It may seem incredible to some that many in the Republican Party continue to rally behind Donald Trump as indictments pile up against him.
But Republican followers of the former president have spent years constructing a story of how a man indicted in federal court for conspiring against the U.S. is actually a victim.
Republicans in Congress have argued for years that the Justice Department, the FBI and many other elements of the federal government have been “weaponized” against Trump.
This assertion undergirds the first of two arguments that will form the GOP’s response to the Trump trials: that the charges against him are politically motivated. Their second big claim is that President Biden is really the corrupt one, not Trump.
It is a two-pronged argument that pulls in multiple other Republican talking points, about free speech and censorship and a so-called two-tiered system of justice. And even if Trump does not become the GOP nominee in 2024, these claims of a “weaponized” system and a corrupt president will likely feature prominently in the Republican Party’s election messaging to the country.
So, what is the evidence for these claims?
The Republican argument about a ‘weaponized’ government
The origin story of this argument begins with the 2016 presidential election.
The Russian government interfered in the U.S. election, hacking and dumping internal Democratic emails and boosting misinformation on social media. That has been established by a 2017 joint report from the National Security Agency, the CIA and the FBI, by the 2019 report from special counsel Robert Mueller, and by a series of five reports in 2019 and 2020 from a Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee.
As these attempts by the Russian government to “harm” Hillary Clinton’s campaign and “support” Trump’s chances of winning the election were ongoing, the FBI opened an investigation in July 2016 into links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. There was contact between Trump advisers and Russian government officials and operatives, which was extensively documented in the Mueller report.
But a report from special counsel John Durham earlier this year concluded that the FBI did not have sufficient justification to open an official investigation, and that “confirmation bias” led some FBI agents to ignore or minimize evidence that cut against the notion of “collusion” between the Russian government’s interference efforts and the Trump campaign.
FBI warrants authorizing a wiretap on a Trump foreign policy adviser named Carter Page also relied on the infamous “Steele dossier,” and one FBI agent was found to have falsified an email to renew the warrant. That agent pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year of probation in 2021.
The FBI misconduct took place under the leadership of then-Director James Comey, and current Director Christopher Wray recently described FBI missteps as “totally unacceptable.” Wray said he has implemented numerous reforms inside the FBI to prevent similar future mistakes.
Republicans have continued to insist that the FBI is biased against conservatives, citing bureau communication with social media companies on content moderation. Wray stated that the FBI does not “ask social media companies to censor information or suppress information.”
Republicans have interpreted FBI efforts to flag some content as coercion, but have not provided evidence of such coercion.
Wray told Congress last month that the Justice Department has not been “weaponized” against Republicans, and called charges that he and the FBI are biased against conservatives “insane.”
The Republican argument that Biden is corrupt
The second prong of the GOP’s argument for Trump’s presidency in 2024 rests on the notion that President Biden has acted corruptly, in league with his troubled son Hunter.
For some, this second point may serve less as a denial of Trump’s own misdeeds than an argument that both he and Biden have sinned. It would be, in that sense, a way of neutralizing — rather than defeating — the charges against Trump.
This narrative also goes back years. In fact, Trump was impeached in 2019 by a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives for withholding almost $400 million in military aid to Ukraine unless Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced an investigation into potential corruption by Biden when he was vice president under Barack Obama.
The impeachment proceedings produced additional evidence that Joe Biden’s 2015 trip to Ukraine, in which he called on Ukraine to fire prosecutor Viktor Shokin, was not to help his son or his own financial interest, but was in fact official U.S. policy — supported by U.S. allies — because Shokin was not investigating corruption effectively or aggressively.
But Republicans then and now have claimed that Biden was trying to head off an investigation into Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company that added Hunter Biden to its board in 2014.
However, Hunter Biden’s involvement with Burisma is part of a years-long pattern of the president’s son seeking to monetize his family name and connection. Republicans have claimed that President Biden himself has financially profited from Hunter’s moneymaking schemes and that he involved himself in them, but they have not provided evidence for this claim.
Hunter Biden agreed to a plea deal in June for tax evasion and a felony gun charge, leading Republicans to claim he got a “sweetheart deal.” But that agreement was scrapped by a federal judge in late July.
The GOP has not argued that Biden has done anything as serious as what Trump is accused of doing. The indictment brought against Trump on Aug. 1 alleges that he used “dishonesty, fraud and deceit” to try to overthrow an election and to “defeat” a fundamental pillar of American democracy and freedom: the peaceful transfer of power after an election.