Steve Bannon, from left, and Sens. Marco Rubio and J.D....

Steve Bannon, from left, and Sens. Marco Rubio and J.D. Vance. Credit: AP / Steven Hirsch, John Raoux, Ty O'Neil

Last week, on the heels of Donald Trump’s conviction in Manhattan for falsifying business records to conceal hush-money payments to a porn star, there was more legal trouble for Trump’s associates.

Former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows has pleaded not guilty in an Arizona court to nine felony counts related to a scheme to seat fake electors to overturn Trump’s loss to Joe Biden in November 2020. Three Trump campaign staffers have been charged with a felony in a similar scheme in Arizona. And former Trump chief adviser and strategist Steve Bannon has been ordered to report to prison on July 1 to serve a four-month sentence for defying a subpoena from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riot.

Amid all these events highlighting criminality in Trump world, the Republican response has been, increasingly, to attack the justice system.

“This is disgraceful. It’s time for Republicans to unite and fight back against this lawfare,” Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) posted on X (formerly Twitter) in response to the order for Bannon to start serving his term. “Lawfare” is a term used by the GOP for weaponizing legal institutions against political or personal enemies.

Earlier, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) had compared Trump’s conviction to “sham trials” in the Soviet Union and Fidel Castro’s Cuba. Both Vance and Rubio, by the way, are on Trump’s shortlist of vice presidential picks.

In reality, Bannon was properly convicted of refusing to comply with a congressional subpoena. Another Trump associate, former White House staffer Peter Navarro, is serving a similar sentence for a similar crime. And while some legal experts who are not Trump partisans have questioned Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s decision to bring the hush-money case against Trump, many others believe that the case turned out to be stronger than expected, with abundant evidence of Trump’s involvement in directing the payments to squash a scandal that could have damaged his 2016 campaign.

While it’s an article of faith on the right that the justice system under the Biden administration is being selectively used to target conservative Republicans, it’s difficult to make this argument at a moment when the president’s own son, Hunter Biden, is on trial for a rarely prosecuted offense: lying about his drug use on an application for a firearm license. And Sen. Robert Menendez, the Democrat from New Jersey, is currently on trial for bribery.

Meanwhile, Trump has benefited from endless delays in three other felony cases — two related to 2020 election interference and one to mishandling classified documents after leaving the White House. Trump’s legal team has used every loophole to ensure that those cases don’t go to trial before the November election. At least in the classified documents case, there is a strong appearance of favoritism by Trump appointee Aileen Cannon, who has refused to dismiss the charges but has indefinitely postponed the trial.

How all this “lawfare” on the right will play out in November, we don’t know yet. Bannon has always been a high-profile Trump aide, and his prison term could become emblematic of the political thuggery around Trump. And Republican attacks on the courts may not play well with the American public outside Trump’s loyal base when polls show a majority of voters, including 56% of independents, believe Trump was rightly convicted.

Republicans have always positioned themselves as the party of law and order. In 2024, they’re the party that wants to “fight back” against the rule of law.


Opinions expressed by Cathy Young, a writer for The Bulwark, are her own.


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