In his first two campaign breaks since facing federal charges, Donald J. Trump on Saturday will begin publicly pursuing the case against the prosecutors pursuing him.
Trump’s two speeches at the GOP state conventions in Georgia and North Carolina were scheduled before he was indicted on Thursday. Saturday afternoon and evening appearances will allow the former president to rally support in front of throngs of activists and elected officials as the most popular Republican in the country and the frontrunner for the 2024 presidential nomination.
Trump’s indictment, details of which the Justice Department released Friday, has dominated the political landscape, forcing many of his rivals into the sometimes awkward position of defending the politician they trail behind in the polls. In the unsealed indictment, federal prosecutors revealed for the first time how Mr. Trump remained in possession of some of the nation’s most sensitive secrets, showing them to visitors.
« This indictment will be another political test of the Rorschach in that what you see depends on where you are, » said David Urban, Trump’s former top adviser in his 2016 campaign.
The documents Trump kept included plans for retaliation for a foreign attack and details of America’s nuclear programs, according to the indictment. One image showed boxes stacked next to a toilet in a Mar-a-Lago bathroom.
« Secret, » he boasted in a taped conversation, according to the indictment. “This is classified information. Look, look at this.
Several people close to Mr. Trump and his team privately acknowledged that the facts of the case were damaging. But they were uncertain it would have more of an impact on Republican voters than a string of other scandals that have done little to change public opinion.
Trump’s team is preparing to march forward, claiming they are victims.
The former president, who was already said to be angry Thursday night in the first hour after the accusation, was enraged when the allegations were opened and shared with him on Friday, according to a person who spoke with him. He returned from the golf course in time to watch Jack Smith, the special counsel carrying the charges, speak on television, the person said. The prosecution was filled with information from people who work with him, and Mr. Trump had already been skeptical of some aides who might have disclosed some details to the special counsel, the person said.
Kari Lake, the failed Arizona gubernatorial candidate who chaired a Georgia Republican Party dinner on Friday, said no one in the GOP base trusted the allegations.
“We see they are just a bunch of bogus lies,” said Ms. Lake, who clings to the falsehood that her own election was stolen in 2022, as well as Mr. Trump’s in 2020. “He’s the favorite and they have to he is constantly throwing things in front of his path to stop him.
Ms. Lake said Republican distrust of the nation’s institutions runs deep. “We learned that the FBI is corrupt, the CDC, the FDA, the CIA,” she said. « We’ve just learned a lot over the past few years. »
Mr. Trump attacked Mr. Smith, the special counsel, calling him « deranged, a ‘psycho’ and a ‘crazy’.
An even more aggressive pushback of Trump is expected in Georgia and North Carolina. Trump’s team is hoping for live television coverage, which has been a rarity in his 2024 run, and sees the two appearances as a valuable opportunity for free coverage.
While many prominent Republicans lined up behind Trump as he revealed he was indicted Thursday, party strategists have concerns about how the charges will shape any potential election confrontation with President Biden. The last two midterm elections and Mr. Trump’s defeat in 2020 show that his combative approach to politics – and the accumulation of indictments against him, including his indictment in April by a Manhattan grand jury – has off independent and swing voters.
Michael Caputo, a former senior adviser to Trump who is now an executive at Americano Media, a conservative Hispanic new media outlet, said the allegations « virtually ensure » that Trump will win the Republican nomination in 2024.
But they could have the opposite effect in a general election contest with Mr. Biden, he said, even as he dismissed the allegations as part of a Democratic conspiracy.
« It’s going to be the new ‘Russia collusion hoax,' » Caputo said, using a phrase Republicans have used to mock investigations into whether the 2016 Trump campaign conspired with Russian officials and whether he obstructed the justice. “It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. It is to have him under investigation.”
In Bedminster, NJ, Trump reacted to his accusation with a sense of angry defiance, according to two people who interacted with him. He still made time for Friday’s golf outing with a Republican congressman in Miami, where he is due to appear in court Tuesday. Cable coverage included helicopter shots of Mr. Trump making his way down the fairway.
« It’s really not a different day for President Trump, » one of Trump’s attorneys, Alina Habba, said on Fox News in the hours after her indictment. « This is something he’s been through before. »
Maggie Habermann contributed report.