Speaking at Republican state conventions in Georgia and North Carolina, Trump cast his indictment by the Department of Justice 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 and stop our movement, to thwart the will of the American people,” Trump alleged in Georgia, later telling the crowd that, “In the end, they’re not coming after me. They’re coming after you.”
The strategy is a well-worn one for Trump, who remains the front-runner for the 2024 GOP nomination despite his mounting legal woes, which also include criminal charges filed against him in March in New York. Again and again, in the face of the investigation, Trump has tried to delegitimize law enforcement officials and portray himself – and his supporters – as victims, even when he is accused of serious crimes.
Trump also vowed Saturday to remain in the race, even if he is convicted in the case.
“I’ll never leave,” he told Politico in an interview aboard his plane after his speech in Georgia. He further predicted that he wouldn’t be convicted and sidestepped questions about whether he would pardon himself if he wins a second term.
“I don’t think I’ll ever have to,” Trump said. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
The indictment unsealed Friday charges Trump with willfully defying Justice Department demands that he return classified documents, enlisting aides in his efforts to hide the records and even telling his lawyers that he wanted to defy a subpoena for the materials stored at his residence.
The indictment includes allegations that he stored documents in a ballroom and bathroom at his Mar-a-Lago resort, among other places.
Trump is due to make his first federal court appearance Tuesday in Miami. He was charged alongside valet Walt Nauta, a personal aide whom prosecutors say moved boxes from a storage room to Trump’s residence for him to review and later lied to investigators about the movement. Nauta traveled with Trump on Saturday, appearing by his side at a Georgia Waffle House stop where the former president signed autographs, posed for photos and told supporters, “We did absolutely nothing wrong.”
Earlier Saturday, Trump was given a hero’s welcome at the party convention in Georgia, where he drew loud applause as he slammed the investigation as “a political hit job” and accused his political enemies of launching “one hoax and witch hunt after another” to prevent his reelection.
“The ridiculous and baseless indictment by the Biden administration’s weaponized Department of Injustice will go down as among the most horrific abuses of power in the history of our country,” he said.
He also used his remarks to rail against President Joe Biden and his 2016 Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, accusing them of mishandling classified information and insisting he was treated unfairly because he is a Republican. But Trump overlooked a critical difference: Only he has been accused of intentionally trying to impede investigators by not returning the documents in question.
In the Clinton probe, for instance, FBI investigators concluded that although she was extremely careless in her handling of classified emails on a private server, there was no evidence that she intended to break the law. And though the Biden investigation is still ongoing, no evidence has emerged to suggest that he intentionally held onto the records or even knew that they were there, with his representatives turning over records after they were discovered and voluntarily consenting to FBI searches.
Trump also lingered on Georgia’s role in his 2020 defeat, repeating his lies that he had won the state and defending his efforts to overturn Biden’s victory, which is the subject of another ongoing investigation, this one by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. Willis has suggested that any indictments would likely come in August.
At the heart of the investigation is a recorded phone conversation in which Trump urges Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes” – just enough to overtake Biden and overturn Trump’s narrow loss in the state. Trump has defended the phone call as “perfect,” and on Saturday lashed out against both Willis and the special counsel in the Mar-a-Lago case.
But aside from reacting to the news, Trump’s remarks in both states largely mirrored his pre-indictment rally speeches, lending a sense of normalcy to a campaign that is well-practised in responding to the crisis.
And despite the latest criminal charges, attendees cheered him on in Georgia and in North Carolina, where he spoke at a state GOP convention dinner Saturday evening.
About 100 supporters, some waving “Witch Hunt” signs, showed up to the Columbus, Georgia, airfield to greet Trump as he arrived. Jan Plemmons, 66, wearing an oversize foam “Make America Great Again” hat, called the federal charges “absolutely ridiculous” and said she was ready to campaign with Trump. To Michael Sellers, 67, it was “criminal what they’re doing to him.”