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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

DeSantis criticizes N.Y. prosecutor while invoking Trump’s alleged ‘porn star hush money payments’

By Amy B Wang</p><p>and Hannah Knowles Washington Post

Republcian Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took slight digs at potential 2024 rival Donald Trump Monday amid talk – driven by the former president himself – that Trump expects to be indicted this week by a grand jury in New York.

Asked at a state college appearance Monday about the possibility of a Trump indictment, DeSantis first criticized Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, for “pursuing a political agenda and weaponizing the office.” Bragg, who was elected district attorney in 2020, has been investigating Trump’s role in alleged hush-money payments to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels.

But DeSantis also couldn’t resist making references to the allegations against Trump.

“Look, 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, prompting laughter and applause from the audience.

Later, DeSantis once again mentioned “porn star hush money payments.”

DeSantis accused Bragg several times of having ties to George Soros, the billionaire philanthropist who has donated millions to liberal campaigns and causes. Soros is a frequent target of baseless right-wing accusations rooted in antisemitism.

“When you’re talking about these Soros-funded prosecutors, yes, they may do a high-profile, politicized prosecution, and that’s bad,” DeSantis said. “But the real victims are ordinary New Yorkers, ordinary Americans in all these different jurisdictions, but they get victimized every day because of the reckless political agenda that these Soros D.A.’s bring to their job.”

Though DeSantis has not formally announced his presidential candidacy, the Florida governor has been traveling to early primary states to promote his book and has emerged as Trump’s chief rival for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. DeSantis’ moves have prompted attacks from Trump, who announced in November that he was running for office again.

Asked if the state of Florida would play a role in any possible extradition of Trump to New York, DeSantis said he would not get involved in the matter.

“We are not involved in this, won’t be involved in this,” DeSantis said. “I have no interest in getting involved in some type of manufactured circus. … He’s trying to do a political spectacle.” DeSantis was referring to Bragg.

DeSantis’s remarks came after Trump allies took note of the governor’s silence over the weekend on Trump’s possible indictment, as many Republicans denounced the idea. In a message on his social media platform Saturday morning, Trump wrote that he “WILL BE ARRESTED ON TUESDAY OF NEXT WEEK. PROTEST, TAKE OUR NATION BACK!”

“Radio silence” from DeSantis, Trump adviser Jason Miller tweeted on Saturday afternoon, while thanking former vice president Mike Pence and declared GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy for weighing in critically.

Speaking to reporters after a 2024 forum in South Carolina this weekend, Ramaswamy – an entrepreneur and author waging a long-shot campaign centered on opposition to what he calls “wokeism” – challenged other declared and likely presidential contenders to “join me in calling on the New York Manhattan district attorney to abandon this political persecution through prosecution.” He specifically named DeSantis.

The response Monday was also one of many subtler shots DeSantis has taken at Trump while refraining from direct criticism of the politician who helped him become governor.

Trump’s enthusiastic endorsement of DeSantis in the 2018 gubernatorial race helped him pull off a primary upset and beat the establishment-backed candidate, Adam Putnam. DeSantis famously highlighted Trump’s support in a viral campaign ad that showed him teaching one of his children to “build the wall” with blocks.

But their publicly friendly relationship has long masked private tensions and misgivings, according to some people who know the men. And Trump began to publicly insult DeSantis last fall as a 2024 clash loomed, testing out the nickname “Ron DeSanctimonious” at a rally.

The attacks ramped up after DeSantis won reelection in Florida last November by a nearly 20-point margin while some Trump-endorsed candidates lost critical races, intensifying GOP doubts about Trump and interest in DeSantis as a new standard-bearer.

Trump has continued to rail against DeSantis as disloyal and called him a “Republican in Name Only,” looking to associate him with establishment GOP figures such as former House speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis. Trump’s team is also hoping to draw a contrast with DeSantis’s scripted style, by making impromptu stops and holding extensive question-and-answer sessions on the campaign trail.

DeSantis has largely sidestepped Trump’s criticism while embracing much of his agenda and drawing implicit contrasts.

“I’m appreciative of a lot of things he did,” he told Fox News as he launched his book tour. “It doesn’t mean I agree with everything he’s doing lately.”

At book tour stops, DeSantis has repeatedly touted his administration’s work to quickly rebuild bridges after a hurricane and suggested he could send people to the southern border to build a wall – an allusion to Trump’s campaign promise from 2016.

“We’ll get it done,” he told one crowd to cheers.