ORLANDO, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis took a swipe at Donald Trump’s sordid legal troubles Monday, but signaled he would intervene on the former president’s behalf if a Manhattan prosecutor tries to extradite Mr. Trump to New York.
Some Republicans earlier Monday slammed Mr. DeSantis for his remarks to reporters saying he wouldn’t get involved in any case brought against Mr. Trump. Mr. DeSantis is considered Mr. Trump‘s biggest rival for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
Critics interpreted the remark to mean that the Florida governor would stand by and allow Mr. Trump’s arrest on charges that he paid hush money to an adult performer — allegations that nearly every Republican, including Mr. DeSantis, believes are politically motivated.
“Pure weakness,” Donald Trump Jr. tweeted. “Now we know why he was silent all weekend. He’s totally owned by Karl Rove, Paul Ryan & his billionaire donors. 100% Controlled Opposition.”
The governor’s team pushed back, saying Mr. DeSantis has no intention of granting any requests from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg to extradite the former president from his home in Palm Beach, Florida, to New York City to face trial.
If an extradition request from Manhattan crosses the governor’s desk, according to a DeSantis aide, “he would not fulfill it.”
Mr. Bragg is widely expected to file criminal charges accusing Mr. Trump of illegally paying adult performer Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential race to quash her affair claims.
Mr. DeSantis denounced Mr. Bragg’s pursuit of Mr. Trump during a press conference in Panama City, calling it, “fundamentally wrong.”
He also told reporters his office is “not involved in this, we won’t be involved in this,” adding, “I’ve got real issues I’ve got to deal with in Florida.”
Mr. DeSantis said Mr. Bragg, a Democrat elected with the help of liberal megadonor George Soros, has used his office to lower penalties for serious crimes, while choosing, “to go back many, many years to try to use something about porn star hush money payments.”
Mr. DeSantis did not speak Mr. Trump’s name during the press conference, but said Mr. Bragg’s case against him is “an example of pursuing a political agenda and weaponizing the office.”
During the press conference, Mr. DeSantis distanced himself from the unsavory nature of the charge that Mr. Trump paid $130,000 to silence Ms. Daniels ahead of the 2016 election.
“I don’t know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair,” Mr. DeSantis said, prompting laughter from the audience. “I can’t speak to that.”
The governor’s comments prompted an angry response from Mr. Trump, who has increasingly treated Mr. DeSantis as the biggest obstacle to Mr. Trump‘s quest to become the 2024 Republican presidential nominee.
Mr. Trump has tagged the Florida governor with derogatory nicknames and targeted him with blunt criticism.
Shortly after Mr. DeSantis’ press conference, Mr. Trump reposted a photo first circulated earlier this year that the original poster claims is Mr. DeSantis at a party drinking alcohol with high school girls he taught years ago at a boarding school.
“Ron DeSanctimonious will probably find out about FALSE ACCUSATIONS & FAKE STORIES sometime in the future, as he gets older, wiser, and better known, when he’s unfairly and illegally attacked by a woman, even classmates that are ‘underage’ (or possibly a man!). I’m sure he will want to fight these misfits just like I do!” Mr. Trump posted on his Truth Social media site.
Mr. Trump‘s supporters have demanded that GOP leaders close ranks behind the former president and condemn any attempt to arrest and prosecute him.
Among declared and potential 2024 GOP candidates, only Mr. DeSantis is competitive with Mr. Trump. Some surveys have shown Mr. DeSantis, who has not officially jumped into the race, leading Mr. Trump in early voting states.
The governor could play a role in the Bragg case if Mr. Trump is indicted but refuses to turn himself in to New York City authorities. In that instance, Mr. DeSantis could intervene and block Mr. Trump’s extradition.
Mr. DeSantis said he won’t help Mr. Bragg advance his case.
“I have no interest in getting involved in some type of manufactured circus by some Soros DA,” Mr. DeSantis said. “He is trying to do a political spectacle, he’s trying to virtue signal for his base. I’ve got to spend my time on issues that actually matter to people. I can’t spend my time worrying about things of that nature so we are not going to be involved in it in any way.”
Mr. DeSantis said “the real victims,” of Mr. Bragg are the ordinary citizens who have to live with Mr. Bragg’s liberal policies “that ignore crime and empower criminals.”
He touted his own efforts to combat Mr. Soros’ money and liberal criminal justice agenda.
In August, he removed Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren after accusing Mr. Warren of refusing to prosecute serious crimes.
“Soros district attorneys are a menace to society and I’m just glad I’m the only governor in the country who has actually removed one from office during my tenure,” Mr. DeSantis said.
• Susan Ferrechio can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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