’s alleged efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. The news generated responses from Montana’s federal delegation ranging from strident defense of Trump to cautious acknowledgment of the former president’s legal situation.
The indictment, which represents the third criminal case against Trump and the second stemming from a probe by Justice Department Special Counsel Jack Smith, alleges that Trump and several unnamed — though easy to identify — co-conspirators endeavored “to overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 presidential election by using knowingly false claims of election fraud to obstruct the federal government function by which those results are collected, counted and certified.”
No former president has faced federal criminal charges before Trump. He’s scheduled to appear in court in Washington, D.C. related to the new indictment on Thursday. Trump has repeatedly denied allegations of criminal activity, painting charges against him as attempts by the administration of President Joe Biden to deploy the Department of Justice against a political rival.
Responses to the indictment from Montana’s federal lawmakers reflect the long shadow that Trump — who is running for president in 2024 in a race that will doubtless affect turnout and messaging down the ballot — still casts over state and national politics, reports the Montana Free Press.
U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican who chairs the party committee tasked with defeating Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester and asserting Republican control over the U.S. Senate, told Montana Free Press in a statement Tuesday that the charges “reek of prosecutorial misconduct,” and that “every American should be troubled by the fact that President Biden’s DOJ is attempting to put his top political rival in prison.”
Daines, echoing statements by other national Republicans, then pointed a finger at the president’s son, Hunter Biden, who currently faces federal tax charges and an investigation by Republicans on the House Oversight Committee.
A spokesperson for Republican Montana congressman Matt Rosendale, meanwhile, did not respond to questions from MTFP in time for publication. But Rosendale took to Twitter in defense of Trump shortly after the indictments were released Tuesday, deriding the indictment as a “sham” and a “blatant attempt by the Left to tamper with our elections.”
It’s an alleged attempt to tamper with American elections that is laid out in great detail in the indictment, which charges Trump with, among other crimes, “conspiring to defraud the United States.” The indictment describes an alleged scheme by Trump and others following the November 2020 elections to advance fraudulent slates of electors in battleground states, to pressure the vice president and state officials not to certify election results, and to knowingly spread disinformation about election fraud that fueled “an unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy” on Jan. 6, 2021, as Smith put it in remarks to the D.C. press corps.
A spokesperson for Ryan Zinke, Montana’s other Republican U.S. House member, did not directly answer a question about Zinke’s response to the indictment, but responded to a second question about whether Trump should continue to run for president if convicted — something he has the legal right to do — by suggesting that will be up to voters in the GOP primary.
Tester, Montana’s only statewide-elected Democrat and one of the U.S. senators regarded as most vulnerable to an election challenge in 2024 — an election Montana Democrats say they want to be about Tester and his record, not Biden or Trump— toed a careful line in response to the indictment. So far, Republicans Tim Sheehy and Jeremy Mygland have entered the race to unseat Tester, though Rosendale is expected to throw his hat in the race as well.
“Senator Tester believes everyone should be treated fairly and without bias during a criminal investigation and he expects the treatment of former President Trump will be no different,” a spokesperson told MTFP. “[Tester] has said our criminal justice system must be without political influence, where no one is above the law, and all Americans are presumed innocent until proven guilty.”
The comments from the delegation closely mirror those they made in response to the previous Jack Smith indictment, which alleged that Trump mishandled classified documents after leaving the White House. In that case, for example, Daines also deflected attention to Hunter Biden and criticized “two standards of justice under Biden’s DOJ,” while Tester gave an almost identical statement about the presumption of innocence.