By Michael Mitsanas - NBC News
Republicans must decide once again whether and how to defend former President Donald Trump from his legal troubles.
On Friday, the Justice Department released its 37-count indictment against Trump, laying out the U.S. government's argument that Trump lied, conspired and attempted to hide classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago residence after leaving the White House. He is the first former U.S. president to face federal charges.
While some Republicans have remained silent — or even condemned Trump's actions — many have rushed to his defense, often devising creative ways to insist that the Justice Department should not prosecute the former president.
[Republicans privately acknowledge that Trump's legal troubles are serious: 'This time is too much.']
Trump is accused of breaking seven laws and charged with 37 felonies.
Here's how some members of the Republican Party defend Trump:
Bathroom was safe
Florida Rep. Byron Donalds: "There are 33 bathrooms at Mar-a-Lago. So don't act like it's in any bathroom that guests can enter."
Kevin McCarthy, Speaker of the House of Representatives: "Is it a good image to have boxes in a garage that opens all the time? A bathroom door closes."
The federal indictment alleges that Trump stored classified documents "in various locations around Mar-a-Lago, including in an office space, his bedroom and the particularly unconventional storage areas of a bathroom and shower."
["Startling" evidence suggests Trump's charges "won't be hard to prove."]
The indictment even included a color photo of more than two dozen boxes on the bathroom's marble floor.
And while most bathroom doors close, they usually do so from the inside.
Trump is not a spy
Wall Street Journal editorial: "As arrogant as he was with classified files, Trump did not accept a bribe or betray secrets to Russia. The FBI recovered the missing documents when it raided Mar-a-Lago, so presumably there are no more secret attack plans for Trump to show."
Fox News host Mark Levin: "There is not a syllable of evidence that any information under the Espionage Act was passed on to any spy, to any enemy, to any foreign country — not one."
Sen. Lindsey Graham: "The espionage charges are absolutely ridiculous. Whether you like Trump or not, he did not commit espionage. He did not disseminate, leak or provide information to a foreign power or news organization to harm this country. He is not a spy. He's overcharged."
Log boxes stored in a Lake Room bathroom and shower at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida.Log boxes stored in a Lake Room bathroom and shower at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida. / Department of Justice via AP
Thirty-one of the 37 charges against Trump stem from the Espionage Act of 1917. The indictment accuses Trump of illegally withholding documents detailing some of America's most closely guarded secrets and of "striving" to obstruct the government's efforts to recover them, among other charges.
[Writer Who Won $5 Million in Trump Lawsuit May Call for More After New Attacks by Former President]
Government sneaky spies, like those seen in Hollywood thrillers, are charged under the Espionage Act, but so is a person who "willingly withholds" national defense information and then fails to return it to government officials when they try to retrieve it.
Trump could declassify anything he wanted
Rep. Beth Van Duyne: "As president, Trump could declassify whatever he wanted."
Many of Trump's defenders have maintained that Trump could declassify anything as president, and Trump himself has claimed he declassified the documents.
"If the president of the United States can declassify just by saying he's declassified, even thinking about it," Trump told Fox News host Sean Hannity in September 2022.
But the indictment contends Trump knew his administration did not complete the standard declassification process, and accuses Trump of showing the documents to people without security clearance, including a book author.
"As president, I could have declassified it," Trump is heard saying in one recording. "Now I can't, you know, but this is still a secret."
McCarthy: "We have a sitting president who possessed classified documents dating back decades, from his time as vice president and as a senator. However, he is now arming the federal government to go after his main political opponent. Where is the equality of justice before the law?"
Ted Cruz, Sen. from Texas: "The press is doing its August saying there were documents in a Mar-a-Lago bathroom. Well, gosh, the last time I checked, Joe Biden had classified documents in an unlocked garage next to his old Corvette and it's absolute double standards."
[Caravan to cross country in repudiation of DeSantis' anti-immigrant law]
Some of the former president's supporters have drawn comparisons between his handling of classified information and that of President Joe Biden, but experts say the cases are markedly different.
Trump is accused because "they hate him" and the "bad way" with Mexico: this and more Senator Ted Cruz told us
June 15, 202304:02
Biden's lawyers discovered a "small number" of classified documents with classified marks in a closet at the Penn Biden Center for Global Diplomacy and Engagement in Washington, the president's special counsel said, and the White House counsel's office notified the National Archives the same day.
In Trump's case, the National Archives notified its staff in May 2021 that some documents appeared to be missing. It wasn't until January 2022 that Trump and his staff sent 15 boxes of documents to the archives, which they discovered contained classified documents. The FBI later obtained information that Trump had more government documents before issuing a subpoena for their return.
An August search at Mar-a-Lago later revealed that more than 100 classified documents remained on the property, ultimately leading to charges against the former president.
Hillary Clinton was spared
REP. NANNA MACE: "Hillary Clinton used a gavel to destroy evidence from a private email server and classified information on that server and was never charged. The same standard should apply to everyone, including Donald Trump."
Ted Cruz talks about Trump's indictment and says AMLO is "afraid" of the former president
June 15, 202322:06
Rep. Lauren Boebert: "Yesterday, Hillary Clinton had the gall to sell merchandise while gloating that Trump was impeached. The two-tier justice system in our nation is completely out of control. Hillary has committed more crimes than almost anyone else and here she is selling hats and laughing."
[Donald Trump responds to his criminal accusation with a speech riddled with falsehoods]
The FBI investigated Clinton for months for her use of a private email server as secretary of state to determine whether she mishandled classified information.
In 2016, James Comey, then director of the FBI, said Clinton was "extremely careless" in handling classified information, but that "no reasonable prosecutor" would bring a case against her and that her actions did not rise to the level of criminality or warrant charges.
But now Trump has been accused of mishandling classified documents and trying to obstruct the administration's efforts to recover them, which experts say are more serious crimes than Clinton ever faced.
The Biden administration takes revenge on Trump
Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley: "We're seeing for the first time in American history ... a sitting president of the United States trying to put his opponent in jail."
Andy Biggs, Rep. Andy Biggs: "We mourn yet another example of our government's weaponization of its people. We will use every process, every court, every legislature, every state, every local, every voice, and every law, to restore our nation. We are Americans and we will prevail, God willing."
Some Trump allies have repeatedly claimed that Biden's indictment on criminal charges is proof that Biden's Justice Department is pursuing his main political rival.
Biden, keen to point out the Justice Department's supposed independence from politicking, has not commented on the allegation, and has also instructed his staff to refrain from speaking publicly against the former president.
Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Jack Smith, former chief prosecutor of the special court in The Hague, as special counsel presiding over the two investigations into the former president, saying the move was "in the public interest" because both Trump and Biden are candidates in the upcoming election. Trump called the attorney general's decision "egregious" and a "horrendous abuse of power."