Donald Trump was defiant in his first public appearance since being indicted on 37 criminal counts tied to his handling of classified documents, telling an audience of Republicans that the charges were “ridiculous and baseless”.
Speaking at an event in Georgia hosted by the state’s Republican convention, Trump said the indictment would “go down as among the most horrific abuses of power in the history of our country”. The former president is seeking to drum up support for his third bid for the White House ahead of a potential match-up with Joe Biden for the 2024 presidential election under a cloud of legal problems.
“Biden is trying to jail his leading political opponent — an opponent that’s beating him by a lot in the polls, just like they do in Stalinist Russia or communist China,” Trump said.
The former president has been accused of breaking seven different federal laws. The charges unsealed on Friday include 31 counts linked to violations of the Espionage Act, specifically the wilful retention of national defence information without authorisation. He is also facing allegations of conspiracy to obstruct justice and making false statements.
The federal case is linked to documents seized by agents from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate during an August raid. The former president had already turned in more than 15 boxes of classified documents, some of which were labelled “top secret”. The materials found in his Florida home were located in a ballroom, his bedroom and a bathroom and shower, among other locations. Trump is due to appear in front of a judge in Miami, Florida, on Tuesday.
The charges, brought by the Department of Justice following a probe by a special counsel, mark the latest legal setback for Trump, who remains the Republican frontrunner for the 2024 election.
The former president on Saturday boasted that the indictment had driven his poll numbers “way up” and that fundraising was “through the roof”.
“We’re beating the hell out of Joe Biden. That’s why they are doing it,” Trump said. “If I wasn’t there’d be no witch hunt, there’d be no indictment.”
With this indictment, Trump is the first former president to face federal criminal charges. He is also the first former president to be charged in a criminal case in state court and now faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. He has pleaded not guilty to the allegations, which were brought by the Manhattan district attorney.
He could face a third indictment this summer related to his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss in Georgia. On Saturday he defended his actions, saying he had “every right to complain that the election in Georgia was in my opinion rigged”.
The former president has also been mired in a raft of civil legal actions, including accusations that he, his children and the Trump Organization repeatedly lied to lenders and insurers about asset valuations. In May, Trump was also ordered by a Manhattan jury to pay $5mn in damages linked to a sexual abuse and defamation civil suit brought by writer E. Jean Carroll.
Trump is not alone in facing scrutiny for the handling of government documents, however. The DoJ has launched a second special counsel to investigate material found in Biden’s residential garage in Delaware and his former private office in Washington. Trump’s former vice-president, Mike Pence, who is also seeking the Republican nomination, was also investigated but no charges were brought.
On Saturday, Trump repeated his claim that taking the documents was not a criminal act because of the Presidential Records Act, a law that sets out who controls documents and other records from the presidency. The act says official presidential records are owned by the US, not the president, and must be kept in a federal depository.
Source: Financial Times