Donald Trump vowed on Saturday that he would continue to run for president even if convicted as part of the 37-count federal indictment against him this week.
“I’m never leaving,” Trump said in an interview aboard his plane. “Look, if I would have left, I would have left prior to the original race in 2016. That was a tough one. That was theoretically impossible.”
Trump is not legally prohibited from running for president from prison or as a convicted felon. But such a bid would nevertheless be a huge stress test for the country’s political and legal systems.
The former president harshly criticized Special Counsel Jack Smith, arguing that the case against him was politically motivated and weak. “These are thugs and degenerates who are after me,” he said.
Trump predicted he would not be convicted and said he did not expect to enter a plea deal, although he left open the possibility of doing so “where they pay me damages”.
He sidestepped the possibility that he would pardon himself if he won the presidency in 2024. “I don’t think I’ll ever have to,” Trump said. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
While Trump said campaign fundraising had skyrocketed since the indictment was issued, he admitted it was an unwelcome development.
“No one wants to be sued,” Trump said. “I don’t care that my polls have skyrocketed. I don’t want to be sued. I’ve never been charged. I’ve been through all my life, now I’m being sued every two months. It’s been political.”
He repeatedly invoked the Presidential Records Act to claim he had done nothing wrong, a vigorously contested interpretation of the law Trump has previously offered.
Trump’s comments came as he flew between speeches to Republicans in Georgia and North Carolina. The trip came a day after Smith unsealed a 37 count indictment against Trump, which included charges of violating the espionage law, holding classified documents and obstruction of justice. Trump is due to appear in court in Miami on Tuesday.
Trump’s personal valet, Waltine Nauta, was also charged. Nauta was seen traveling with Trump on Saturday, and the aide followed Trump out of his SUV upon arrival at the Newark, NJ airport en route to Georgia.
Trump also faces an indictment in New York stemming from allegations that he concealed hush money payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels. He is also under investigation in Georgia for his efforts to pressure officials to overturn the state’s 2020 vote count. Smith also examines Trump’s role in inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
What role the latest indictment will play in the GOP presidential primaries is not yet clear, though the former president saw a boost in his polling and fundraising support following the indictment in New York as Republican voters rallied around him.
Trump’s campaign is trying to replicate the feat, with his team sending appeals to supporters in hopes of generating small contributions.
There were signs all Saturday that Trump’s staunchest supporters were unfazed by the news. Supporters lined the side of the highway that ran parallel to the runway at the airport in Columbus, Georgia, many waving flags and standing atop trucks to get a view of the “Trump”-decorated jet landing. As he exited the plane, he was greeted by a group of supporters on the tarmac, some holding “witch hunt” signs.
At the Georgia State Party convention, the crowd was filled with people wearing “Make America Great Again” hats, and some audience members shouted “We love you” as the former president spoke.
Soon after, Trump made a pit stop at a Waffle House restaurant, where he was mobbed by diehard fans — one of whom offered to give the meatloaf-loving ex-president a copy of her mother’s recipe. Then Trump went to the airport, where he posed for photos with police officers.
In an indication of the grip Trump maintains on his party’s congressional wing, the former president was joined on the trail by North Carolina Rep. Richard Hudson, a Trump supporter who oversees the House GOP campaign arm. Trump was also joined by Marjorie Taylor Greene, a hot-tempered Georgia congressman and staunch ally.
But the case of classified documents — and the detailed 49-page indictment that came with it — is widely seen as much more serious than the one in New York, and the former president’s detractors hope his legal troubles will distract him from the campaign.