Former President Trump delivered a grievance-ridden speech on Tuesday hours after facing arraignment on criminal charges in New York, casting himself as the victim of a political prosecution and railing against what he called a “lawless” justice system bent on ending his political career.
Speaking at Mar-a-Lago, his personal residence and private club in Palm Beach, Fla., Trump went on an extended tirade against Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, whose office indicted Trump last week in a case involving hush money payments to a porn star to cover up an alleged extramarital affair.
The former president maintained his innocence, saying he never did anything illegal and that the charges against him should never have been brought. He also attacked the judge presiding over the case, Justice Juan Merchan, calling him a “Trump-hating judge.”
“You want to get President Trump at any cost,” Trump said. “As it turns out, everyone who has looked at this case … says there is no crime and it should never have been brought. Never have been brought.”
“It’s an insult to our country,” he added, “and the world is already laughing at us.”
Trump’s remarks before a friendly crowd that included allies such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) came just after he returned to Florida from New York, where he pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts, including falsifying business records and conspiracy in connection to multiple hush money payments.
Trump’s indictment has been expected. Law enforcement officials in Manhattan offered him the opportunity last month to testify before the grand jury looking into the matter, signaling charges were likely. That was followed by Trump wrongly predicting that he would be arrested.
But Trump made clear that he wasn’t only focused on those charges. He also went after law enforcement officials in Georgia and Washington, D.C., investigating other potential crimes.
In particular, he attacked special counsel Jack Smith, who’s investigating his efforts to subvert the 2020 presidential election, accusing Smith of “threatening” his allies with jail time in order to force them to cooperate with his inquiry.
“We have this Jack Smith lunatic threatening people every single day through his representatives,” Trump said. “They’re threatening jail terms. But talk about Trump and you’ll go free.”
“That’s the country in which we live in, however, right now.”
He also defended his handling of classified documents he took with him upon leaving the White House in 2021, saying he took the documents “in good faith” and was being treated unfairly by the National Archives and Records Administration.
He also rehashed older grievances, mentioning the FBI’s investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as the nation’s top diplomat and bringing up his two impeachments.
“From the beginning, the Democrats spied on my campaign,” he said. “Remember that? They attacked me with an onslaught of fraudulent inventions. Russia, Russia, Russia. Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine.”
The remarks were relatively brief, by Trump’s standards, lasting just under half an hour. Still, they telegraphed how the former president plans to make his various legal entanglements a central part of his bid for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
Since winning the White House in 2016, Trump has sought to cast himself as the target of a so-called deep state intent on weeding out anyone whom it sees as a threat to its power. During his time in Washington, he faced impeachment twice.
Yet while Republicans have rallied around him amid his indictment in New York, many have urged the party, both publicly and privately, to move on to a new standard-bearer without Trump’s political and legal baggage.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who hasn’t yet announced a presidential campaign, is widely seen as Trump’s most serious primary challenger, though recent polls show him slipping as GOP voters rush to Trump’s defense in the face of the indictment.
Still, Trump has put his legal troubles front and center in the 2024 Republican primary. In his remarks on Thursday, he turned to a familiar line, warning that the United States “is going to hell” and needed him to save it.
“We are a nation in decline. And now these radical left lunatics want to interfere with our elections by using law enforcement. We can’t let that happen,” he said. “I have no doubt nevertheless that we will make America great again.”
Updated at 9:43 p.m.