Ron DeSantis called a potential prosecution of Donald Trump “fundamentally wrong”, and indicated he could stand in the way of any attempt to extradite the former president from Florida to New York.
The Florida governor had faced a barrage of criticism from supporters of Mr Trump after he remained silent for two days on the issue of a possible arrest.
Mr Trump declared at the weekend that he expects to be arrested as soon as today in a case brought by Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney.
Last night, New York police began erecting steel crash barriers outside the Manhattan Criminal Court in anticipation of an appearance by Mr Trump.
Mr Bragg is investigating potential campaign violations by Mr Trump over $130,000 (€121,000) in hush money paid to pornographic actress Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election.
Mr Trump wrote on his Truth Social website: “THERE WAS NO CRIME!!!”
In his first public comments Mr DeSantis, who is Mr Trump’s main rival for the 2024 Republican nomination, lambasted Mr Bragg as politically motivated, and “funded by George Soros”, the liberal billionaire.
Mr DeSantis also appeared to criticise Mr Trump, saying: “I don’t know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair. I can’t speak to that.”
But, asked if he would have a role in extraditing Mr Trump in the unlikely event he refused to leave Florida, the governor said: “I have not seen any facts yet, and so I don’t know what’s going to happen. I have no interest in getting involved in some type of manufactured circus by some Soros DA. He’s trying to do a political spectacle.”
Mr Trump has said he would continue his presidential campaign even if he was charged with a crime
Mr DeSantis added: “He [Mr Bragg] chose to try to go back many, many years ago, to use some porn star hush payments, that’s an example of pursuing a political agenda and weaponising the office, and I think that’s fundamentally wrong.”
It was not enough for some of Mr Trump’s supporters. Donald Trump Jr said: “Pure weakness. Now we know why he was silent all weekend.”
He added: “Pay attention to which Republicans spoke out against this corrupt BS immediately and who sat on their hands and waited to see which way the wind was blowing.”
Before Mr DeSantis’s comments, Jason Miller, a senior adviser to Mr Trump, said there had been “radio silence” from Mr DeSantis.
It is thought improbable that Mr Trump would not leave Florida to answer charges in New York. But, if he did, Mr DeSantis would have to either approve an extradition request, enraging Mr Trump’s supporters, or refuse and open himself up to legal action.
Mr Trump has said he would continue his presidential campaign even if he was charged with a crime. If that happened, it could lead to a flood of donations to his campaign.
Many senior Republicans have come to Mr Trump’s defence. They included Mike Pence, his former vice-president, who said he found the idea of charging a former president “deeply troubling”.
Mr Trump has long denied having an affair with Ms Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.
Meanwhile, prosecutors in Georgia were considering bringing charges of racketeering and conspiracy against Mr Trump over attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election result in the state, CNN reported.