Ex-president expected to use speeches at two state party conventions to rail against the allegations.
Former President Donald Trump is set to make his first public appearances since his federal indictment, speaking to friendly Republican audiences in Georgia and North Carolina as he tries to rally supporters to his defence.
Trump, who remains the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican Party nomination despite his mounting legal woes, was expected to use speeches at two state party conventions on Saturday to rail against the charges.
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The indictment unsealed Friday charged him with 37 felony counts in connection with his hoarding of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.
Trump is accused of willfully defying Department of Justice demands to return classified documents, enlisting aides in his efforts to hide the records, and even telling his lawyers 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 resort, among other places.
The most serious charges carry potential prison sentences of up to 20 years each, but first-time offenders rarely get anywhere near the maximum sentence and the decision would ultimately be up to the judge.
Trump has already responded to the indictment with a string of posts on his Truth Social platform and a video statement, framing the prosecution as election interference orchestrated by President Joe Biden and his campaign.
“They come after me because now we’re leading in the polls again by a lot against Biden,” he said.
Trump can expect a hero’s welcome as he rallies his fiercest partisans and aims to cement his status as his party’s leading presidential candidate.
He arrived on Saturday in Georgia to chants of “Four more years! Four more years!” from supporters waving signs that read, “Witch Hunt”. About 100 eager supporters turned out at Columbus airfield.
Michael Sellers, a 67-year-old Trump backer who came to the airfield, said he’d read the indictment and was aware of the accusations.
“It’s criminal what they’re doing to him,” Sellers said. Asked whether he believes Trump will win another term in 2024, Sellers said, “He won the last time. He will win again.”
Among the various investigations Trump has faced, the documents case has long been considered the most perilous threat and the one most ripe for prosecution.
The federal charging document alleges that Trump not only intentionally possessed classified documents but also boastfully showed them off to visitors and aides. The indictment is built on Trump’s own words and actions as recounted to prosecutors by lawyers, close aides and other witnesses, including his professing to respect and know procedures related to the handling of classified information.
A Trump campaign official described the former president’s mood as “defiant” before the state visits. But aides were notably more reserved after the indictment’s unsealing as they reckoned with the gravity of the legal charges and the threat they pose to Trump beyond the potential short-term political gain.
A ‘dark day’
The indictment arrives at a time when Trump is continuing to dominate the primary race. Other candidates have largely attacked the Department of Justice – rather than Trump – for the investigation. But the indictment’s breadth of allegations and scope could make it harder for Republicans to rail against these charges compared with an earlier New York criminal case that many legal analysts derided as weak.
Trump is set to make his first federal court appearance on Tuesday in Miami. He was charged alongside 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. A photograph included in the indictment shows several dozen file boxes stacked in a storage area.
The case has added to deepening legal jeopardy for Trump. In March, he was indicted in New York in a hush-money scheme stemming from payouts made to a porn actor during his 2016 campaign, and he faces additional investigations in Washington and Atlanta that also could lead to criminal charges.
So far, the response of many Republicans – including some of Trump’s party nomination rivals – has been to rally behind the former president and amplify his sense of outrage.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy, who has had a rollercoaster relationship with Trump, said the indictment marked a “dark day” for the United States.
“I, and every American who believes in the rule of law, stand with President Trump,” McCarthy said.
And Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, seen as Trump’s most viable challenger for the Republican ticket, echoed the claims of a “weaponised” Department of Justice.
SOURCE: NEWS AGENCIES