Atlanta – Former President Donald Trump will make his first public appearance since the federal indictment, speaking Saturday to friendly Republican audiences in Georgia and North Carolina as he seeks to rally supporters to his defense.
Trump, who remains a frontrunner for the 2024 Republican nomination despite his mounting legal troubles, is expected to use his scheduled speeches at state party conventions in both states to deliver a blistering rebuke of the charges and amplify his assertions that he is the victim of a politically motivated “witch hunt” by the Justice Department. of Democratic President Joe Biden.
His appearance will come one day after the release of an indictment charging him with 37 felony counts in connection with his storage of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago home. The indictment accuses the former president of willfully defying Justice Department demands to return classified documents, enlisting aides in his efforts to conceal records, and even telling his attorneys he wanted to challenge a subpoena over materials stored on his property. The indictment included allegations that he stored documents in a ballroom and bathroom at his resort, among other places.
The most serious charges against him carry prison terms of up to 20 years each, but first-time offenders rarely approach the maximum sentence and the decision will ultimately be up to the judge.
Despite it all, Trump can expect a hero’s welcome this weekend as he rallies his fiercest supporters and seeks to solidify his position as the 2024 Republican presidential nominee.
“Trump is a fighter, and the types of people who go to these conventions love a fighter,” said Jack Kingston, a former Georgia congressman who supported Trump in 2016 and 2020.
With former Vice President Mike Pence set to address Republicans in North Carolina, Saturday will be the first time his former colleagues have appeared at the same venue since Pence announced his campaign against his former boss.
For his part, Trump insisted that he had committed no wrongdoing, saying, “There was no crime, except for what the Department of Justice and the FBI have been doing against me for years.”
The indictment arrives at a time when Trump continues to dominate the Republican presidential primaries. Other largely GOP candidates have attacked the Justice Department — rather than Trump — for the investigation, though the breadth and scope of the indictment’s allegations may make it harder for Republicans to criticize it than a previous New York criminal case many legal analysts had. They mocked her as weak. .
A Trump campaign official described the former president’s mood as “defiant” on Friday ahead of his trip. But aides were significantly more reticent after the indictment was revealed because they viewed the seriousness of the legal charges and the threat they posed to Trump beyond potential short-term political gains.
The federal charging document alleges that Trump not only knowingly possessed classified documents, but also flaunted them to visitors and aides. The indictment is built on Trump’s words and actions as told by attorneys, close aides and other witnesses to prosecutors, including his admission of respect and knowledge of procedures related to handling classified information.
The indictment includes 37 counts — 31 of which related to willfully withholding national defense information, with the balance relating to alleged conspiracy, obstruction and false statements — which, taken together, could result in a year in prison.
Trump is scheduled to appear for the first time in federal court Tuesday in Miami. He was charged alongside Walt Nauta, a personal assistant who prosecutors said moved boxes from a storage room to Trump’s home for review and later lied to investigators about the move. A photo included in the indictment shows dozens of file boxes stacked in a storage area.
The case adds to the heightened legal risk for Trump, who has already been indicted in New York in a hush-money scheme and faces additional investigations in Washington and Atlanta that could also lead to criminal charges. But of the various investigations he faced, the Mar-a-Lago investigation has long been considered the most serious threat and the most ripe for prosecution. Campaign aides have been preparing for the fallout ever since Trump’s lawyer was notified that he was the target of an investigation, assuming it wasn’t a matter of if, but when, charges would be pressed.
Trump’s enduring popularity among Republican voters is evidenced by how cautiously his primary opponents have handled his federal indictment, which comes less than three months after he was indicted in New York in a hush-hush scheme over payments to a porn actor during the 2016 campaign.
Campaigning in New Hampshire on Friday, Pence said he was “very upset” by the federal indictment of Trump because he believes it will further divide the nation.
Pence urged his audience to pray for Trump, his family and all Americans, promising to uphold the rule of law and the “clean house at the highest level” at the Justice Department, should he be elected.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Trump’s chief Republican rival, unabashedly echoed the former president, denouncing the “weaponization of federal law enforcement” and “disproportionate enforcement of the law.” Without making any specific allegation, DeSantis took aim at two favored Republican targets — Hillary Clinton and Biden’s son, Hunter — and suggested they escaped federal accountability for this “political bias.”
During his own remarks at the North Carolina GOP convention Friday night, DeSantis did not mention Trump by name but again drew the comparison to Clinton.
“Is there a different standard for a Democratic secretary of state versus a former Republican president?” DeSantis asked. “I think there should be one standard of justice in this country… At the end of the day, we will finally end the arming of the government under my administration.”
Of the declared Republican contenders, only Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has explicitly called on Trump to end his comeback bid.
AP writers Jill Colvin, Meg Kennard, and Hannah Schoenbaum in Greensboro, NC; Eric Tucker in Washington. Thomas Beaumont in Marshalltown, Iowa; and Holly Ramer of Derry, New Hampshire, contributed to this report.