Congressional effort grows to strip funding from special counsel’s Trump prosecutions

Congressional effort grows to strip funding from special counsel’s Trump prosecutions

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Some of former President Donald Trump’s allies in Congress are jockeying to find a way to strip funding from special counsel Jack Smith’s prosecutions.

In a series of new proposals, House Republicans are attempting to prohibit the use of federal money to pay for Smith’s investigation and criminal cases against Trump.  

At least three different efforts are already underway, according to a CBS News review. Though they are unlikely to generate any large number of supporters and are being criticized as political posturing, the proposals could eventually derail fragile negotiations to avoid a government shutdown or emergency funding for natural disaster relief in Hawaii and Vermont. And they could be a wedge issue inside the Republican party on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, and Rep. Andy Ogles, Republican of Tennessee, have introduced similar but separate pieces of legislation to deny federal funding for the special counsel. Gaetz’s bill, which was introduced two days after Trump announced he’d received a target letter from the special counsel, would prohibit Smith from expending federal funds.   

Ogles’ bill, introduced days after Trump’s indictment in Washington, D.C., this month, would deny Jack Smith a federal salary.

In a statement to CBS News, Ogles said, “It’s well past time that Congress uses its power of the purse to tell Jack Smith ‘you’re fired.'”

The proposals have generated just a handful of co-sponsors so far, but Ogles’ bill has gained the support of West Virginia Rep. Alex Mooney, a House Republican who is seeking his party’s nomination — and Trump’s endorsement — for a West Virginia U.S. Senate seat in 2024. Mooney told CBS News, “I support withholding funding to Jack Smith until the (Justice) Department ceases pushing its blatantly partisan two-tiered system of justice. These disgusting abuses of power will fail, and Donald Trump will be elected again in 2024.”

A third proposal has surfaced, which could disrupt ongoing negotiations to prevent a government shutdown. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, in a social media post earlier this summer, said she would add language to defund Smith’s prosecution to must-pass spending bills. A series of appropriations bills, or a short-term continuing resolution, must pass in both the House and Senate by Sept. 30 to avoid a government shutdown. 

Greene’s proposal, which seems certain to be opposed by Democrats, could force a divisive vote or threaten passage of bills in the House, where Republicans hold a very narrow majority. In her social media post, Greene wrote, “I will not vote for ANY appropriations bill to fund the weaponization of government. I hope every one of my Republican colleagues will join me.”

In a podcast recorded in late July, Gaetz urged colleagues not to wait until House consideration of spending bills in September to strip Smith of funds for the prosecution.  

“We do not need to wait for the appropriations process,” Gaetz said. He urged colleagues to pass his standalone bill to defund Smith’s office: “The power of the purse is not some intermittent thing… It’s something we have to wield day in and day out to achieve victory.”

Gaetz acknowledged President Biden wouldn’t sign such a bill into law, nor would Senate Democrats take up the legislation in the upper chamber of Congress, but Gaetz said the legislation would be a marker for where Republicans stand on the prosecution of Trump. 

Democrats are denouncing the proposals and criticizing the Republicans sponsors of seeking to cozy up to Trump as the former President pursues the party’s nomination for the White House.

Rep. Mark Pocan, Democrat of Wisconsin, told CBS News, “Republicans are no longer a political party, but a cult following Donald Trump’s orders. Holding government funding hostage in order to protect the four-time indicted former president is irresponsible at best, and dangerous at worst.”

Rep. Eric Swalwell, Democrat of California, said Republicans supporting the measures are “seeking to obstruct Justice by utilizing cheap publicity stunts masquerading as policy. It won’t work.”

California Rep. Norma Torres, a Democrat, told CBS News, “Extremist House Republicans want to hijack our government’s annual funding process to defund the special counsel’s office investigating the former president for potential crimes.”

Negotiations over the federal appropriations bills are already in a precarious stage. With a Sept. 30 deadline looming, the House has yet to pass the bulk of its spending bills and must navigate a minefield of controversial amendments and proposals that risk passage of the legislation.   

In addition to possible amendments or language to squeeze Smith’s investigations, the House appropriations proposals include language to more tightly restrict access to abortion services, reduce funding for programs that serve the LGBTQ community and restrict spending for diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in the federal workforce. Those proposals would dramatically limit prospects of Democratic support in the House and any serious consideration by the Democratic-controlled Senate, which has already moved to approve its own version of the spending bills. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer suggested to reporters Tuesday that a short-term continuing resolution to keep the government running might be needed to extend time for negotiations and avert a government shutdown. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy also raised the prospect of a short-term resolution during a Monday call with his Republican members, according to the Associated Press.

The White House has also requested tens of billions of dollars in emergency funding to support the Ukraine war effort and to help respond to the natural disasters that have struck this summer.

Smith’s two Trump prosecutions are in their early stages in federal courts in Fort Pierce, Florida, and Washington, D.C. Judge Aileen Cannon has set a May 20, 2024, trial date for Trump and two co-defendants in the special counsel’s classified records case against Trump, in which the former president is accused of conspiracy, obstruction and the mishandling of classified records.

Smith has requested a Jan. 2, 2024, trial date in the 2020 election conspiracy case against Trump in Washington, in which Trump is charged with conspiracy and the obstruction of the Jan. 6, 2021, electoral vote certification by Congress. A hearing to determine the trial date is scheduled for Aug. 28. 

Trump has pleaded not guilty in both cases.

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