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    Criminal indictments against Donald Trump are ‘political persecution,’ Utah GOP leaders say

    The governing body of the Utah Republican Party overwhelmingly passed a resolution on Saturday that calls the four criminal indictments and 91 felony charges against former President Donald Trump “political persecution.”

    The resolution, which was overwhelmingly passed by the Utah GOP’s State Central Committee on Saturday afternoon, condemns Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and special counsel Jack Smith for “corruptly and unlawfully” targeting Trump. It also says the charges against Trump, which include paying hush money to an adult film actress and his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Joe Biden, were “based on political grounds.”

    “The Fifth Amendment guarantees citizens are innocent until proven guilty, and Donald J. Trump has been innocent of any and all crimes he’s been accused of,” the resolution reads.

    “I don’t think it’s fair that our nation is being led by these district attorneys that are funded by George Soros and other leftist organizations that are criminally indicting Donald Trump,” Casey Gale, the author of the resolution, said. “There’s no tangible evidence that ties into any of this.”

    The resolution calls on Utah’s members of Congress to condemn the “continuous political persecution” of Trump.

    The party leaders also narrowly rejected a new rule aimed at cracking down on media access and limiting critical news coverage.

    Had it passed, the rule would have established procedures for media members who cover Utah Republican Party events and contained a provision preventing media members from publishing anything about party meetings if they’ve blocked that person on social media. That provision was watered down during debate to deny access to media members who have blocked any member of the party’s state central committee online.

    Goud Maragani, who was revealed to have authored social media posts embracing baseless conspiracy theories about fraud in the 2020 election during his unsuccessful run for Salt Lake County Clerk in 2022, said it’s not fair for reporters to block the subjects of their news stories on social media.

    “If you have reporters come in, attack certain members and then block them online and make it so they can’t respond, that could cause damage. They [party members] don’t have the ability to hit the same amount of reach as the reporter can. This just gives the people being attacked or highlighted the ability to respond in the same [social media] thread,” Maragani, who leads the Utah Log Cabin Republicans, said.

    (Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Goud Maragani as the Utah Republican Party holds its quarterly State Central Committee meeting in Sandy on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2023.

    Opponents of the social media provision worried it would cast Republicans in a bad light.

    “Utah Republican Party, what are we doing? I feel this hinders the First Amendment and we’re all about the First Amendment,” Daniela Harding, former Davis County GOP chair, said.

    “What we’re doing here is not a good look for the party,” James Evans, former state party chairman, added.

    Internal party drama

    One of the most anticipated items on Saturday’s agenda fizzled out after Maragani withdrew his proposed censure of Salt Lake County Council member Aimee Winder Newton. Maragani sought to punish Winder Newton — also a senior adviser to Gov. Spencer Cox and director of the Office of Families — for participating in a fundraiser for Equality Utah and receiving the group’s endorsement in her 2022 reelection race. His resolution accused Equality Utah of pushing “sex reassignment surgery for minors,” and of partnering with groups that actively work against Republican candidates.

    Maragani came under fire after it was made public that he also pursued Equality Utah’s endorsement when he was a candidate for Salt Lake County clerk in 2022.

    On Saturday, he vaguely claimed he has been approached by several individuals who wanted to investigate the claims leveled in his resolution.

    “A number of them asked me to pull the censure to give time for a citizens’ committee to look into this,” Maragani said in a text message to The Salt Lake Tribune.

    Maragani declined to name any of the individuals who had contacted him.

    Winder Newton, who attended Saturday’s meeting virtually, said Maragani’s retreat was likely to save face.

    “I received an outpouring of support from many of the SCC members, so I’m assuming he knew he didn’t have the votes,” Winder Newton said in a text message.

    Much of the business considered in these quarterly meetings concerns the nuts and bolts of how the party runs. Committee members considered several rule changes on Saturday.

    Paper vs. electronic ballots

    Committee members rejected one such rule change aimed at ditching the use of electronic voting at conventions in favor of paper ballots. Switching to paper ballots would address concerns about election integrity that are prominent among many Republicans, says Bob McEntee, who authored the proposal.

    “This respects the concerns of our GOP voter base,” McEntee said.

    Those concerns are likely driven by Donald Trump’s baseless claims of rampant fraud in the 2020 presidential election. Nearly 70% of Republicans nationally believe Democrat Joe Biden’s win over Trump was illegitimate in some manner, according to a CNN poll.

    (Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Attendees vote in favor of a resolution supporting Donald Trump as the Utah Republican Party holds its quarterly State Central Committee meeting in Sandy on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2023.

    Utah County Republican Russ Grafton scolded his fellow party members for giving into unfounded fears that using electronic voting allowed for cheating.

    “To equate paper (ballots) with integrity and electronic with not is a false assumption,” Grafton said. “All this does is pander to a small but loud subset of the ‘big tent’ of the Republican Party. When we appease the fears of a small base, that alienates young voters, independents and anybody else that choose to see through the cult of personality and lies that have affected our party.”

    Republican National Committee representative

    The unresolved election for a new Utah representative on the Republican National Committee resumed Saturday morning.

    In June, businessman Brad Bonham and GOP activist Gunnar Thorderson remained tied after the third round of voting, but the Central Committee meeting dissolved before another ballot because too many members had left to continue.

    (Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brad Bonham as the Utah Republican Party holds its quarterly State Central Committee meeting in Sandy on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2023. At left is Gunnar Thorderson.

    After members argued for nearly an hour over the use of electronic balloting, Bonham secured the victory with just over 60% of the vote. He says his pledge to raise $1 million in badly needed funds for the party resonated with committee members.

    “They’ve (the Utah GOP) been poor,” Bonham said. “We need to give people a reason to donate to the party.”

    The Utah GOP has struggled mightily financially in recent years. Committee members were told Saturday that the party has about $90,000 in cash available. Bonham says that the cash-poor situation has left the party unable to assist candidates, which he experienced firsthand during his unsuccessful 2018 legislative race.

    “I didn’t get a lot of support. I had to go out and find my own support,” Bonham says. “If you can throw resources and money at some of these races, we can win seats.”

    Committee members also shot down a move to extend the time limit from the current four hours to five.

    Utah GOP Chair Rob Axson teased a number of initiatives he said the party would undertake ahead of the 2024 presidential election, including outreach to voters on the west side of Salt Lake County and appealing to younger voters, minorities and immigrants.

    “I think we need to continue to be a voice for people who have been ignored. That’s how we build a big tent where we bring people in of all various perspectives and backgrounds and help them realize that the Utah Republican Party and our platform are the very things that we need for our kids’ future,” Axson said.



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