WASHINGTON (AP) – President Donald Trump encountered bipartisan criticism on Tuesday for complaining that his own Justice Department's indictments against two Republican congressmen were endangering the GOP's midterm election prospects, with one Republican senator saying of Trump's attack, "We can't normalize that."
Trump's tweet was his latest effort to press the government's chief law enforcement agency to react to his personal and political views. Investigators are not supposed to take into account the political affiliations of the people they investigate, and the department has a history of prosecuting lawmakers of both major political parties no matter which controls the White House.
"It was over and above what he's done before," Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., told reporters. "To say the Justice Department ought to punish his enemies and protect his friends goes beyond what any president in my memory has ever said, and that we can't normalize that."
Flake has repeatedly criticized Trump for his performance as president and is not seeking re-election this fall.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said in North Korea people might see a leader saying "who you prosecute."
"No president of the United States, Republican or Democrat, has ever, ever crossed the line and told people, 'Don't prosecute Republicans. Only prosecute Democrats,'" Leahy said.
Trump tweeted on Monday, "Obama era investigations, of two very popular Republican Congressmen were brought to a well publicized charge, just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department. Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job Jeff......"
Trump did not name the Republican congressmen, but he apparently was referring to the first two Republicans to endorse him in the GOP presidential primaries. Both were indicted on separate charges last month: Rep. Duncan Hunter of California on charges that included spending campaign funds for personal expenses and Rep. Chris Collins of New York on insider-trading charges. Both have proclaimed their innocence.
AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said the Justice Department "should always remain apolitical, and the speaker has demonstrated he takes these charges seriously." Ryan has removed Collins and Hunter from their committee assignments.
The Hunter investigation began in June 2016, according to the indictment.
The indictment into Collins lays out behavior from 2017. He also was under investigation by congressional ethics officials.
Hunter has not exited his race, while Collins ended his re-election bid days after his indictment. Both seats appear likely to remain in GOP hands, but the charges have raised Democratic hopes.
A spokeswoman for Sessions declined to comment, and the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Trump did not have any public events Monday. He briefly exited the White House to a waiting motorcade but then went back inside without going anywhere.
Trump’s tweet drew a scolding Monday from Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“The United States is not some banana republic with a two-tiered system of justice — one for the majority party and one for the minority party,” Sasse said in a statement.
Trump has previously pressed Sessions to investigate his perceived enemies and has accused Sessions of failing to take control of the Justice Department. Trump also has repeatedly complained publicly and privately over Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the federal investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia because he’d worked on Trump’s campaign.
Some of the issues Trump has raised have already been examined or are being investigated.
The tension between Trump and Sessions boiled over recently with Sessions punching back, saying that he and his department “will not be improperly influenced by political considerations.” Still, Sessions has made clear to associates that he has no intention of leaving his job voluntarily despite Trump’s constant criticism.
Allies, including Republican members of Congress, have long advised Trump that firing Sessions, especially before the November midterm elections, would be deeply damaging to the party. But some have indicated that Trump may make a change after the elections.
Associated Press writers Eric Tucker, Alan Fram and Padmananda Rama in Washington and Mike Balsamo in New York City contributed to this report.