DeSantis says Trump shouldn’t be charged in 2020 election probe

By James Oliphant

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Florida Governor Ron DeSantis came to the defense of former President Donald Trump on Tuesday, assailing as politically motivated attempts to hold his rival for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination legally accountable for trying to overturn the 2020 election.

“I hope he doesn’t get charged,” DeSantis told CNN in one of his first sit-down interviews with a mainstream national news outlet since becoming a candidate in late May. “I don’t think it’ll be good for the country.”

DeSantis, who has largely favored speaking to friendly conservative outlets, appeared on CNN the same day Trump said he had been told he was a target in a grand jury probe centered on his efforts to stay in power after losing the election to President Joe Biden.

“We’ve gone down the road in this country of trying to criminalize differences in politics,” DeSantis said.

The rare interview with CNN suggested a shift in tactics to catch Trump, who leads DeSantis in the race for the Republican nomination in opinion polls by double-digit percentage points.

While DeSantis has proven to be a strong fundraiser, his campaign recently laid off several staffers in an attempt to slow its rate of spending.

In the interview, DeSantis said his campaign is “making progress” and remains focused on building a strong on-the-ground organization in next year’s early nominating states, including Iowa and South Carolina.

“This is a state-by-state process,” he said.

DeSantis, 44, became the national face of resistance to COVID-19 mask and vaccine mandates. He has taken the lead on hot-button cultural issues such as the teaching of race relations and gender identity in public schools.

When Walt Disney Co, one of Florida’s biggest employers, opposed a new state law limiting discussion of LGBTQ issues in schools, DeSantis moved to strip the company of its self-governing status.

When an elected Democratic state attorney said he would not prosecute anyone over abortion or transgender care, DeSantis removed him.

(Reporting by James Oliphant; Editing by Howard Goller)