Donald Trump has become the first former U.S. president to be indicted in a criminal case after a grand jury voted Thursday to bring criminal charges over the case of the alleged bribery of actress Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential campaign to hush up an alleged affair.

The unprecedented indictment comes as the former Republican front-runner faces other investigations that could spell more legal trouble for him, related to the Capitol assault, the attempt to reverse the 2020 election results in Georgia and the possession of classified documents at his personal residence.

The now candidate for the 2024 Republican nomination denies wrongdoing in the Stormy Daniels case. Following the announcement of his indictment, Trump responded that this is “political persecution and election interference at the highest level in history.”

Before the charges were filed, several Republican Party figures, including those who will contest the party’s presidential nomination, had already begun to defend him by launching attacks against Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, discrediting the investigation itself.

The (nuanced) defenses of Trump’s actual and potential adversaries

Former Vice President Mike Pence called the grand jury indictment of Donald Trump an “outrage.”

“I think the unprecedented indictment of a former president of the United States on a campaign finance matter is an outrage,” Pence, who is weighing a run for the Republican presidential nomination, said Thursday night in an interview with CNN.

Pence believes the indictment looks “to millions of Americans like nothing more than political persecution” and that indicting the former president is a “disservice to the country” that will only further divide people.

“I think the American people will look at this and see it as one more example of the criminalization of politics in this country,” said Pence, who during a visit this month to Iowa had said the idea of indicting a former president was “deeply troubling.”

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is also considering running for the Republican presidential nomination, criticized the investigation and said it was politically motivated.

“Militarizing the legal system to promote a political agenda turns the rule of law upside down,” DeSantis said, adding that “it is un-American.”

In a Twitter message, Gov. DeSantis noted that “Florida will not assist in an extradition request given the questionable circumstances with this Manhattan prosecutor backed by (George) Soros and his political agenda.”

However, he also took the opportunity to launch his first hints at the former president in a situation that could deepen the rivalry between the two. DeSantis said he personally “doesn’t know what’s involved in paying money to a porn star to make sure there’s no talk about some kind of alleged affair.”

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination and was Trump’s ambassador to the U.N., described the case brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg as an attempt to score “political points,” adding, “You would never want to tolerate any kind of prosecution that is being politicized.”

Another 2024 Republican hopeful, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, said there is a sense that the one-time incumbent is being unfairly targeted.

More darts against U.S. Attorney Bragg from Republican ranks

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy also attacked prosecutor Bragg by noting that he “used our sacred system of justice as a weapon against President Donald Trump.”

The number two in the House and Republican majority leader, Steve Scalise, called Trump’s indictment “outrageous.” In a tweet, Scalise called the indictment “one of the clearest examples of extremist Democrats using the government as a weapon to attack their political opponents.”

Senator Lindsey Graham, Trump’s ally and involved in another of the former president’s legal cases – the attempt to reverse the results of the 2020 presidential election in the state of Georgia – also criticized the indictment.

Graham, who had a telephone conversation with Trump after the news broke, said in an interview with The Washington Post that the former president told him that “they are using the law as a weapon,” something with which the senator agreed.

However, Graham distanced himself from the idea of calling for protests over the indictment, something the former president himself did a little more than a week ago when he said he expected to be arrested.

A little less than a mile away from Mar-a-Lago, where Donald Trump is staying, about a dozen of the former president’s supporters demonstrated against the decision.

Rep. Elise Stefanik, chairwoman of the House Republican conference, issued a statement saying the indictment was “a political witch hunt” and a “dark day for America.”

Two of Donald Trump’s sons also reacted to the prosecutor’s announcement. Eric Trump tweeted that the indictment “is third world prosecutorial misconduct.”

Donald Trump Jr. wrote on his Twitter account that “corrupt elites” don’t care about violent crime, “but are threatened by Trump.”

“I got the news about 10 or 15 minutes ago (…) this is the kind of communist-level crap. This would make Mao, Stalin or Pol Pot blush,” Trump’s eldest son said in a live broadcast of his “Triggered” podcast shortly after news of his father’s indictment.

Democrats say no one is above the law

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer also issued a statement noting that Trump is subject to the same laws as all Americans.

“He will be able to use the legal system and a jury, not politics, to determine his fate according to the facts and the law. There should be no outside political influence, intimidation or interference in the case. I encourage both Trump critics and supporters to let the process move forward peacefully and in accordance with the law.”

In a statement Democratic Congressman Jamaal Bowman said that being charged with falsifying business records “is only the beginning of accountability for his crimes”; among them, “illegally attempting to reverse election results in Georgia and inciting Capitol Hill insurrection, both in an effort to overthrow the government to advance his fascist cause.”

With information from Associated Press.

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