By JILL COLVIN and MEG KINNARD
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) -- Top Republicans, including some of Donald Trump's potential rivals for the GOP's 2024 presidential nomination, rushed to his defense Saturday after Trump said he is bracing for possible arrest.
"The idea of indicting a former president of the United States is deeply troubling to me as it is to tens of millions of Americans," said former Vice President Mike Pence, a likely Trump rival, during a visit to Iowa, an early-voting state. Tech investor Vivek Ramaswamy, campaigning in South Carolina, said he didn't want to live in a country where "the party in power is able to use police force to arrest its political opposition."
The reaction underscores the political risks faced by would-be opponents who are eager to convince voters that it is time to move on from the former president, but who must contend with the fact that he remains the most popular figure in the party. The multiple investigations Trump is facing -- his post on social media about the Manhattan district attorney's probe led to the public declarations of support -- remain deeply unpopular with his supporters and criticizing Trump too harshly risks alienating his loyal base.
Trump garnered similar support last summer after the FBI searched his Mar-a-Lago club as part of an investigation into his handling of classified documents. The search also proved a fundraising boon.
Among those coming to Trump's defense were House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who said a possible indictment would be "an outrageous abuse of power by a radical DA who lets violent criminals walk as he pursues political vengeance" against Trump.
McCarthy, R-Calif., said he would direct relevant GOP-led House committees "to immediately investigate if federal funds are being used to subvert our democracy by interfering in elections with politically motivated prosecutions." McCarthy has not endorsed Trump's White House campaign, but Trump helped McCarthy secure the speakership after a contentious campaign that required multiple rounds of voting.
New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, the third-ranking House Republican and an early Trump endorser, said action by the district attorney would be "unAmerican."
The comments came hours after Trump claimed in a social media post that he expects to be arrested this coming week as New York prosecutor Alvin Bragg mulls charges in an investigation into hush money payments to women who alleged sexual encounters with Trump. A Trump lawyer and spokesman said Saturday that Trump, who has long denied the charges, had been responding in that post to media reports and had no independent knowledge of any pending legal action.
Trump, in a message on his Truth Social network, nonetheless declared that, "THE FAR & AWAY LEADING REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE & FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, WILL BE ARRESTED ON TUESDAY OF NEXT WEEK." He then called on his supporters to "PROTEST, PROTEST, PROTEST!!!" recalling the pleas he made before the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Any potential violence spurred by Trump's comments could change the tenor of reaction. But on Saturday, several of Trump's declared and potential rivals were quick to blast the district attorney's investigation.
Pence, who has been escalating his criticism of the former president in recent weeks, said the news was particularly troubling, "happening in what appears to be a politically-charged environment in New York where the attorney general and other elected officials literally campaigned on a pledge to prosecutor the former president."
"No one is above the law," he added. "I'm confident President Trump can take care of himself. My focus is going to continue to be on the issues that are affecting the American people."
Pence had been noncommittal when asked Thursday if Trump should drop out if he is indicted. "I think it's a free country. Everybody can make their own decisions," he said.
Trump has said he would continue his presidential campaign even if indicted.
Ramaswamy, who is already a declared candidate, earlier called on Bragg to "reconsider."
"A Trump indictment would be a national disaster," Ramaswamy tweeted. "It is un-American for the ruling party to use police power to arrest its political rivals."
Representatives for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, another potential candidate who is seen as Trump's most serious rival, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Saturday -- a decision publicized by a super PAC supporting Trump's candidacy. Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, another declared candidate, did not address the investigation while campaigning in South Carolina.
Ramaswamy called on Haley and DeSantis to join him in condemning the possible indictment.
Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance, who won his race in 2022 with Trump's endorsement, said he had been asked by multiple reporters if an indictment would lead him to rescind support for Trump's campaign.
"The answer is: hell no. A politically motivated prosecution makes the argument for Trump stronger," he tweeted. "We simply don't have a real country if justice depends on politics."
Prosecutors have been investigating hush money payments made to two women who alleged sexual encounters with Trump decades ago. A grand jury has been hearing from witnesses including former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who says he orchestrated payments in 2016 to the women in exchange for their silence.
Trump denies the encounters and has cast the investigation as a "witch hunt" by a Democratic prosecutor bent on sabotaging Trump's latest presidential campaign. Trump has said he believes an indictment would help him in the 2024 race.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a longtime ally, said he agreed.
"The prosecutor in New York has done more to help Donald Trump get elected," Graham said Saturday at the Vision '24 conference in North Charleston, South Carolina. "They're doing this because they're afraid of Donald Trump."
Colvin reported from New York. Associated Press writers Holly Ramer in Keene, New Hampshire, and Michelle R. Smith in Providence, Rhode Island, contributed to this report.