Trump Goes From Courthouse to Campaign Trail With Post-Arraignment MAGA Rally

6 minute read

For someone facing the prospect of prison, Donald Trump appeared more liberated than ever. Hours after pleading not guilty in a South Florida courthouse to federal charges of allegedly mishandling classified information, Trump entered the more friendly confines of his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club, where he delivered an unabashed message to the nation he wants to lead again: If voters send him back to the White House, he will operate on a platform of vengeance that far exceeds anything carried out in his first term.

Standing before the Georgian clubhouse on Tuesday night, Trump conveyed his trademark sense of victimhood after becoming the first former President in U.S. history to face federal charges from the government he once oversaw. “It’s a political persecution like something straight out of a fascist or communist nation,” he said of the 37-count indictment brought against him by Special Counsel Jack Smith. “This day will go down in infamy.” Yet in the spirit of what was very much a campaign event, Trump sought to elevate his howl of grievance into a promise of retribution. “I will appoint a real special prosecutor to go after the most corrupt President in the history of the United States of America, Joe Biden, and the entire Biden crime family,” he promised the crowd of MAGA faithful. “On November 5, 2024, justice will be done. We will take back our country.”

It was the rhetoric of a man focused more on winning a campaign than on winning a case in court. Sporting a navy-blue suit with a red tie, Trump went straight from the courthouse on Tuesday afternoon to the trail, with stops at a storied Cuban-American Miami restaurant to his summer home packed with adoring fans. His post-indictment moves were part of a strategic plan to turn his legal woes into political gain.

That’s not without good reason. After Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Brag indicted him for allegedly falsifying business records to cover up hush-money payments to a porn star, Trump raised millions of dollars and soared in the polls. Republicans quickly rallied around him as he positioned himself even more firmly as the 2024 GOP presidential frontrunner.

Read More: Trump’s GOP Opponents’ Strategy? Hope Prosecutors Will Take Him Out

Trump hoped that trend would continue after he was arraigned for the second time in two months. In a 32-minute speech, he depicted himself as a messianic martyr who remains defiant in the face of systemic forces conspiring to bring him down.

While Trump didn’t squarely address the specific charges filed against him, he defended his hoarding of some of the nation’s most sensitive national security secrets and his efforts to obstruct the government from getting them back. “I had every right to have these documents,” he said. One breath later, Trump baselessly accused federal investigators of planting “staged photographs of boxes at Mar-a-Lago” in the indictment.

“These boxes were containing all sorts of personal belongings,” he added. “Whatever documents the President takes with him, he has a right to do so. It’s an absolute right. This is the law.”

Trump referred to the “Clinton Socks Case” as providing an exculpatory precedent. After former President Bill Clinton told a historian that he kept audio recordings of conversations from his presidency in a sock drawer, a conservative group sued him in 2010, accusing him of mishandling classified material. Judicial Watch, the organization, wanted the National Archives to assume custody of the tapes, but a U.S. District Judge ruled that they were personal records, not presidential records. (The example obscures a central difference in the two cases: Clinton did not thwart months-long attempts by the government to retrieve the tape-recordings, like Trump did with the hundreds of documents he took with him from the White House to Mar-a-Lago.)

Trump’s refusal to return the documents was the main impetus of the charges, which include willfully retaining national defense secrets in violation of the Espionage Act, making false statements, and conspiracy to obstruct justice. In the 49-page indictment, prosecutors included photographic evidence that Trump stored boxes containing classified information in various locations at his Mar-a-Lago Club, ranging from a ballroom and an office space to a bathroom and a shower. Among the top-secret records were documents concerning U.S. nuclear programs and plans for a possible retaliation in response to an attack from a foreign adversary, which in the context clearly refers to Iran.

In Trumpian fashion, he sought to discredit the charges as stemming from partisan motivations. He attacked both Smith, the special counsel appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland, and his wife. “He’s a raging and uncontrolled Trump hater, as is his wife, who also happened to be the producer of that Michelle Obama puff piece.” (Katy Chevigny, a documentary filmmaker, was a producer on the 2020 film Becoming based on the former First Lady’s memoir.)

Trump’s fury was not isolated toward Smith and his family. He suggested without evidence that Biden was behind the prosecution, insinuating it was designed to undermine his chief political rival in the 2024 election. “Joe Biden will forever be remembered as not only the most corrupt President in the history of our country, but perhaps, even more importantly, the President who, together with a band of his closest thugs, misfits, and Marxists, tried to destroy American democracy,” Trump said.

Read More: The Dangerous Whataboutism in the Trump Classified Docs Case

It was part of a long list of grievances the former president outlined: the Steele dossier, the Mueller investigation, two impeachments, and, now, two indictments. In the backdrop was also the possibility that more charges are coming. The classified documents case could be a prelude to another indictment in a separate special counsel investigation by Smith into Trump’s role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Trump may face even more charges later this summer in Georgia, where Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has empaneled a grand jury to probe Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election result in the state. “They will fail,” Trump said of the prosecutors bringing cases against him. “We will win bigger and better than ever before.”

That remains to be seen. But for now, Trump appears to be betting that his legal peril can propel him to the Republican nomination, even if it also presents the greatest threat he’s ever faced to both his political ambitions and his personal freedom.

At one point, the audience interrupted the speech to sing “Happy Birthday” to Trump, who turned 77 on Wednesday and who now could face up to 400 years in federal prison. Once the singing subsided, Trump gripped the podium and smirked. “Nice birthday,” he said. “It’s a wonderful birthday.”

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