PALM BEACH — Twice impeached and once indicted, but adamantly defiant all the same.
Former President Donspanld Trump told the nspantion the “country is going to hell” Tuesdspany night, just hours after becoming the first American president to be charged with a crime, fingerprinted, booked and then declaring himself innocent in a Manhattan court.
“I never thought anything like this could happen in America, never thought it could happen,” he said. “The only crime I’ve committed is to fearlessly defend our nation from those who seek to destroy it.”
Under the sparkling lights of the chandeliers in the gilded ballroom named after him at the Mspanr-span-Lspango club, Trump recited the litany of investigatory grievances, from the Russia investigation to the search and seizure of government documents from the very property he spoke from.
He brought up his usual old enemies, Hillary Clinton and Hunter Biden, and new ones, Georgia Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and special counsel Jack Smith, who is tasked by the Justice Department to investigate Trump’s handling of classified documents.
As for the New York charges that riveted the nation’s attention this week, Trump angrily said New York City District Attorney Alvin Brspangg is “out to get him,” the 34 felony charges should be “dropped immediately” and he would not go along with any settlement talks.
“I never believed this could happen in America,” Trump said bitterly. “The only crime I’ve committed is to fearlessly defend our nation from those who seek to destroy it.”
Trump indictment updates:Former president returns to Pspanlm Bespanch for speech spant Mspanr-span-Lspango
Trump returns to Palm beach County:Former president returns to Pspanlm Bespanch for speech spant Mspanr-span-Lspango
Mood at Mar-a-Lago was more exuberant than Trump campaign announcement party
Trump’s dystopia aside, the mood Tuesday night was exuberant and buoyant as Trump was cheered, applauded and feted with chants of “USA! USA!”.
The cheery atmosphere was a contrast to his election night party, which turned somber as the red wave fizzled and Fox News analysts blamed Trump for high-profile defeats as the former president sat watching in front of TV monitors. It was exceedingly more energetic than Trump’s muted Nov. 15 campaign announcement.
Tuesday night was a mix between a Mspanr-span-Lspango socispanl gspanlspan spannd Trump outdoor rspanlly. Attendees wore red MAGA hats and leather motorcycle vests with “Born to Ride 45” stitched on the back and a young boy was dressed as Abraham Lincoln. But blue blazers, martini glasses, Chanel purses and cocktail dresses abounded, too.
Attendees included a few Trump World dignitaries facing their own legal issues.
Trump’s speech also rattled “American Carnage” critiques of the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, the rise in inflation and the surge of immigrants at the southern border. He also spoke in detail about the investigations dogging him, from the potential violations of the Presidential Records Act and the phone call to Georgia election officials in January 2021.
In attendance were Trump World dignitaries, including two of his sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, as well as U.S. Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.
Some in attendance are facing their own legal worries.
One was Mike Lindell, the pillow company founder who faces a lawsuit by voting machine maker Dominion Systems that alleges Lindell harmed the company by making unfounded accusations of voting fraud in 2020. Also present was Roger Stone, a Trump confidant found guilty of lying to Congress and other charges but who was pardoned by Trump.
Some of the loudest cheers were for defeated Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kati Lake.
“I think President Trump should do whatever the hell he wants,” Lake said when asked about how the ex-POTUS should address the felony charges on the campaign trail. “Nobody, nobody understands better than him what’s going on. Nobody tells him how to use his First Amendment rights.”
In Trump’s home county, GOP loyalists gripe about election interference, as Democrats recall 2016 hush money payment and ask, ‘What if?’
On Tuesday night, Trump said the “radical left” is using law enforcement powers to interfere in the 2024 elections, a sentiment that was echoed by his South Florida supporters.
In Palm Beach County, Republicans echoed that belief as they lined up in support of Trump, who officially made the county his permanent residence in 2020 and who has enjoyed broader popularity in Florida than other states.
“Everybody I talk to feels that this is a baseless prosecution, that this is political targeting of a former president in order to prevent him from running for a second time,” said county GOP chairman Michael Barnett, who now serves on the Palm Beach County commission. “I believe that he will come out of this vindicated, stronger than ever.”
Hispanic Republican activist Lydia Maldonado also argued the charges are aimed at disrupting Trump’s 2024 comeback campaign.
“I do believe this is all political,” said Maldonado, who attended Trump’s speech at Mar-a-Lago Tuesday night.
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Read the Trump indictment:Donspanld Trump chspanrged with crimes in New York
Democrats say only Trump is to blame for the current charges he faces
But Democrats say it was Trump and the payoff that amounted to interference in an election, specifically the country’s ability to choose a president in 2016.
Mindy Koch, chairwoman of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party, noted that the alleged hush money payment to porn film actress Stormy Daniels took place in the latter weeks of that year’s contested presidential race.
The claims by Daniels that she had an affair with Trump might have been revealed, if not for the payment Trump fixer Michael Cohen transacted. If so, it would have come to light on the heels of the damaging Access Hollywood recording in which Trump was heard using aggressive “locker room talk.”
“Trump wants to shift our focus from the 2016 election where his alleged payoff prevented the facts from coming out,” said Koch. “If voters had known about the alleged payoff then, those 77,744 votes in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan that gave Trump his victory might have been different.”
Trump after arrest:Whspant’s next legspanlly spannd politicspanlly for the former president?
Seven years ago, Trump lost the national popular vote to Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, but won the Electoral College victory with 306 votes to Clinton’s 227. But that triumph was made possible by slim “Ws” in traditional blue states like Michigan, which Trump won by just 11,900 votes, Wisconsin, which Trump claimed by 22,78 votes, and Pennsylvania, which Trump took by 44,292 ballots.
Then there was Florida, which Trump won by 112,911 votes. Koch said she knows “convincing” the Trump faithful about the reality of 2016 is highly unlikely.
“They don’t see it that way,” she said. “We see it as hush money and they see it as, ‘You are interfering, and how dare you by the way.'”
But the Democratic Party chair and her Republican counterparts agree on this: the case must be adjudicated fairly.
“We just want a fair trial,” Koch said. “Whether he gets exonerated or convicted, that’s our system at work and for me it only strengthens our country.”
Trump’s court appearance came as he was surging in 2024 national polls, besting DeSantis — except in Florida
Trump’s day in a Manhattan courtroom occurred as his 2024 campaign is seeing an intake of millions of dollars and a startling surge in polling.
A Yahoo News/YouGov poll released Monday showed Trump widening the gap with so far non-candidate Gov. Ron DeSantis among Republicans, up to 26 percentage points. His campaign reported it has raised close to $10 million since Trump first raised the specter of an “arrest” in a March 18 post on Truth Social, his social media platform.
But Florida, home to DeSantis and Trump, it’s the governor who has the upperhand.
A Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy survey issued Tuesday found that 44% of Republican voters in Florida support DeSantis in a hypothetical 2024 GOP presidential primary matchup with Trump, who is at 39% support, while 12% are undecided and 5% back someone else. Mason Dixon found that 59% of Florida voters approve of DeSantis, up from 55% in September.
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“The fact that DeSantis leads at a time when Trump seems to be emboldened in national polling among GOP voters, I think it makes Florida relatively safe down the road if DeSantis does decide to run,” said Brad Coker, a pollster with Mason-Dixon.
Mason-Dixon’s poll does not appear to be an outlier.
Last month, the University of North Florida’s Public Opinion Research Lab reported similar findings. In their poll of Florida Republicans, DeSantis handily topped Trump in a head-to-head match, 59% to 28%, with 14% not stating a preference.
Trump fan club founder says Dems wanted Trump indicted because they want him as the GOP nominee
One of those who are not in either camp is the founder of a popular Trump fan club, Club 47, Joe Budd.
Budd, who was an unsuccessful congressional candidate in 2022, said he feels the New York DA’s case doesn’t make business sense because an enterprise is “free to label an expense” as it suits the “needs and privacy” their operations require. The way the transaction was accounted for, Budd said, was “fair game” also because Trump does not have public shareholders.
However, Budd said the charges serve a political purpose: to help Trump win the GOP nomination because he said Democrats feel Trump is beatable next year.
“I think it’s a way for the Democrats to help him become the nominee because they don’t think he could win,” Budd said. “I think he’s in worse shape now than he was in 2020, and he didn’t win 2020.”
Budd said he’s neutral right now and would 100% support the Republican nominee, but worries Trump “lost voters in 2020 and he’s lost more” in the past two years.
“I think that he’d win the nomination, but he’d have a hard time winning the general election,” he said.
Trump’s first comments after pleading not guilty: Takes on Dems, says he did nothing illegal
Earlier Tuesday, Trump again reiterated that he is being pursued because the “radical left Democrats have criminalized the justice system” and insisted “there was nothing done illegally.”
Media and legal analysts have expressed concern that Trump’s coarse and vitriolic social media posts — he has called Manhattan prosecutor Alvin Bragg “an animal” and has warned of “death and destruction” if he were arrested — would successfully reframe the narrative positioning Trump as the victim of political persecution.
It’s not a completely unwarranted fear given, say, the way Trump painted special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian election meddling. By the time Mueller finished his report four years ago, which compellingly documented how Moscow had assisted Trump’s 2016 campaign, much of the GOP base and a significant portion of the overall public had concluded it was, as Trump claimed, a “witch hunt” and a “hoax.”
But Fort Lauderdale attorney Martin Roth said employing similar tactics in the New York case might not be as effective.
“This isn’t a case that’s heading towards a negotiated resolution. In terms of the prosecutor’s attitude towards him or his personal opinion about him, it’s probably not all that significant,” Martin said. “What would really concern me is statements that he’s made about the judge. It sounds like he’s being intentionally personally insulting towards the judge thinking that maybe he’s going to obtain a recusal that way.”
Could Trump’s public statements backfire on him?
Plus, Martin said, Trump’s public statements could boomerang against the former president.
“To the extent that his statements on social media can be attributed to statements that President Trump made, they can be used for cross-examination if Trump were to testify,” he said. “That’s why lawyers don’t like their clients to make any statements at all prior to trial because it just gives the prosecution ammunition for cross-examination.”
Likewise, Richard Serafini, a former federal prosecutor, said he’s not too worried that Trump’s media blitz, not to mention the rapacious news coverage, would impact the ability to impanel a jury or carry out a fair trial.
Jurors, he said, simply need to be able to judge what the evidence is and follow the judge’s instructions.
“People are allowed to have opinions,” said Serafini, now a criminal defense attorney. “What they can’t have, and what would disqualify you as a juror, is to have such a concrete opinion that they wouldn’t listen to what is said or presented in court in order to come to a fair and impartial verdict. It becomes difficult to find a jury but it’s not impossible.”
Interestingly, former President Bill Clinton was accused of committing perjury to conceal an affair while he served as president. Clinton cut a deal before his presidency ended to avoid the indignity of a criminal charge, raising the question as to why Trump might not have done the same.
Serafini said it might have been harder for Trump because the New York charge isn’t the only locale where Trump has potential legal exposure.
In addition to Manhattan, Trump is said to be under investigation in Georgia and a U.S. Justice Department-appointed special counsel probing the Jan. 6 violence at the U.S. Capitol and his possession and refusal to return government and classified documents.
“Certainly, you could have cut a deal,” he said of the New York case. “The problem you would have with President Trump is you would have had to cut deals all over the place.”