Former President Donald Trump cast himself as a defiant warrior against President Biden’s “Stalinist” tactics Saturday in his first live comments since the unsealing of a 49-page, 37-count federal indictment on charges of mishandling classified documents.
“They tried to frame me for treason and now they’re trying to do it again,” Trump said at a rally-like appearance before a crowd of more than 3,500 Republican state party delegates and guests at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center in Columbus , Ga.
“Biden is trying to jail his leading political opponent … just like they did in Stalinist Russia or in communist China,” Trump railed.
“I never thought such a thing could happen in America.”
“I’ve put everything on the line for you and I will never yield,” he promised at the state’s annual GOP convention — held sans Gov. Brian Kemp, a longtime Trump critic.
“I’m the only candidate who has what it takes to smash this corrupt system,” he said.
It was the first of two campaign-style stops for Trump, who remains the front-runner in the Republican presidential primary race despite his cascading legal woes.
The federal case unsealed in Miami on Friday came after a federal grand jury heard evidence that Trump illicitly retained classified documents and kept them at his Mar-a-Lago home.
The charges, including the willful retention of national defense documents and conspiring to obstruct justice, follow Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s April indictment for Trump’s alleged falsification of business records.
“We didn’t do any obstruction,” Trump insisted in his speech, in which he debuted a new nickname – “Deranged Jack Smith” – for the special prosecutor who brought Friday’s indictment against him.
“They took one charge and they turned it into 36 charges,” Trump complained.
“We have a thug who’s in charge,” he said, referring to Smith. “This is a political hit job,” he added, carried out by “a sick nest of people that needs to be cleaned out immediately.”
Those two cases may soon be joined by additional indictments: in Georgia over accusations of election interference, and in Washington, DC for the former president’s actions surrounding the Jan. 6 Capitol riots.
Trump addressed the Georgia investigation – which involved his 2020 phone calls to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in the wake of his election loss — at length Saturday.
“I was complaining about an election that I thought was rigged, complaining to the proper authorities,” he said. “And the day you’re not allowed to complain about an election, we are in communist China.”
In messages to supporters Saturday, Trump sought to use the prosecution’s as fuel for his quest to win the Republican presidential nomination once again.
“I could throw in the towel tomorrow, close down my 2024 presidential campaign, and all charges against me would magically be dropped!” he wrote in a fundraising email.
Doing so, he added, “would be turning my back on our country” — casting his expected Tuesday arrangement as an attack on America itself.
Meanwhile, Trump made a string of posts on social media, including one all-caps missive claiming that “AMERICA WENT TO SLEEP LAST NIGHT WITH TEARS IN ITS EYES” over the indictment, which some Republicans have denounced as a politically motivated power grab.
But Kemp’s pointed absence signaled rifts within the Republican Party over Trump’s candidacy, particularly in the must-win swing state of Georgia, which the former president narrowly lost to President Biden in 2020.
A poll released Friday by Kemp’s Hardworking Americans PAC found that Trump would have the support of just 42% of likely Georgia voters in a rematch against Biden — fully six points less than the 48% support that a generic Republican candidate would receive in such a race .
The statewide survey of 600 voters, taken before news of the indictment dropped, found that Trump would barely edge out Biden 42% to 41% if the presidential election was held today, while any other GOP candidate would beat the incumbent by 10 points, 48 % to 38%.
The poll had a 4% margin of error.
After the Georgia speech, Trump was scheduled to head to North Carolina to campaign at that state’s annual Republican convention.