[Fox News] Trump’s rivals for the 2024 nomination split on his latest indictment: ‘Trying to stay out of prison’

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Donald Trump’s rivals for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination were split on how to read his indictment Thursday in a Washington, D.C., courtroom, one saying the former president’s actions invited his legal woes. Another said the legal system has been politicized.

Trump pleaded not guilty Thursday to four felony counts related to the Jan. 6, 2021 storming of the U.S. Capitol, including conspiracy to defraud the nation, brought by Justice Department Special Counsel Jack Smith.

While Trump has accused the Biden administration of orchestrating a witch hunt against him, GOP candidate Will Hurd told Fox News Digital just ahead of the arraignment, “This is not about the weaponization of the government.”

“This is not about individuals in Washington, D.C., that serve on a grand jury,” said Hurd, a former CIA spy and member of the House Texas delegation. “This is about a former president who lost an election and tried to use everything within his power to overturn that election, failed, and now he’s trying to stay out of prison.

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“This could have been preventable. It didn’t have to happen,” added Hurd, a long shot for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination and a vocal Republican critic of Trump.

Hurd, who drew plenty of boos from a crowd last weekend at the Iowa GOP’s annual Lincoln Dinner when he criticized Trump, spoke with Fox Digital Thursday during a stop at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics in Manchester.

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“If he had been like every other president and accepted the election, he wouldn’t be in this position,” Hurd argued. “Also, when he learned he had classified documents, all he had to do was turn them back. Instead, he lied about them and then tried to destroy evidence that he knew about them. If he wouldn’t have done those things, we wouldn’t be in this position today.”

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who like Hurd is a vocal Trump critic, said in a social media posting that “Today’s arraignment of #DonaldTrump is a sad day for the Party of Lincoln & Reagan. He hoodwinked his supporters on #January6th & he is trying to do it again. The GOP needs a course correction.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum was multimillionaire biotech entrepreneur, best-selling author and culture wars crusader Vivek Ramaswamy, who charged that Trump’s indictment was the “politicized persecution of political opponents.”

Ramaswamy arrived in New Hampshire hours after shooting a video in front of the federal courthouse in the nation’s capital where Trump was arraigned later in the day.

“I wanted to make a point to say we the public deserve to know what did [Attorney General] Merrick Garland tell Jack Smith? What did [President] Joe Biden tell Merrick Garland? Just tell us. Be transparent with the public,” Ramswamy told Fox News Digital. “And I think, right now, we live in a time when we feel like the government suppresses the truth.”

Ramaswamy, who was interviewed by Fox Digital following a mini-town hall at a restaurant in Milford, New Hampshire, claimed “the first three indictments – they reeked of politicization. And I think that that’s just a reality. I think that sets a terrible precedent. I think there’s a difference between a bad judgment and a crime. Criminalizing every bad judgment is a dangerous slippery slope to go down in this country.

“I think what we need is a government that trusts its people, and that’s when the people will start trusting the government again. And that’s what this campaign is all about – speaking truth. It’s how we restore trust in this country. It’s what I’m doing.”

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who served as ambassador to the United Nations during the Trump administration, said during an interview on a morning talk radio program in New Hampshire that “like most Americans, I’m tired of commenting on every Trump drama. I’ve lost track of whether this indictment is the third or fourth or the fifth.”

But Haley, who launched her 2024 presidential campaign in February, reiterated in her “Good Morning NH,” appearance that she’s “said that Jan. 6 was a terrible day. I’ve also said that Donald Trump bears some responsibility for what happened. But Trump didn’t attack the Capitol. It’s not a crime to say that you think an election was stolen. He should not be prosecuted for that. I think the Justice Department has become way too political.”

Michigan businessman and quality control expert Perry Johnson, who like Hurd is a long-shot for the GOP nomination, claimed in a statement to Fox News that “the witch hunt perpetrated against Trump is unlike anything I have ever witnessed, which is why I have never shied away from defending Trump from this political persecution despite being his competitor in this race.” 

Republican White House contender and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, in an interview on Fox News’ “Special Report,” told host Bret Baier that “the Biden administration loves it when we’re talking about indictments because then they don’t have to talk about their horrible track record on national security.”

The former president – who pleaded not guilty – was indicted on four counts: conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of official proceeding, and conspiracy against rights. 

Trump was informed two weeks ago that he was a target in the probe into his actions and state of mind on Jan. 6, 2021, and in the lead-up to that infamous day – when hundreds stormed the U.S. Capitol. The attack temporarily disrupted congressional certification of President Biden’s Electoral College victory over Trump.

The indictment alleges that Trump pursued unlawful means of discounting legitimate votes and subverting the 2020 presidential election results through three criminal conspiracies and that he corruptly obstructed and impeded the certification of the electoral vote.

Trump, the commanding front-runner in the GOP nomination race as he makes his third straight White House run, this year became the first sitting or former president in U.S. history to be charged with a crime.

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Trump pleaded not guilty in early April in New York City to charges brought by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. The former president was indicted for allegedly giving hush money payments to adult film actress Stormy Daniels in 2016 to keep her quiet ahead of that year’s presidential election over her claims she had sexual encounters years earlier with Trump.

The former president denies sleeping with Daniels and denies falsifying business records to keep the payment concealed.

Trump was indicted and arraigned in early June for his alleged improper retention of classified records. He pleaded not guilty in federal court in Miami to criminal charges that he illegally retained national security records at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, following the end of his term as president and that he obstructed federal efforts to recover the documents.

But the indictments have only strengthened Trump’s standing among his base of devoted supporters. And his lead over his GOP rivals has increased in the wake of the indictments.

Trump, speaking as he departed the nation’s capital following his arraignment, targeted the president, charging that “this is the persecution of the person that’s leading by very, very substantial numbers in the Republican primary and leading Biden by a lot. So, if you can’t beat him, you persecute him, or you prosecute him. We can’t let this happen in America.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates on FoxNews.com.

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