Donald Trump has warned that he may be forced off the campaign trail to defend himself against what he called “bullshit” criminal charges brought by federal and state prosecutors, as he predicted that he could be facing a fourth indictment as early as next week.
At a campaign speech on Tuesday in a high school gym in southern New Hampshire, a critical state in the 2024 Republican primaries, the legally embattled former president railed against his political opponents and the justice department, vowing retribution against the “deep state” if he returns to the White House next year.
Mr Trump’s comments were his clearest admission yet that the mounting criminal charges pose a threat to his re-election bid.
“How can my corrupt political opponent, crooked Joe Biden, put me on trial during an election campaign that I’m winning by a lot, but forcing me nevertheless to spend time and money away from the campaign trail in order to fight bogus, made-up accusations,” he said.
Mr Trump said that he might have to say, “Sorry, I won’t be able to go to Iowa today, I won’t be able to go to New Hampshire today because I’m sitting in a courtroom on bullshit because his attorney general charged me with something.” The crowd responded with a chant: “Bullshit! Bullshit!”
The Republican frontrunner’s remarks were his most extensive – lasting more than an hour – since his appearance in a Washington court last week on charges that he conspired to overturn the 2020 election. He doubled down on debunked claims that the election had been stolen from him.
Mr Trump already faces federal charges in Florida that he mishandled classified material, and state charges in New York that he falsified business documents. He said additional charges expected in Georgia over his efforts to deny Mr Biden’s victory in the state could arrive next week.
“Now they will come after me a little harder ... how much harder can they do it?” Trump said. “I should have four by sometime next week.”
Mr Trump has been comfortably leading national polls of Republican primary voters but is trying to thwart a comeback by his main rivals including Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor, by delivering grievance-laden pitches to his most loyal base.
Mr Trump said, “2024 is our final battle. With you at my side, we will demolish the deep state, we will expel the warmongers from our government, we will drive out the globalists,” repeating that he would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Mr Biden and his family.
The former president struck a note of economic populism in the speech, vowing if elected to impose a “border tariff” on foreign goods and retaliate against countries that did the same to American goods by setting levies on their exports to the US of up to 200 per cent. “If they charge us, we charge them, it’s very simple.”
In the crowd, Tina Molinaro, a 55-year-old paralegal, and Jen Erickson, a 37-year-old auditor for the defence department, had come from nearby Massachusetts with red shirts and pink hats bearing the slogan “Trump Saves America”.
“We believe in what he stands for and how he’s going to help us with the economy,” said Ms Molinaro. Ms Erickson said she was leaning towards Mr Trump in the 2024 Republican primary but was undecided. “Ideally I would want DeSantis as his VP – that would be my dream team,” she said.
Chip Bailey, a plumber from Florida, said he would back Mr Trump because of the “dismal” state of current affairs. “We have a major war in Europe for the first time since 1945 and I feel the world’s become a dangerous place. And you know, we have an inept president.”
Karoline Leavitt, a New Hampshire native and spokeswoman for Maga Inc, an outside spending group backing Mr Trump, derided his closest rivals including Mr DeSantis and Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor.
“We see all types of candidates come through. We can smell a rat, we can smell a phoney from a mile away, and we know Donald Trump delivered for us before,” she said.
The latest criminal indictments facing Mr Trump were only “rallying the troops” and helping to consolidate his lead, Ms Leavitt said. “It’s absolutely ensuring hard-working Americans understand that their government is not being used to help them, it’s being used against them and to imprison their favourite candidate.”
Mr Trump’s supporters had lined up around the high school hours before he arrived, chanting “USA” and “Let’s go Brandon” – a slogan deriding Mr Biden. But a few protesters also appeared, bearing signs reading “Trump lost LOL” and “You’re in a cult. He lost. No, really.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2023