Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida on Monday broke his silence about the potential indictment of his state’s most famous resident, former President Donald J. Trump, attacking the Manhattan district attorney pursuing the case but also pointedly noting the personal conduct over which Mr. Trump is being investigated.
Mr. DeSantis spoke in response to a reporter’s question at an event in Panama City, Fla., after two days of pressure from Mr. Trump’s team and his influential allies demanding that the governor speak out against an indictment that is likely to be brought by Alvin L. Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney.
After a reporter asked for Mr. DeSantis’s thoughts about the potential indictment and whether he might have a role in extraditing Mr. Trump to New York, the governor demurred, saying he did not know what was going to happen.
“But I do know this: The Manhattan district attorney is a Soros-funded prosecutor,” he said of Mr. Bragg, referring to indirect financial support the district attorney received in his 2021 campaign from George Soros, the liberal billionaire philanthropist. Those donations have been the subject of attacks from Mr. Trump and other Republicans.
“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,” Mr. DeSantis said.
The Looming Indictment of Donald Trump
Then he twisted the knife regarding the actions over which Mr. Trump is likely to be indicted: hush-money payments made in late 2016 by Michael D. Cohen, then his lawyer and fixer, to a porn star who said she had an affair with Mr. Trump.
“I don’t know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair,” Mr. DeSantis said to chuckles from the crowd at the event.
“I just, I can’t speak to that,” he said. “But what I can speak to is that if you have a prosecutor who is ignoring crimes happening every single day in his jurisdiction, and he chooses to go back many, many years ago, to try to use something about porn star hush-money payments, you know, that’s an example of pursuing a political agenda and weaponizing the office.”
He added, “And I think that that’s fundamentally wrong.” He said that the “real victims are ordinary New Yorkers” because of how Mr. Bragg handled his office. He accused the district attorney of “trying to virtue signal for his base.”
In a post on his social media site, Truth Social, later in the day, Mr. Trump fired back at Mr. DeSantis in personal terms, mockingly raising questions about the governor’s sexuality. “Ron DeSanctimonious will probably find out about FALSE ACCUSATIONS & FAKE STORIES sometime in the future, as he gets older, wiser, and better known, when he’s unfairly and illegally attacked by a woman, even classmates that are ‘underage’ (or possibly a man!). I’m sure he will want to fight these misfits just like I do!” Mr. Trump wrote.
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It was a second effort after Mr. Trump deleted a shorter version. His longer post appeared to refer to an earlier insinuation by Mr. Trump that Mr. DeSantis — who is married to a woman — was inappropriately involved with students when he was a teacher in his early 20s.
Mr. DeSantis made his remarks after facing extensive pressure on social media by some of Mr. Trump’s top advisers and key allies, suggesting that the governor needed to choose a side. Several prominent Republicans had already spoken out in Mr. Trump’s defense, including both some of his rivals and top congressional allies.
Mr. DeSantis is Mr. Trump’s closest rival for the Republican presidential nomination in every public poll of the nascent 2024 race. He has not announced a campaign, but is expected to do so in a few months, after focusing on Florida’s legislative session as an opportunity to burnish his conservative credentials.
Mr. DeSantis has faced mounting attacks from Mr. Trump and his team, with Mr. Trump sampling different nicknames for his rival and the former president’s advisers seeking to portray Mr. DeSantis as disingenuous. But the Florida governor has had a strict policy of declining to engage.
Even as he commented on Mr. Trump’s legal situation, Mr. DeSantis painted himself as above the fray.
“We’ve got so many things pending in front of the Legislature,” Mr. DeSantis told reporters. “I’ve got to spend my time on issues that actually matter to people. I can’t spend my time worrying about things” like Mr. Trump’s situation.
That Mr. DeSantis seemed to minimize Mr. Trump’s situation — he is potentially the first U.S. president, current or former, to be indicted — stood out to Mr. Trump’s camp.
“So DeSantis thinks that Dems weaponizing the law to indict President Trump is a ‘manufactured circus; & isn’t a ‘real issue,’” Mr. Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. wrote on Twitter. “Pure weakness. Now we know why he was silent all weekend. He’s totally owned by Karl Rove, Paul Ryan & his billionaire donors. 100% Controlled Opposition.”
It remains to be seen how much outrage the elder Mr. Trump will summon among his core voters, who have repeatedly backed him through times of political peril. Some Republicans — who declined to speak on the record — said privately that Mr. Trump might be testing the resolve of those who have defended him through past controversies.
On Twitter, however, his most ardent defenders have been depicting the situation as a clear line in the sand.