Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis sought to distance himself from formerthat he would be arrested Tuesday when he was asked about it at a news conference Monday.
"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 can't speak to that," DeSantis said.
His answer elicited laughter from the audience of supporters in Panama, Fla.
This reference to the core ofwas just one swipe within DeSantis' full answer, in which he labeled any district attorney backed by billionaire George Soros as a "menace to society" who is ignoring local crime.
"I have no interest in getting involved in some type of manufactured circus by some Soros DA," DeSantis said. "We've got so many things pending in front of the legislature. I've got to spend my time on issues that actually matter to people. I can't spend my time worrying about things of that nature."
A grand jury in Manhattan has been probing a "hush money" payment allegedly made on Trump's behalf to adult film stardays before the 2016 election. Trump was invited to testify before the grand jury last week, and in New York, the offer to testify often precedes an indictment.
But DeSantis' answer and some of the reaction — or lack of reaction — from other potential 2024 presidential candidates comes at a time when Trump is trying to gain some benefit from the investigation. His campaign has sent out multiple fundraising emails labeling the investigation as a "witch hunt" that will "threaten" his political movement.
"I will never surrender, and you will never surrender," Trump said in a video last Friday about the investigation.
"If media leaks are correct, this could be the last time I write to you before a possible indictment comes down," a Trump campaign fundraising email sent Monday claimed.
Over the weekend, MAGA Inc., a super PAC supporting Trump, sent out a press release pointing out his potential political opponents who have not yet reacted to his possible indictment. After DeSantis' response , MAGA Inc., issued a release highlighting other congressional Republicans who have voiced their support for Trump and criticized the investigation.
"DeSantis stands alone. Republicans are rallying around President Trump," their release read.
In response to DeSantis' remarks, Trump posted on Truth Social that DeSantis "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!"
In the post, Trump referenced allegations that DeSantis drank alcohol with underage students during his time as a teacher in Georgia. DeSantis has before dismissed this line of attack from Trump and said in February when asked about this, saying "I don't spend my time trying to smear other Republicans."
Over the weekend, former Vice President Mike Pence called the investigation "another politically charged prosecution against" Trump and that "people have a right to express the frustration that they feel to see a liberal Manhattan DA poised to indict a former president."
"That being said, there can be no tolerance for the kind of violence that we saw on Jan. 6, or throughout the summer of 2020," he told reporters in Iowa on Saturday when asked about Trump's calls for protests.
But Pence, who has not declared he's running for president but was in Des Moines, Iowa, last Saturday for a foreign policy event, opined that Trump can "take care of himself" and suggested it's not a big issue for primary voters.
"I had one person here [in Iowa] who mentioned this issue to me. Everybody else talked to me about issues that are affecting their families, prosperity and security in this country. And that's what my focus will remain," he said.
Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during Trump's tenure, did not bring up Trump's claims during an appearance at the Palmetto Family Council conservative forum in South Carolina this Saturday. Haley is the most notable official challenger to Trump at this time.
Sen. Tim Scott, of South Carolina, who was also speaking at last Saturday's conference and could be a presidential contender, also did not comment on Trump's claim.
Vivek Ramaswamy, the biotech entrepreneur who has launched his campaign and has been visiting early presidential primary states, called on "GOP donor-class favorites" like DeSantis and Haley to join him in calling on Bragg to abandon the investigation.
Asked about Trump's appeal to his supporters to protest if he is arrested, Ramaswamy responded, "My leadership style is very different than Donald Trump's leadership style."
Justin Sayfie, a veteran GOP lobbyist who worked with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, says a potential indictment in this case would help Trump politically, because "it fits right into his narrative that has been from the beginning: 'I'm the outsider, and all the insiders want to keep me — and us — out of power.'" He added that DeSantis' answer this morning criticizing the Manhattan D.A. and "signal[ing] ignorance about the specifics of the matter" was "pitch perfect," but said whether it's a direct dig at Trump is "up for interpretation."
"I would advise any Republican running for president to follow that prescription. Because none of them can speak to the speak to the facts of the case. But when these prosecutions appear to be partisan in nature, that deserves to be criticized," he said.
Florida Atlantic University Dr. Kevin Wagner said there's no clear way for candidates and potential Trump challengers in 2024 to react to a potential arrest. He noted the claim "puts the focus back on" Trump, which could make it harder for other candidates, declared or not, to gain traction and "get noticed."
He said candidates will have to tiptoe the line on their reaction to a potential Trump indictment, both appeasing Trump's base and distinguishing themselves from him to other conservative voters.
"These are questions that we've never had to answer before," Wagner said. "What an unprecedented universe we live in."
Fritz Farrow contributed to this report.