Donald Trump gave his first public speech after announcing his federal indictment this week in Columbus, Georgia, on Saturday.
The former president took the stage at Republican state conventions in Georgia and North Carolina, lashing out at the Justice Department, the FBI and the Biden administration, calling his recent indictment “a mockery of justice” and repeating unsupported conspiratorial claims that Joe Biden had hidden classified documents in the Chinatown neighborhood of Washington DC.
“We have to go up against the… radical left Democrats, their lawless partisan accusers… Every time I fly over a blue state, I get a subpoena,” Trump said at the beginning of the meandering speech that attempted to bridge his legal troubles with campaign promises.
“I risked everything and I will never give in. I will never be held. I will never stop fighting for you,” he added.
He then launched into a diatribe against federal officials, saying, “Now the Marxist left is once again using the same corrupt DoJ [justice department] and the same corrupt FBI, and the Attorney General and the local prosecutors to intervene… They cheat. They are crooked. They are corrupt. These criminals cannot be rewarded. They must be defeated. You have to beat them.
‘Cause in the end they won’t come after me. They’re coming after you and I’m just in their way,’ he said.
Trump accused the Biden administration of arming justice, calling the recent indictment “ridiculous and baseless” and “one of the most heinous abuses of power in our country’s history.”
He added that “the only good thing about it [the indictment] is that it has pushed my polls up.”
Trump repeated his baseless attacks on his former opponent Hillary Clinton, who the State Department investigated for years on her use of private email before finding “no convincing evidence of … deliberate mishandling of classified documents.”
He also lashed out at Joe Biden for the classified documents from his time as vice president and senator found in his Washington office and his home in Delaware.
“Nothing happened to Crooked Joe with any of that… He has so many classified documents… This is a sick nest of people that needs to be cleaned up immediately,” Trump said as the crowd in Georgia cheered fervently.
Trump also brought up his former vice president and now presidential opponent Mike Pence, who had also discovered marked documents in his Indiana home.
“They were watching Mike Pence. He had classified documents, no problem,” Trump said.
While Biden and Pence handed over the marked documents as soon as they were discovered and had their lawyers search their properties, Trump is accused of deliberately hiding boxes of files from his lawyer, the FBI and the grand jury, according to the latest indictment.
Related: The impeachment of Trump is a stress test for American democracy as Republicans rally
On the plane to North Carolina after his speech in Georgia, Trump told Politico he would not drop out of the presidential race even if convicted on the latest charges. “I’m never leaving,” he said.
When asked if he would forgive himself if he ran for president again, he said, “I don’t think I ever have to…I haven’t done anything wrong.”
Pence also appeared at the North Carolina event, the first shared venue with his former boss since the ex-vice president announced his own campaign. He condemned the “politicization” of the Justice Department and urged Attorney General Merrick Garland to “stop hiding behind special counsel and stand for the American people” to clarify the basis for the federal investigation into Trump. to lay.
In an interview with the Associated Press after his speech, Pence said he read the indictment but repeatedly refused to share his personal reaction to its contents or criticize Trump.
“The nature of a grand jury is that no defense is presented,” Pence said. “That’s why I said today that I’m going to exhort patience, encourage people to pray for the former president, but also for all those in authority and for the country moving forward.”
In North Carolina, Florida governor and Trump rival Ron DeSantis did not name Trump, but compared his situation to Clinton’s.
“Is there a different standard for a Democratic secretary of state than for a former Republican president?” DeSantis said. “I think there should be one standard of justice in this country… At the end of the day, we will end once and for all the arming of the government under my rule.”
On Saturday night, Trump said he would support Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson in the race for governor of North Carolina. Trump said he would save his formal endorsement for another time, but told Robinson from the podium, “You can count on it, Mark.” He referred to Robinson as “one of the great stars of the party, one of the great stars of politics.”
Robinson has earned a reputation as an astute social conservative, telling a church in 2021, “There’s no reason anyone anywhere in America should tell any child about transgenderism, homosexuality, or all that smut.”
Trump’s two speeches were scheduled before the Justice Department indicted him Thursday night with 37 criminal charges for his alleged illegal retention of classified government documents after leaving office in 2021.
The sweeping indictment unsealed Friday charges Trump with mishandling classified documents and obstructing justice, making him the first US president to be charged with federal charges.
Trump is expected to appear in federal court in Miami on Tuesday and could go to jail if convicted.