House GOP Seeks New Ways To Rein in Trump Prosecutors, Including Moving Fani Willis and Alvin Bragg Cases to Federal Court

A number of ideas have been floated on Capitol Hill in recent months, but the conviction of the former president places new urgency on the subject.

Justin Lane/Pool via AP
Speaker Mike Johnson, center, and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy listen as President Trump talks with reporters as he arrives at Manhattan criminal court on May 14, 2024. Justin Lane/Pool via AP

Speaker Johnson and President Trump’s allies in Congress are looking for new ways to aid the Republican nominee in his ongoing legal battles, including playing hardball during the budget process this summer or pushing legislation that would allow Trump to take his hush-money appeal into federal court and out of New York state courts. 

Mr. Johnson, who last year said he did not believe the House had the power to directly defund Special Counsel Jack Smith, now seems more open to the idea of reining in Mr. Smith following the Trump conviction at the hands of the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg.

“There’s a lot of different ideas. People are alarmed that the special counsel, in that capacity, has been abused in recent years,” Mr. Johnson said in May. “We have oversight, of course, we also have the power of the purse.”

The suggestion from the speaker that he is considering moving against the special counsel may hearten some conservatives who have been frustrated with the Louisianan in recent months. Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene first threatened to remove Mr. Johnson from the speakership when he fully funded Mr. Smith’s office during the last budget negotiation, though her motion to vacate later failed. 

The problem for Mr. Johnson in trying to “rein in” Mr. Smith is that he’ll have to go through a vanguard of old-hand appropriators in the House — most of whom don’t feel it’s their place to defund  Mr. Smith, even if they disagree with his tactics. The chairman of an appropriations subcommittee, Congressman Mike Simpson, told Politico that defunding Mr. Smith would be a “stupid” move. 

Another appropriations subcommittee chairman — Congressman Dave Joyce — has not commented on defunding Mr. Smith’s operation, but has decried the politicization of the justice system by both sides. On Wednesday, he was the lone Republican to vote against holding Attorney General Garland in contempt of Congress because he felt that Congress was taking too heavy a hand in Justice Department affairs — an argument he could make in the future when his own committee considers defunding Mr. Smith. 

“As a former prosecutor, I cannot in good conscience support a resolution that would further politicize our judicial system to score political points,” Mr. Joyce said of the contempt resolution Wednesday. “The American people expect Congress to work for them, solve policy problems, and prioritize good governance. Enough is enough.”

A more feasible option for Republicans in the House to aid Trump would be to allow the former president to move his legal issues to a federal court from a state court, a practice that is already available to members of Congress, federal judges, and other federal officials. 

Congressman Russell Fry introduced legislation to allow former presidents to move their legal issues to federal court in April 2023, just days after Trump was indicted by a grand jury at Manhattan in the hush-money case. The legislation did not go anywhere for more than a year until the Trump conviction two weeks ago, which led the Judiciary Committee, led by Congressman Jim Jordan, to take action. Mr. Johnson and his leadership team have been trying to convince their members to vote for the bill when it comes to the floor. 

Nevertheless, one Republican member tells the Sun that there was no discussion of defunding Mr. Smith or of Mr. Fry’s legislation during Trump’s visit to Washington on Thursday. In the morning, the former president met with Republican House members at a clubhouse near the Capitol building, and later met with GOP Senators at a separate location. 

On Wednesday, Mr. Johnson told reporters during his weekly press conference that he supports Mr. Fry’s legislation, but would not commit to putting it on the floor because some members reportedly have reservations. “We’re trying to preserve the integrity of the justice system, and we’ve seen some of these local and state prosecutors have used that system,” Mr. Johnson said. “I think that’s an idea that makes sense,” saying he wants to “address the two-tiered system of justice in this country.”


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