By BILL BARROW, JEFF AMY, JILL COLVIN and MEG KINNARD (Associated Press)
COLUMBUS, Ga. (AP) — Former President Donald Trump on Saturday called his landmark federal indictment “ridiculous” and “baseless,” saying in his first public appearance since the charges weren’t sealed. that the 37 counts were an attack on his supporters as he tried to turn legal peril into political advantage.
Speaking at the Georgia Republican Convention, Trump launched his indictment by the Justice Department as an attempt to damage his chances of returning to the White House as he campaigns for a second term.
“They’ve launched one witch hunt after another to try to stop our movement, to thwart the will of the American people,” Trump said, later adding, “At the end of the day, they don’t to me. They come after you.
The strategy is well-worn for Trump, who remains the frontrunner for the 2024 GOP nomination despite his mounting legal woes. He planned to address a Republican audience in North Carolina later Saturday.
The indictment unsealed on Friday charged him with 37 counts in connection with his hoarding of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. Trump is accused of deliberately defying Justice Department requests to return classified documents, enlisting aides in his efforts to hide the records and even telling his lawyers he wanted to defy a subpoena to appear for the documents stored in his residence. The indictment includes allegations that he stored documents in a ballroom and bathroom at his resort, among other places.
The most serious charges carry prison sentences of up to 20 years each, but first-time offenders rarely approach the maximum sentence and the decision would ultimately be up to the judge.
However, Trump expected to be greeted as a hero at party conventions in Georgia and North Carolina.
“Trump is a fighter, and the kind of people who attend these conventions love a fighter,” said Jack Kingston, a former Georgia congressman who supported Trump’s White House campaigns in 2016 and 2020.
Trump said his political enemies had launched “one hoax and one witch hunt after another” and claimed the charges against him were politically motivated.
“The ridiculous and baseless indictment of me by the Biden administration’s Armed Injustice Department will go down as one of the most horrific abuses of power in our nation’s history,” Trump told Republicans in Georgia.
About 100 supporters, some waving “Witch Hunt” signs, showed up at Columbus Airfield to greet Trump upon his arrival. Jan Plemmons, 66, wearing an oversized “Make America Great Again” foam hat, called the federal charges “absolutely ridiculous” and said she was ready to campaign with Trump. For Michael Sellers, 67, it was “criminal what they were doing to him”.
The indictment comes at a time when Trump continues to dominate the primary race. Other candidates have widely attacked the Justice Department — rather than Trump — for the investigation. But the breadth of the allegations and the scope of the indictment could make it harder for Republicans to oppose those charges compared to an earlier criminal case in New York that many legal analysts called weak. .
The federal charging document alleges that Trump not only intentionally possessed classified documents, but also proudly showed them to visitors and aides. The indictment is based on Trump’s own words and actions as told to prosecutors by attorneys, close associates and other witnesses, including his profession of following and knowing procedures related to the handling of information. classified.
The indictment includes 31 counts related to the willful withholding of national defense information. The others relate to allegations of conspiracy, obstruction and misrepresentation.
Trump is due to make his first appearance in federal court on Tuesday in Miami. He was charged alongside valet Walt Nauta, a personal assistant who prosecutors say moved boxes from a storage room at Trump’s residence for him to examine and then lied to investigators about the movement. A photograph included in the indictment shows several dozen filing boxes stacked in a storage area.
The case adds to heightened legal danger for Trump. In March, he was indicted in New York in connection with a secret money scheme stemming from payments made to a porn actor during his 2016 campaign, and he faces additional investigations in Washington and Atlanta that could also lead to criminal charges.
But of the various investigations he has faced, the documents affair has long been seen as the most perilous and ripe threat to prosecution.
Trump’s continued popularity among Republican voters is evident in the cautiousness with which his main rivals have treated the federal indictment.
Mike Pence, whose appearance in North Carolina marked the first shared venue with his former boss since the ex-vice president announced his own campaign last week, condemned the Justice Department’s ‘politicization’ and urged Attorney General Merrick Garland “to stop hiding behind special counsel and stand in front of the American people” to explain the basis of the federal investigation into Trump.
“A former President of the United States faces an unprecedented indictment by a Department of Justice led by the current President of the United States and a potential political rival,” Pence said to loud applause. Pence said it was important to hear Trump’s defense, “so each of us can make our own judgement. … Be patient. Know that we will know the facts soon.
At the North Carolina GOP rally on Friday night, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Trump’s main GOP rival, did not mention Trump by name, but compared his situation to that of Hillary Clinton.
“Is there a different standard for a Democratic Secretary of State compared to a former Republican President?” DeSantis asked. “I think there has to be a standard of justice in this country. … Ultimately, we will end once and for all the militarization of government under my administration.
Kari Lake, a Trump loyalist who lost the gubernatorial race in Arizona last year, used her speech to Georgia Republicans on Friday night to repeat Trump’s false claims about a rigged 2020 election and she suggested that the indictment was another way to deny him the presidency.
“He’s doing so well in the polls that they decided they couldn’t stop him. So what are they doing? They’re accusing him of completely false charges,” Lake said. “The illegitimate Biden administration wants to lock up our beloved President Trump for over 200 years. Wow.”
Of the declared Republican candidates, only Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has explicitly called on Trump to end his candidacy. Hutchinson did not mention Trump in his remarks at a convention breakfast in Georgia on Saturday, but told reporters afterwards that the Republican Party “shouldn’t waste its soul” defending Trump and said that the evidence so far suggested the former president treated national secrets “like tools of entertainment.”
Colvin and Kinnard reported from Greensboro, North Carolina. Associated Press writer Eric Tucker in Washington; Thomas Beaumont in Marshalltown, Iowa; and Holly Ramer in Derry, New Hampshire, contributed to this report.