WASHINGTON (Reuters)—Former President Donald Trump on Wednesday called on his fellow Republicans in Congress to slash funding for the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI, one day after pleading not guilty in New York to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.
Trump, who is seeking to regain the presidency in 2024, took aim at federal law enforcement authorities even though the historic criminal charges against him – the first brought against any former or sitting president – were pursued by the Manhattan district attorney.
“REPUBLICANS IN CONGRESS SHOULD DEFUND THE DOJ AND FBI UNTIL THEY COME TO THEIR SENSES,” Trump wrote on his social media platform. DOJ stands for the Department of Justice.
Trump‘s proposal would be a sharp turn for Republicans, who in the past have supported robust funding for law enforcement and have criticized proposals from some on the left in recent years to “defund” local police departments.
The FBI, part of the Justice Department, is the U.S. domestic intelligence and security agency. Trump himself appointed the current FBI director, Christopher Wray, after firing its previous chief, James Comey, in 2017.
Trump backed spending increases for the Justice Department while serving as president from 2017 to 2021. Its budget increased 4% during that span to $38.7 billion, White House figures showed.
President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has asked Congress in his budget request for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 for about $50 billion in funding for the Justice Department, an increase over current levels.
Trump faces two Justice Department criminal investigations led by a special counsel appointed by U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland. One focuses on efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn the results of the 2020 election that he lost to Biden. The other focuses on classified documents that Trump retained after leaving office.
Congress appears unlikely to follow through on Trump‘s demand. Republicans control the House of Representatives and Democrats control the Senate. Republicans have called for sharp federal spending cuts in return for voting to raise the U.S. debt ceiling but have yet to put forward specific proposals.
The FBI on Wednesday declined to comment on Trump‘s remarks. The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Reduced funding for federal law enforcement also would not affect another criminal investigation involving Trump led by a county prosecutor in Georgia, focusing on whether he unlawfully sought to overturn his 2020 election loss in that state.
PAYMENTS TO TWO WOMEN
The office of Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, charged Trump on Tuesday with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records over allegations that he orchestrated payments to two women before the 2016 election to suppress publication of their sexual encounters with him.
Prosecutors said the payments to adult film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal constituted an attempt to conceal a violation of election law.
Opinion polls show Trump as the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination as he seeks to deny Biden a second term in office.
Trump over the years has complained that law enforcement at the national and state level were targeting him for political purposes, and his fellow Republicans in Congress have held hearings to examine what they describe as the “weaponization” of government.
He and his allies have accused Bragg, a Democrat, of bringing the charges for political reasons. Bragg in comments after the charges were brought on Tuesday said he has a responsibility to ensure everyone stands equal before the law.
Trump appeared at an arraignment in New York on Tuesday before flying back to his home in Florida to make public remarks. He declared himself the victim of election interference, without offering evidence.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Monday found that 51 percent of Americans, including 80% of Republicans, said they believed the charges are politically motivated.
The judge in the Manhattan case, Juan Merchan, has set the next hearing for Dec. 4, when campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination will be intensifying. Legal experts have said a trial may not get under way for a year.
Indictment or even conviction does not legally prevent a person from running for president.
In court on Tuesday, prosecutors raised concerns about Trump‘s social media posts, which have included a warning he made last month that the United States could face “death & destruction” if he were charged, and posting a photograph of him holding a baseball bat next to a picture of Bragg.
Merchan asked Trump‘s lawyers to remind him to refrain from making statements likely to incite violence or civil unrest, or jeopardize the safety of individuals. The judge said he will “have to take a closer look” at the issue if Trump were to make posts like those in the future.
At the Justice Department, Special Counsel Jack Smith has seemingly accelerated his Trump-related investigations in recent months. Trump has sought to block some former top aides and attorneys from being compelled to testify before the grand jury hearing evidence in Smith’s two inquiries.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Wednesday he does not agree with the charges brought against Trump.
“Supposedly legal issues should not be used for electoral, political purposes,” Lopez Obrador told a news conference in Mexico City.
(Reporting by Rami Ayyub; Additional reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and David Morgan in Washington and Karen Freifeld in New York; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Will Dunham and Andy Sullivan)