WASHINGTON – Hours after being arraigned in a New York courtroom, former President Donald Trump used a speech to supporters at his Mar-a-Lago estate to lash out at New York prosecutor Alvin Bragg and other prosecutors who are investigating him .
“I never thought anything like this could happen in America,” Trump told the crowd gathered in Palm Beach, Fla. Trump is facing 34 felony counts in the New York case, becoming the first-ever former president to face criminal charges.
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Trump’s 27-minute speech amounted to a revamping of a presidential campaign while bracing voters for the possibility that he could indicted in cases out of Atlanta and Washington, D.C.
The attacks on Bragg and other prosecutors came after the judge in New York warned Trump against rhetoric that could incite threats and violence against public officials.
Trump isn’t just the first former president to be indicted; he’s the first former president to seek the office again while awaiting trial – and it could be a long wait and more than one trial.
Trump’s next scheduled court date in New York isn’t until Dec. 4. That means a trial might not start until January, on the cusp of the 2024 Republican presidential nominating process.
Trump could be juggling other court cases by then.
The former president remains under investigation by prosecutors in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., over efforts to overturn the 2020 election, holding onto classified documents after leaving office, and the insurrection by supporters on Jan 6, 2021.
The Mar-a-Lago speech
In his remarks at Mar-a-Lago, Trump described the various investigations as attempts to thwart his presidential campaign.
Trump made false claims about the investigations and claimed without evidence that he is being singled out for political reasons.
He reserved special venom for Bragg, who led the investigation. Trump attacked Bragg’s family, including his wife and daughter. At one point, Trump called Bragg “a local failed district attorney” who at one point had qualms about bringing a case against a former president.
Trump also had harsh words for Atlanta prosecutor Fani Willis and Justice Department Special Counsel Jack Smith, who is heading up the documents and Jan. 6 investigations.
The speech also featured standard campaign hits on President Joe Biden and his administration, from inflation to Russia policy.
Trump backers cheer
Mar-a-Lago members and Trump supporters frequently cheered and clapped as the ex-president attacked prosecutors and political opponents.
Before Trump’s appearance, the public address system played the standard campaign rally soundtrack, from Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds” to Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” to Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless The USA.”
Guests included Trump employees like former White House spokesman Hogan Gidley, who attacked Bragg for a “flimsy” case. “What he’s seeking to do is to tarnish Donald Trump’s name and also attack his campaign.”
In a written statement, Bragg said Trump “repeatedly and fraudulently falsified New York business records to conceal crimes that hid damaging information from the voting public during the 2016 presidential election.”
Republicans are supportive
Trump’s prospective opponents in 2024 have condemned the indictment.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., who may announce a presidential bid in the coming weeks, called the New York case a “political charade” and “a travesty.”
Even Republicans who have opposed Trump, such as U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, criticized the state indictment that links hush money to illegal campaign contributions under federal campaign finance laws.
“The prosecutor’s overreach sets a dangerous precedent for criminalizing political opponents and damages the public’s faith in our justice system,” said Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee for president.
Throughout the day, from his start at Trump Tower in Manhattan to his speech at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Trump and allies tried to use the arraignment to raise campaign money.
One pitch offered donors t-shirts emblazoned with a Trump faux mug shot stamped with the words “NOT GUILTY.”
Polls also show that many Americans believe the case is legitimate, suggesting that Trump would have a rocky road in a general election that includes independent and non-party voters. An ABC News/Ipsos poll over the weekend said 50% of Americans think the charges against Trump “are serious.”
Bradley P. Moss, an attorney who specializes in national security matters, said the New York case “will without question provide a short-term boost to Mr. Trump in the polls for the Republican nomination.”
But primaries don’t begin until early next year, and Trump could face other indictments.
“The weight of these criminal matters is likely to cause significant headwinds for the former president as actual primary voters start going to the polls,” Moss said.
Republicans across the country are waiting to see if this is a blip, or if Trump can sustain a wave of resentment. Some said the prospect of a lengthy trial – or trials, if he is indicted in other cases – will gradually sap the political strength from Trump and the Republican Party.
Jack Pitney, a former Republican and a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, said Trump’s “hard core” Republican supporters “will keep digging in.”
Others may look to get out.
“His deepening legal woes won’t help with anybody else,” Pitney said. “’Professional Defendant’ is not a job title that appeals to the general public.”