DeSantis breaks his silence on the 'manufactured circus' around expected Trump indictment: 'I don't know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star'
Over the weekend, DeSantis stayed silent about Trump's expected indictment.
He addressed the issue on Monday by bashing the DA but without naming Trump.
He also criticized Trump over his alleged affair with Stormy Daniels.
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida has ended his silence on former President Donald Trump's expected indictment by a Manhattan grand jury.
DeSantis, who is considered to be Trump's biggest rival should he challenge the former president for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, on Monday criticized the investigation as politically motivated — while not saying Trump's name and still taking a dig at the ex-president over his alleged affair with adult film actress Stormy Daniels.
Hours after DeSantis made his comments, Trump shot back on Truth Social Monday, warning DeSantis that he could one day face salacious allegations, including from women or men, or "underage" classmates.
DeSantis said that his administration would not be getting involved in the situation, calling it a "manufactured circus" by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.
"He's trying to virtue signal for his base," DeSantis said when a reporter asked him to address the issue during a press conference in Panama City, Florida. "I've got real issues I got to deal with here in the state of Florida."
The fact that DeSantis held a press conference on Monday — and then took questions — showed that he expected to be asked about Trump and wanted to address the situation. Unlike Trump's freewheeling style, DeSantis is highly scripted and prepared at public events. He doesn't address controversies when he doesn't want to.
DeSantis said that he'd seen the "rumors" about the forthcoming indictment but said he didn't know what would happen. The governor cannot stop Trump's extradition from Florida though he could slow the process, Insider previously reported. If Trump surrenders voluntarily from his Mar-a-Lago home in Palm Beach, then DeSantis won't be called on to act.
"I've got to spend my time on issues that actually matter to people," DeSantis said Monday. "I can't spend my time worrying about things or things of that nature. So so we're not going to be involved in it in any way. I'm fighting for Floridians and I'm fighting back against Biden. That's what I do every single day."
Amid criticism from Trump and his campaign, DeSantis generally has stayed away from hitting Trump directly. Instead, his messages tend to be more subliminal. For instance, he held a press conference last year about COVID vaccine skepticism in West Palm Beach, which is close to Trump's permanent home. Trump was president when the federal government fast-tracked the vaccine, and conservative voters have been more likely to reject boosters.
DeSantis continued his less direct tactic on Monday, even as he bashed the investigation as politically motivated.
"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," DeSantis said before a crowd of supporters, who laughed at the remarks.
The New York investigation in question stems from a $130,000 payment that Michael Cohen, Trump's former lawyer and fixer, made to Daniels' lawyer days before the 2016 presidential election so she would stay quiet about a 2006 alleged affair with Trump.
In 2018, Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison after he admitted to wiring the payment, which he has sworn under oath that Trump had authorized. Prosecutors say the payment was an illegal campaign contribution. Trump has denied having an affair with Daniels, rejected accusations that the payment was unlawful, and criticized the investigation as a plot.
DeSantis has not faced any accusations of having an affair or of being sexually involved with men or minors. At least 26 women have accused Trump of sexual misconduct; he has denied all the allegations.
On Monday, DeSantis used another part of his answer about Trump to pivot what he sees as one of his lead policy accomplishments.
He began by criticizing Bragg for his record in New York amid rising crime and noted that George Soros, a Hungarian-American businessman who supports criminal justice reform, contributed to Bragg's campaign. Bragg received donations through Color of Change PAC, a racial justice committee that gets funding from Soros.
"If you have a prosecutor who is ignoring the crimes happening every single day in his jurisdiction, and then he chooses to go back many, many years ago, to try to use something about porn-star hush money payments, that's an example of doing a political agenda and weaponizing the office and I think that that's fundamentally wrong," DeSantis said.
Trump has similarly attacked Bragg over his donors, including as recently as Monday morning.
DeSantis called Bragg and other "a menace to society" and noted that he'd been the only governor in the US to fight back by suspending prosecutor Andrew Warren, also backed by Soros, from his post in Tampa after he said he wouldn't enforce Florida's abortion laws.
The Trump campaign hit DeSantis over the weekend when he failed to issue a statement as news swirled predicting Trump's expected indictment this week. The only tweet DeSantis sent over the weekend was to tout his accomplishments during the Hurricane Ian recovery efforts.
Trump campaign senior adviser Jason Miller took note of DeSantis' "radio silence" on the issue and GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy urged DeSantis to call on Bragg to "abandon the political persecution" of Trump.
DeSantis' Monday comments about Bragg didn't assuage the 45th president's team. Instead, they unloaded on him, noting DeSantis didn't once use Trump's name in his remarks.
"Actually people do care about this because it is crossing a point of no return, turning the greatest nation on earth into a third world nation. Oh, you've got better things to do? Like getting back on your Murdoch-funded book tour? You're not fooling anyone," tweeted Liz Harrington, Trump campaign spokeswoman, referring to DeSantis' promotion of his new book, "The Courage to be Free."
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