Washington (AFP) -
Senior Republicans Sunday echoed Donald Trump's claim that a looming indictment in a hush-money case would amount to political 'persecution,' while Democrats warned his call for protests could trigger a repeat of chaos his supporters unleashed at the US Capitol.
In an explosive announcement Saturday, the former president said he expected to be 'arrested' Tuesday in connection with a grand jury inquiry into a 2016 payment to a porn star, allegedly to keep her from revealing a past affair with Trump.
Even potential Republican rivals in the still-evolving 2024 presidential race reacted sharply.
'I'm taken aback at the idea of indicting a former president of the United States at a time when there's a crime wave in New York City,' Trump's former vice president Mike Pence said on ABC's 'This Week.'
'It just feels like a politically charged prosecution here,' said Pence. 'I just feel like it's just not what the American people want to see.'
The Manhattan District Attorney's Office has not confirmed any plans for an indictment, though multiple signs -- including the recent appearances before the grand jury of Trump's former fixer Michael Cohen and the porn star known as Stormy Daniels -- point to a quick conclusion.
Trump has denied any untoward involvement with Daniels. But law enforcement agencies are preparing for a possible indictment, with chaotic scenes outside the Manhattan Criminal Court a near-certainty if it does happen.
- Building 'sympathy' for Trump? -
The stunning possibility of a former president being arrested -- a historic first -- has fanned passions and injected considerable uncertainty into the 2024 campaign.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a vocal supporter of the former president, called a possible indictment 'an effort that's ongoing, never-ending to destroy Donald Trump, everything around Donald Trump.'
Even Governor Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, an outspoken Trump critic and a potential rival for the 2024 nomination, suggested an indictment could generate a powerful backlash.
'I think it's building a lot of sympathy for the former president,' he told CNN Sunday talk show 'State of the Union.'
'It does drastically change the paradigm, as we go into the '24 election,' he said, adding of a possible indictment: 'It's going to be a circus.'
Trump's call on his Truth Social platform for his backers to 'Protest! Protest! Protest!' and 'Take our nation back!' was seen by Democrats as a worrying echo of his language ahead of the January 6, 2021 rioting by his supporters at the US Capitol.
Pence, Sununu and other Republicans defended the right to protest any legal action against Trump, so long as people do so peacefully.
But Pence's former chief of staff, Marc Short, told CNN that 'trying to encourage protests in the shadow of January 6th is reckless.'
- Fear of 'violence' -
Democrats said they feared Trump's call could provoke violence.
Nancy Pelosi, the former House of Representatives speaker, on Saturday called Trump's announcement 'reckless,' saying he was trying to 'foment unrest among his supporters.'
Democrat Mark Kelly recalled being in the Senate chamber when the January 6 riots forced him and other lawmakers to seek shelter, and expressed concern that Trump urging protests could spark a repeat of life-threatening unrest.
'I think it's going to be important for law enforcement to pay attention to protests and make sure it doesn't rise to the level of violence' seen at the Capitol two years ago, Kelly said on CNN.
Short suggested Trump might be drawing attention to the Manhattan case to plant the notion that other state and federal inquiries into his past actions, seen as legally more serious, are 'all politically based.'
The current House speaker, Republican Kevin McCarthy, on Saturday said Trump's arrest would be 'an outrageous abuse of power by a radical DA,' adding he would direct congressional committees to investigate whether federal funds are 'being used to subvert our democracy.'
Some saw that as a thinly veiled threat to the office of Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg, who is leading the hush-money inquiry.
As security agencies prepared for possible protests outside his courthouse, Bragg told staff Saturday in an internal message that intimidation or threats against them would not be tolerated, NBC reported.