Tennessee, Georgia Republican and Democratic lawmakers spar over Trump, Biden legal issues

The Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building is seen Friday, June 9, 2023, in Washington. Former President Donald Trump has been indicted on charges of mishandling classified documents at his Florida estate. The remarkable development makes him the first former president in U.S. history to face criminal charges by the federal government that he once oversaw. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

NASHVILLE — The indictment of former President Donald Trump by a federal grand jury on charges stemming from hundreds of classified documents seized from his Florida home has Tennessee and Georgia Republicans and Democrats seeing red and blue.

U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, accused the FBI of displaying an "unprecedented vendetta" against Trump since the businessman announced his first presidential bid in 2015.

"A few years ago, it would have been unthinkable for an attorney general to approve an FBI raid on the home of a former president," the Brentwood senator said in a statement after Trump announced his indictment on social media. "All the while, the left is employing a playbook of 'distract and deflect' that feels eerily familiar."

(READ MORE: Key moments in Trump indictment: Showing off classified material, storing documents in a bathroom)

She accused the Department of Justice and Democratic politicians of fabricating a plan to accuse Trump of collusion with Russia.

"This is our two-tiered justice system on full display," Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tennessee, said on social media. "The Biden DOJ buries investigations of President Biden and his family while it charges his political rivals. Making America look like a banana republic is incredibly irresponsible."

The Washington Post and others have reported the U.S. Justice Department is investigating President Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden, on possible violations of tax law or a violation related to his purchase of a gun. It is alleged to have occurred during a period when the younger Biden has said he was regularly using crack cocaine. It is a federal felony for an "unlawful user of ... any controlled substance" to "possess ... any firearm."

On Wednesday, U.S. House Republicans dropped plans to begin contempt of Congress proceedings against FBI Director Christopher Wray after the agency agreed to make available to the U.S. House Oversight Committee a document containing unverified reporting from confidential sources about President Biden.

Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence also had kept sensitive documents but searched for and returned them after news exploded over Trump's possession of the material.

Trump eventually returned some but not all of the records, with federal agents later searching his Mar-a-Lago home and finding more. Many of the 37 counts in his federal indictment center on allegations that he attempted to conceal or withhold documents or obstruct efforts to return them to the government.

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Ooltewah, issued a statement.

"Since President Trump took office, there has been a relentless effort to undermine and destroy him by any means necessary, the indictment shows the weaponization of the DOJ and FBI against Donald Trump," he said. "America cannot allow or tolerate a two-tiered system of justice."

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Northwest Georgia, also criticized the indictment.

"37 counts of election interference is exactly what the DOJ just committed," she said on social media.

U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Georgia, spoke up on Twitter.

"President Trump's indictment isn't just a dangerous display of our two-tiered system of justice and weaponized government," he said. "It's election interference."

Trump's former attorney general, Republican Bill Barr, pushed back on criticism that the indictment was politically motivated.

"Over time, people will see that this is not a case of the Department of Justice conducting a witch hunt," Barr said in a CBS News interview. "In fact, they approached this very delicately and with deference to the president, and this would have gone nowhere had the president just returned the documents. But he jerked them around for a year and a half."

Democratic U.S. Rep. Nikima Williams, D-Georgia, took aim at Trump and Republican lawmakers' criticisms, saying the law is the law.

"It doesn't matter if you're a billionaire, cop, or even the president of the United States. NO ONE is above the law," she said on social media. "The law applies to EVERYONE equally."

(READ MORE: What to know about the documents case and what's next)

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, of Memphis, Tennessee's sole Democratic congressman, compared Trump unfavorably to former President Richard Nixon, who left office rather than face impeachment by the U.S. House for his involvement in the Watergate scandal.

"At least Nixon went quietly into the night," Cohen stated in a tweet.

Some Democrats criticized Republicans, including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, for statements suggesting the president of the United States or POTUS was behind the action by special counsel Jack Smith.

"POTUS didn't indict Trump, a grand jury of Trump's peers in FL did," U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Georgia said on social media. "You know this, but you and your party continue to spread misinformation."

  photo  Special counsel Jack Smith speaks to reporters Friday, June 9, 2023, in Washington. Former President Donald Trump is facing 37 felony charges related to the mishandling of classified documents according to an indictment unsealed on Friday. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
 
 

Time in Tennessee

Smith is a former career U.S. Department of Justice Department prosecutor who once headed the DOJ's Public Integrity Section.

Smith in 2017 moved to Tennessee, where he served for several months as acting U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee during the transition period between President Barack Obama and Trump.

He then worked briefly at Nashville-based health giant HCA. He later served as the top prosecutor in The Hague investigating war crimes.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland later put Smith in charge of investigating Trump's effort to overturn 2020 election results, including the lead-up to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

(READ MORE: Trump charged over classified documents in 1st federal indictment of an ex-president)

The other task was Trump's retention of classified materials at his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida.

Nashville attorney Gary Blackburn said by phone Friday he knew of Smith in his role as acting U.S. attorney but never dealt with him directly.

"His reputation was as a very straight arrow. Not exactly hail-fellow-well-met," Blackburn said, chuckling. "But a real serious career prosecutor."

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-285-9480.