DeSantis criticizes Manhattan DA for Trump probe, takes veiled swipe at rival

FILE PHOTO: Florida Governor DeSantis makes his first trip to Iowa at a book tour stop in Davenport, Iowa
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis makes his first trip to the early voting state of Iowa for a book tour stop at the Rhythm City Casino Resort in Davenport, Iowa, U.S. March 10, 2023. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON, March 20 (Reuters) - Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, seen as a leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, broke his silence on Monday on the expected indictment of former President Donald Trump for hush money payments to a porn star, hitting out at a New York prosecutor but also taking a veiled swipe at Trump.

Politico reported that a grand jury was preparing to indict Trump, the front-runner for the Republican 2024 nomination. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is investigating whether Trump illegally authorized and financed a $130,000 hush-money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels in the waning stages of the 2016 presidential campaign in order to cover up an extramarital affair.

Trump said on Saturday he expected to be arrested on Tuesday, prompting several prominent Republicans, including his former vice president, Mike Pence, a potential 2024 rival, to denounce the investigation as an abuse of power. DeSantis, however, remained silent, angering many in Trump's orbit as well as his supporters.

DeSantis has not declared a presidential run but is widely expected to do so and is by far Trump's most formidable Republican challenger.

At a press conference DeSantis criticized Bragg but did not dismiss the case against Trump outright.

"The Manhattan district attorney is a Soros-funded prosecutor, and so he, like other Soros-funded prosecutors, they weaponize their office to impose a political agenda on society at the expense of the rule of law and public safety," DeSantis said, referring to Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros, a long-time funder of progressive causes and often cited by supporters of right-wing causes.

"I don't know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair, I just, I can't speak to that," he said.

DeSantis added that he had "no interest in getting involved" in a potential extradition of Trump to New York from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida by authorities.

Other than Pence and DeSantis, most major declared and prospective Republican presidential candidates have remained silent on the issue.

At least one possible contender, former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, has said Trump should drop out of the race if he is indicted in Manhattan.

Reporting by Gram Slattery and Rich McKay, editing by Ross Colvin and Grant McCool

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Thomson Reuters

Washington-based correspondent covering campaigns and Congress. Previously posted in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Santiago, Chile, and has reported extensively throughout Latin America. Co-winner of the 2021 Reuters Journalist of the Year Award in the business coverage category for a series on corruption and fraud in the oil industry. He was born in Massachusetts and graduated from Harvard College.