Trump Hush Money

A supporter of former President Donald Trump waves an inverted American flag during a demonstration outside Trump Tower on Friday in New York. A day after a New York jury found Trump guilty of 34 felony charges, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee addressed the conviction and likely attempt to cast his campaign in a new light. John Minchillo/Associated Press

Top Maine Republicans, from U.S. Sen. Susan Collins to members of the state Legislature, dismissed Donald Trump’s historic conviction on 34 felony counts Friday, calling the case politically motivated and pointing to the likelihood of an appeal.

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Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine Ting Shen/Pool Photo via Associated Press

“It is fundamental to our American system of justice that the government prosecutes cases because of alleged criminal conduct regardless of who the defendant happens to be. In this case the opposite has happened,” Collins said in a statement Thursday.

Collins’ response stood in sharp contrast to the responses of the other members of Maine’s congressional delegation – independent Sen. Angus King and Democratic Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden – who praised the jury’s work as a validation of the rule of law in a democracy.

Collins has been critical of Trump and announced in March that she will not vote for the former president in November’s election, but her response to the guilty verdict echoed Trump’s own accusations that the justice system was being used to persecute him. Collins’ statement also aligned with many other Republicans around the country who swiftly decried the verdict and defended Trump.

“The district attorney, who campaigned on a promise to prosecute Donald Trump, brought these charges precisely because of who the defendant was rather than because of any specified criminal conduct,” she said. “The political underpinnings of this case further blur the lines between the judicial system and the electoral system, and this verdict likely will be the subject of a protracted appeals process.”

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said during his campaign for office that he would hold Trump accountable and “go where the facts take me,” a reference to what was already an ongoing criminal investigation. He did not publicly pledge to prosecute him.

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A spokesperson for Collins did not respond to a request for an interview with the senator Friday.

MAINE GOP SLAMS VERDICT 

Other Republican leaders in Maine also decried the outcome of the case, in which a Manhattan jury found Trump guilty of 34 felony charges for falsifying business records to conceal hush money he paid to a porn star in a scheme to influence the 2016 election.

“This trial was clearly a politically motivated farce designed to keep Trump out of the White House,” the Maine Republican Party said in a statement. “Americans are clearly facing a two-tiered justice system. This Shenna Bellows-style lawfare should be rejected by all Americans.”

Shenna Bellows, Maine’s secretary of state, has been under fire from Republicans since she ruled in December in favor of opponents seeking to keep Trump off the presidential primary ballot in Maine.

Bellows said Trump was ineligible for the ballot because of his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, citing the 14th Amendment, which prevents anyone who has engaged in insurrection from holding office. But she withdrew her decision after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a similar case out of Colorado that states could not declare Trump ineligible to run for president.

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“We have elections where people vote for their leaders,” the party said in its written statement. “We should not have politically motivated and compromised judges and prosecutors running roughshod over our Constitution. It is time for Mainers to realize that the only way out of this mess is to vote Republican this fall.”

Maine Senate Minority Leader Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, said in an interview Friday that it’s too early to assess the verdict since the case is likely to be appealed by Trump. He said Trump’s attorneys should be reviewing the case to see if there is any evidence of bias or procedural missteps.

Sen. Harold “Trey” Stewart III, R-Presque Isle Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

“It’s kind of novel territory to be in with a former president being convicted by a jury on different criminal allegations,” Stewart said. “I don’t know how that’s going to play out in terms of process.

“I think everybody is kind of, from what I have seen, everybody who was predisposed to dislike Trump still dislikes Trump and everybody who was predisposed to like Trump is sort of doubling down on their support. From my vantage point, I’m looking at it saying this is not over and no one should be looking at it and crying, and no one should be looking at it and celebrating, yet.”

Stewart, who previously worked on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign in Maine, said while there are Republicans other than Trump whom he would support for the presidential nomination, he would vote for Trump over Biden.

“I’m not going to support Biden if those are my options,” Stewart said, citing differences between the two on the economy, the southern border and other issues.

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FUEL FOR FUNDRAISING?

Stewart didn’t want to speculate on how the verdict could impact down-ticket Republican elections this fall, but he said he wouldn’t be surprised if it gives Trump a boost.

“Based on the fundraising, it appears as though the initial verdict is going to probably buoy the former president,” he said.

Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

The Trump campaign announced Friday that it had raised nearly $35 million from small donors in the aftermath of the verdict. Some Republican candidates in Maine also jumped on Trump’s conviction as an opportunity to fundraise.

“They used the criminal justice system against (Trump) and this whole trial is a farce,” Republican Austin Theriault said in a fundraising pitch to voters Friday. “Most people know that. … I need your help so I can fight back. The future of America is at stake right now.”

Theriault, a state representative from Fort Fairfield, is seeking the Republican nomination in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, a seat currently held by Democrat Jared Golden, of Lewiston.

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Theriault’s primary opponent, Rep. Mike Soboleski, R-Phillips, called the verdict “a disheartening moment for our judicial system” in a post on the social media platform X.

Maine House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, said in a written statement that Trump “wasn’t prosecuted in spite of being the political opponent of Joe Biden, he was prosecuted because he is the political opponent.”

“Regardless of your opinion of him, what has happened to President Trump in New York is something you’d expect to see happen to the political opponent of Fidel Castro, Vladimir Putin, or Xi Jinping,” Faulkingham said.

Staff Writer Randy Billings contributed to this report. 

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