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How Vermont GOP chair and Gov. Scott are reacting to the Trump indictment

A photo of Donald Trump at a microphone against a blue background
Alex Brandon
Associated Press File
Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC 2023, March 4, 2023, at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland. A grand jury indicted Trump on Thursday, making him the first ex-president to be charged with a crime.

Vermont Republican leaders differed Friday in their response to the indictment of former President Donald Trump by a Manhattan grand jury.

Vermont GOP Chair Paul Dame said it was too early to judge the case without more information about the charges and evidence, but he said Republicans fear a political motivation: "The question is, are Democrats abusing their power to focus on hurting their political opponents?" Dame said, speaking on Vermont Edition.

Dame also questioned whether prosecuting Trump was the best use of the time and resources of the Manhattan district attorney.

Meanwhile Republican Gov. Phil Scott said it's a "sad day for our country."

"You know my feelings about the former president," said Scott, who has never supported Trump and said he voted for President Joe Biden in the 2020 election. "But at the same time, we have a responsibility to make sure that everyone adheres to the law. We don't know, first of all, what charges are being brought against the former president. And we have to allow the courts to work through that."

Speaking in an interview with Vermont Public, Scott said Trump's response to the potential charges has been harmful. Earlier this month Trump warned of “potential death and destruction" tied to what Trump called a "false charge."

"It's harmful to the country," Scott said. "Another sad day when a former president would say something like that, who swore an oath to the Constitution and leading our country, to try and incite more violence. ... we don't need that."

Note: Dame's official statement, embedded above, incorrectly frames the indictment as being done by “a member of the opposing party.” Trump was indicted by vote of a grand jury in Manhattan. District Attorney Alvin Bragg is the prosecutor who brought evidence before the jury.

Indictment 101

What's a grand jury?

It's a group of 16 to 23 citizens who hear a wide range of criminal cases, according to the U.S. Courts website. They're seated for up to 24 months at a time under the auspices of a U.S. attorney's office.

They hear testimony behind closed doors only from federal prosecutors — not from the accused or their lawyer(s).

The Handbook for Federal Grand Jurors says: "Federal law requires that a grand jury be selected at random from a fair cross section of the community in the district or division in which the federal grand jury convenes."

How does the indictment process work? (Thanks to VermontGuy1982 for asking on Reddit.)

“An indictment is a finding by a secret grand jury that there's sufficient evidence of a crime being committed to warrant a trial," says Linda Fowler, a government professor emerita at Dartmouth College. Fowler spoke with Vermont Edition on Friday, and said you need a majority of grand jurors to indict someone.

According to the U.S. Courts website, grand jury indictments are returned to a district court in a closed hearing, and are usually sealed until after an arrest is made.

"Indictments list the offenses allegedly committed by defendants and describe the facts supporting those allegations," the U.S. Courts website says. "An indictment is a road map to what the prosecution intends to prove at trial."

What happens next?

Trump will be photographed and finger-printed, according to Fowler.

Then the former president will make an appearance in court and plead guilty or not guilty.

Fowler says a judge will deliberate whether Trump is a flight risk and needs to be held in jail, or if he can be released.

“The chances are, he’ll go back to Mar-a-Lago," Fowler said.

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