Hours after he was criminally charged in a federal courtroom in Miami, Donald Trump returned to his New Jersey club to deliver a barrage of false statements and declare his innocence in front of a throng of supporters.
The former president, who has routinely used his platforms to project allegations he faces toward his political enemies, lambasted the federal case against him as “the most evil and heinous abuse of power” under President Joe Biden, who Mr Trump falsely suggested was responsible for charging him.
“This day will go down in infamy and Joe Biden will forever be remembered as not only the most corrupt president in the history of our country but perhaps, even more importantly, the president who together with a band of his closest thugs, misfits and Marxists tried to destroy American democracy,” Mr Trump said from his golf club in Bedminster on 13 June.
Mr Trump – who is formally charged with illegally retaining highly sensitive national defence documents and conspiring to obstruct government efforts to retrieve them for months after he was no longer president – has admitted that he possessed the documents he is accused of withholding, while falsely characterising the laws that govern them by stating that “whatever documents the president decides to take with him, he has the right to do so.”
He falsely characterised the classified documents in his possession as his “own presidential papers” and his “own documents”. Dismissing the decades-long prison sentence he could face if convicted, he falsely said that ”just about every other president” also removed papers from the White House in the same manner.
A former president accused of hoarding hundreds of classified documents, disclosing them to others and storing them haphazardly was out of the courthouse and visiting a restaurant in Miami within two hours of his arrival before he boarded a private plane to one of his many resorts and cast himself as the most persecuted man alive.
After his arrival at his golf club’s outdoor stage, he absorbed the crowd’s applause while a sound system blasted Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA”. Moments later, the crowd sang him “happy birthday.”
His 30-minute remarks relied on a familiar tactic: denying wrongdoing, claiming that federal authorities are selectively prosecuting, then blaming his rivals – including Mr Biden and Bill and Hillary Clinton – for allegedly doing the same or worse.
Mr Trump defended his actions under the Presidential Records Act, which the National Archives and Records Administration clarified last week “requires that all records” from presidents and vice presidents be turned over to the agency at the end of their administration, and that an outgoing president is required to separate personal documents from such records before leaving office.
He closed his remarks by repeating a familiar refrain, arguing that his own criminal cases are evidence of a Democratic conspiracy against his supporters.
“They want to silence me because I will never let them silence you,” he said. “I am the only one that can save this nation.”
Mr Trump allegedly broke the law dozens of times by withholding top-secret documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate months after he left the White House in January 2021, then lied to a grand jury and federal agencies trying to recover them them – accusations detailed in a sweeping indictment following a special counsel investigation under the US Department of Justice.
Last week, a grand jury in Florida voted to recommend charges against the former president, who now faces years in prison if convicted. He has pleaded not guilty.
He has repeatedly rejected any charges and investigations against him in several jurisdictions as political “witch hunts,” pointing to the Democratic majorities in New York City – where was found liable for sexual abuse, hit with a $250m lawsuit from the state attorney general, and criminally charged with more than 30 counts of falsifying business records – and Atlanta, where his efforts to subvert the outcome of the 2020 presidential election are expected to result in state charges this summer.
The historic charges against the former president raise the prospect of a potential presidential candidate facing at least two criminal cases in state and federal courts.
His arraignment in federal court comes roughly three months after prosecutors in Manhattan criminally charged the former president with 34 counts of falsifying business records in connection with so-called hush money payments he reportedly arranged to suppress stories about his alleged affairs.
He similarly returned to his Mar-a-Lago property hours after his Manhattan criminal court appearance. In his remarks from his estate that night, he lambasted New York County District Attorney Alvin Bragg and the judge overseeing the case, as well as the judge’s family members, and continued his narrative of political persecution.
In his remarks from New Jersey, he also took aim at Jack Smith, the independent special counsel appointed by US Attorney General Merrick Garland to head up investigations into the former president.
“He looks like a thug,” he said of Mr Smith, who was in federal court with Mr Trump hours earlier. “He's a raging and uncontrolled Trump hater, as is his wife, who also happened to be the producer of that Michelle Obama puff piece.” (Mr Smith’s wife, Katy Chevigny, is a documentary filmmaker who produced 2020’s Becoming.)
The New York and Florida cases are separate from the Justice Department probe into Mr Trump’s role in the events surrounding January 6 and a Georgia prosecutor’s investigation into his attempts to subvert the outcome of the 2020 election in that state, among many of the mounting legal challenges facing the former president as he seeks the 2024 Republican nomination for another shot at the White House.
Mr Trump remains the frontrunner for the GOP nomination, and he has insisted that he will remain in the race regardless of any outcome in the cases against him. He has relied on the investigations and indictments to raise money for his campaign, which netted millions of dollars in the days after charges were announced in his New York case.
But the timeframe for the federal investigation – and, potentially, other pending cases that could result in criminal charges this year – could complicate his campaign ambitions.
A first debate among Republican candidates is set for 23 August. A trial for the New York attorney general lawsuit targeting Mr Trump, his adult children and his business is slated to begin in October. And he is scheduled to return to Manhattan Criminal Court on 25 March – days after voting begins in primary states.