House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Tuesday sought to downplay the legal case related to a hush-money payment by former president Donald Trump to an adult-film actress, saying it involved “personal money” and shouldn’t be able to be prosecuted under the statute of limitations.
He later told reporters, “We’re not coming here to defend President Trump, we’re coming to defend equal justice.”
McCarthy’s comments come as Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg appears close to deciding whether to charge Trump in the payment of $130,000 to silence adult-film actress Stormy Daniels over an alleged affair, potentially marking the first time in U.S. history a former president has been indicted. Trump has denied the affair.
While it’s not certain what the charges might be, it appears they would involve the alleged falsification of business records. That stems from Trump’s listing his reimbursement of his lawyer Michael Cohen, who in turn forwarded the money to Daniels, as “legal expenses.”
The statute of limitations on a felony charge related to false business records normally requires an indictment to happen within five years, but the statute of limitations is paused when the defendant is not continuously present in New York. Given that Trump was not in New York full-time during his presidency, and later moved his residence to Florida, prosecutors could argue he is still subject to the law.
“This was personal money. … This was seven years ago, statute of limitations,” McCarthy said.
During the news conference, McCarthy also sought to draw a comparison to an investigation into alleged misreporting of spending related to the now-infamous Steele dossier by Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Under an agreement with the Federal Election Commission, the DNC agreed to pay a fine of $105,000 and the Clinton campaign $8,000.
“We live in America and it should be equal justice,” McCarthy said, pointing out that there was no criminal prosecution in that situation.
McCarthy and many House Republicans rushed to Trump’s defense, slamming the investigation of the former president after he said on his Truth Social account Saturday that he would be indicted, and called on his supporters to protest.
While rallying to Trump, McCarthy said Trump supporters should not protest if the former president is indicted. “I don’t think people should protest this, no,” McCarthy said during a news conference Sunday. “And I think President Trump, if you talk to him, he doesn’t believe that, either.”
Posting on his Truth Social platform Saturday, Trump wrote that he “WILL BE ARRESTED ON TUESDAY” and called on people to “PROTEST.” Despite the post from his Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida, his advisers said Trump’s team did not have specific knowledge about the timing of any indictment.
McCarthy told reporters that he had not spoken to Trump in three weeks and had not talked to him about the investigation.
In January, Trump supported McCarthy as he struggled to secure the speakership, finally prevailing on the 15th ballot. Yet Trump and the man he called “my Kevin” have had an uneven relationship at best.
After a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, McCarthy said Trump was to blame and should resign, saying at one point, “I’ve had it with this guy,” according to an audio recording that was released in April.
The audio recording contradicted McCarthy’s claim that he did not want Trump to resign after the insurrection. McCarthy insisted that his remarks came as he “just walked through different scenarios” and that he “never thought that [Trump] should resign,” according to CBS News, even though McCarthy states in the audio that he was thinking about asking the president to resign.
Despite the condemnation, in late January 2021, McCarthy traveled to Trump’s private Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida, where the two discussed the GOP’s efforts to retake the House and posed for a photo together.