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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis indirectly condemns Trump indictment on campaign trail

CBS News poll on Trump indictment
CBS News poll: GOP primary voters are more concerned Trump's indictment is political 03:26

As he hit the campaign trail this weekend, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis defended former President Donald Trump after he was indicted for his alleged mishandling of classified documents, but noted that he would have been punished if he had taken home classified documents as a naval officer.

In a speech at the North Carolina Republican convention on Friday, DeSantis referenced the decision by former FBI director James Comey to recommend no charges be filed in the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server while she was the nation's top diplomat. But his comments came as Trump was charged with 37 felony counts related to his handling of classified material after he left the White House in 2021.  

"As a naval officer, if I would have taken classified [documents] to my apartment, I would have been court-martialed in a New York minute," DeSantis said. 

"Is there a different standard for a Democrat secretary of state versus a former Republican president?" DeSantis added. "I think there needs to be one standard of justice in this country. Let's enforce it on everybody and make sure we all know the rules. You can't have one faction of society weaponizing the power of the state against factions that it doesn't like and that's what you see."

GOP Presidential Hopefuls Attend North Carolina Republican Convention
Republican presidential candidate Florida Governor Ron DeSantis delivers remarks June 9, 2023 in Greensboro, North Carolina. / Getty Images

Trump was given a prime speaking slot Saturday night at the same North Carolina Republican convention, where he railed against the indictment and showed no sign of stepping away from the 2024 race. A CBS News poll conducted last week showed Trump still maintained a nearly 40-point edge over DeSantis, who is still seen as the greatest threat to Trump in the 2024 race. 

A day later, at a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, DeSantis did not directly reference Trump's indictment. Instead, he called for the end of the "weaponization" of law enforcement. 

Joe Young, a veteran and Republican, told CBS News at a rodeo DeSantis attended in Ponca City, Oklahoma, that he also would have been punished if he mishandled classified information. 

"I was in the military for 20 years," Young said. "Anybody that blatantly disregards classified information, well, they should be held accountable. If it was me that did it, my ass would already be in prison." 

DeSantis did not answer a question on Saturday on whether he had read the full Trump indictment. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, who endorsed DeSantis during the Tulsa rally, called the indictment "a political tool to take out an opponent."

"The weaponization of the federal government is very, very concerning for Americans and Oklahomans," he told reporters at the rodeo.

A video posted Saturday by the pro-DeSantis super PAC "Never Back Down" criticizes the DOJ for the indictment, and echoes DeSantis' critiques of Hunter Biden and the "weaponization" of federal agencies. 

In the indictment that was unsealed Friday, the Justice Department alleged Trump kept the classified documents in boxes stored at Mar-a-Lago, including in a bathroom and shower, a ballroom and his bedroom. The documents allegedly contained information on U.S. nuclear programs, potential vulnerabilities of the U.S. and its allies to a military attack and plans for potential retaliation in response to an attack, according to the indictment. 

"The unauthorized disclosure of these classified documents could put at risk the national security of the United States, foreign relations, the safety of the United States military, and human sources and the continued viability of sensitive intelligence collection methods," the indictment said. 

Trump, who denies any wrongdoing, is also alleged to have shown the classified documents to people who lacked a security clearance and also to have obstructed the National Archives and Records Administration and the Justice Department's efforts to recover the documents. 

After Trump broke the news Thursday night that he was being indicted, DeSantis said the decision to bring charges was a "weaponization of federal law enforcement represents a mortal threat to a free society." 

"We have for years witnessed an uneven application of the law depending upon political affiliation," he said in a tweet. "Why so zealous in pursuing Trump yet so passive about Hillary or Hunter [Biden]?" 

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