As he departed an Atlanta-area jail Thursday night, former President Donald Trump derided his fourth indictment as a form of “election interference” designed to thwart his presidential campaign and stifle constitutionally protected free speech rights.
“This is a very sad day for America,” said Trump as he left the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office, where he voluntarily surrendered to authorities over allegations that his questioning the controversial outcome of the 2020 election violated the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. In a short period, Trump went through booking as Inmate No. P01135809 and paid a $200,000 bond.
“We have every right — every single right — to challenge an election we think is dishonest,” he said, noting Hillary Clinton and Stacey Abrams had denied the outcome of the 2016 presidential election and the 2018 Georgia governor’s election, respectively. “What has taken place here is a travesty of justice,” said Trump.
The charges display “the continued weaponization of the justice system against a political opponent,” said Rep. Byron Donald (R-Fla.).
The indictments are intended to disadvantage Trump’s 2024 presidential bid to oust Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, the 45th president said. In all, Democratic prosecutors have filed 91 charges against Trump spread across four indictments:
- A local indictment of 34 counts handed down by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg in March that Trump falsified business records when paying off pornstar Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election. Critics say punishing federal election violations belongs exclusively to federal authorities and that the statute of limitations has lapsed;
- A federal case brought by Biden administration Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith in June for 37 felonies, claiming Trump illegally retained classified information after leaving the White House and attempted to obstruct justice. This led to the first-ever government raid on the home of a former president;
- Another four-count federal indictment which Smith issued in August, alleging that Trump illegally attempted to sway the 2020 presidential election; and
- The Atlanta indictment charging Trump with 13 election-related charges, including conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to impede the January 6 congressional proceeding, and a conspiracy against the right to vote, and an attempt to obstruct and impede the certification of the electoral vote. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis pressed a total of 41 charges against 19 defendants, whom she says she plans to try as a group.
“What they’re doing is election interference,” said Trump. “This is their way of campaigning.”
Jack Smith, who was appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland, proposed the federal trial over the 2020 election begin on January 2, 2024 — 13 days before the Iowa caucus. The New York City trial will follow on March 25, the heat of the presidential primary season.
The latest case could also chill Trump’s ability to campaign, as it threatens to jail him if he makes any “direct or indirect threat,” including via social media. Smith claimed a remark Trump made on Truth Social — “If you go after me, I’m coming after you!” — could intimidate witnesses. Trump’s campaign said the post came “in response to the RINO, China-loving, dishonest special interest groups and Super PACs.”
At age 77, nearly any conviction on “any count could be a terminal sentence,” said George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley.
If the criminalization of political differences does not end, any Republican could share Trump’s fate, the president said. “If somebody else got in other than me, they’ll go after him just as viciously as me,” Trump told Tucker Carlson on Wednesday evening. “These people are sick.”
Trump’s remarks came at 8:55 p.m. Eastern Wednesday night — five minutes before eight other Republican presidential hopefuls held their first debate. Trump opted instead to appear on episode 19 of “Tucker on X,” formerly “Tucker on Twitter.”
Trump and Tucker’s tête-à-tête represented a revenge of sorts from both men against Fox News, which observers say has aggressively moved leftward since pivoting away from Trump and firing Carlson in April. Its ratings have plunged, with the news channel briefly losing its position as the leading network in cable news to MSNBC. Fox News viewership dropped 49% this July compared to July 2022. The audience for Tucker’s replacement, Jesse Watters, still lags behind his predecessor by 700,000 viewers.
Trump skipped the debate, in part because it would be held “at a network that isn’t particularly friendly to me, quite frankly.” His “Tucker on X” interview tweet was seen by 252 million people within less than 36 hours — 16 times higher than the 12.8 million people who watched the Fox News debate. Trump dominates the Republican field, leading his nearest competitor, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, by 41 points, according to a Real Clear Politics average of polls.
“If you’re elected president again, what’s your number one priority?” asked Carlson.
“The first thing I would do is seal up the border good-and-tight, except for people who want to come in legally,” Trump replied. “You can do numerous things at the same time,” including deporting “hundreds of thousands” of criminal aliens admitted into the United States by the Biden-Harris administration, improving security, and completing the border wall promised in the 2016 election. “Terrorists are pouring into our country,” he said. Border agents encountered 591 people on the U.S. terror watchlist in July. “Last month, we had 149 countries represented from places that many people never even heard of, coming into our country,” said Trump.
Trump also proposed a number of electoral reforms to prevent future voter fraud. “We should go back to all paper ballots, voter ID, same-day voting,” said Trump. “Anytime you have mail-in ballots, you’re going to have massive cheating in your election,” something he said the Democrats’ must resort to after their policies fail.
“Who wants open borders? Who wants high taxes? Who wants high interest rates? Who wants not to be able to use a gas stove?”
Fox News moderators Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum did not ask a single question about immigration, legal or illegal, which voters rank as their third most important issue.
If he avoids a criminal conviction, Trump feels confident about his ability to defeat Joe Biden in a 2020 rematch. “I think he’s worse mentally than physically. … He looks like he’s walking on toothpicks, then you see him at the beach, he can’t lift the chair,” Trump said. “You’re waiting for him to collapse, and he almost always does.”
He also criticized Biden for vacationing at Delaware’s Rehoboth Beach as forest fires consumed Maui. “The beach doesn’t represent what the president’s supposed to be doing. He’s supposed to be working. He’s supposed to be getting us out of that horrible, horrible war that we’re very much involved in with Russia and Ukraine,” Trump said, adding “That’s a war that we should end immediately, not because of one side or the other; because hundreds of thousands of people are being killed.”
Kamala Harris’s mental acuity is “almost as bad as” Biden’s, Trump said. “She speaks almost in rhyme. …. ‘The bus will go here, and then the bus will go there, because that’s what buses do.’ It’s weird.”
The 46-minute-long interview gave Trump the opportunity to address such idiosyncratic issues as whether Jeffrey Epstein killed himself. (“I think he probably committed suicide,” said Trump. But the former president allowed that Epstein “knew a lot on a lot of people,” and “A case could be made either way.”)
When asked if he was convinced the FBI and CIA informed him of all their activities during his term as president, Trump replied, “No, I’m not.” He vowed to control intelligence agencies, citing his firing of James Comey as director of the FBI. “If I didn’t fire Comey, maybe I wouldn’t be talking to you,” he said, referring to the Russian collusion investigation as “a coup.” But, he said, taking on the Deep State touched off yet more massive resistance to the popular will, including his present legal troubles.
“When I fired Comey, it was like throwing a rock into a hornet’s nest.”
Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.
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