Donald Trump rallies supporters after explosive indictment

Donald Trump speaks at the Georgia state Republican convention at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center on June 10, 2023 in Georgia. Picture: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images/AFP

Donald Trump speaks at the Georgia state Republican convention at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center on June 10, 2023 in Georgia. Picture: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images/AFP

Published Jun 10, 2023


COLUMBUS, Ohio - Donald Trump addressed his supporters on Saturday for the first time since his indictment on multiple federal charges propelled the 2024 presidential election race into uncharted and potentially destabilising territory.

The 37 counts of the indictment – released on Friday and focused on his alleged mishandling of classified materials – set the former president up for a far more severe legal reckoning than the charges of personal, political and commercial misconduct he has largely ridden out in the past.

And it also sets the stage for a White House race like no other before it, with President Joe Biden's Department of Justice pursuing the prosecution of the clear front-runner for the Republican nomination.

Trump, who has already denounced what he insists is a politically-motivated witch hunt, is talking at two state Republican conventions in Georgia and then North Carolina, and was widely expected to use both platforms to attack the FBI and accuse federal prosecutors of unfairly targeting him.

In Columbus, Trump railed against Biden and the Department of Justice and what he called a "fake indictment", telling the crowd he was being pursued in court because of his bid for a second term in the White House.

"That's why they're doing it, if I wasn't, there would be no witch hunt, there would be no indictment," he told supporters.

The latest twist in Trump's attritional war with US law enforcement, as with so much else in the former US president's story, throws the country into unprecedented territory.

Facing multiple federal charges over his hoarding of government secrets, the mercurial Republican presents the country with the possibility of a winning candidate moving into the White House while under indictment – or running the government from a jail cell.

The defiant billionaire has dismissed the notion that he would ever drop out of his party's primary contest, reverting instead to a favoured tactic of accusing his "corrupt" political adversaries of election interference.

"It likely won't sway undecided voters but it will galvanise Trump supporters who might be wavering or looking to a candidate with less baggage," Matt Shoemaker, a national security analyst and former intelligence officer, told AFP.

Prosecutors in both the federal documents case and the state-level financial fraud probe targeting Trump in New York will hope to have him face justice before the country goes to the polls in 17 months.

But there is no guarantee of either case wrapping up that quickly and Trump also faces federal and state-level probes into his efforts to subvert the 2020 election.

He would likely torpedo any outstanding federal prosecutions were he re-elected, by attempting to pardon himself –an unprecedented scenario that would almost certainly spark a constitutional crisis.

But he would have little influence over state-level cases and his more immediate worry is the damage his legal woes could do to his campaign to win the Republican nomination in the first place.

The latest indictment allows Trump's primary challengers – Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former vice president Mike Pence and others – to level the criticism that the runaway frontrunner is unfit for office.

But the matter is far from the only legal peril dogging Trump as he seeks a return to the White House in 2024.

Here are the key investigations underway against the 76-year-old one-term president:

This graphic shows criminal and civil cases facing former US president Donald Trump as at June 9, 2023. Illustration: Graphic News

Secret documents at home

Trump announced on Thursday that he was indicted in a probe over his handling of classified documents, in a case that would make him the first US president to face federal criminal charges and the most serious legal threat yet as he pursues a second White House term.

Jack Smith, the federal prosecutor leading highly sensitive investigations into Trump, is a seasoned American lawyer who has led Kosovo war crimes probes in The Hague.

In November 2022, shortly after Trump announced another White House bid, US Attorney General Merrick Garland tapped Smith to oversee two independent investigations into the former president, saying that he had "built a reputation as an impartial and determined prosecutor."

The Federal Bureau of Investigation's search of Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence last August turned up boxes of classified documents taken when he left office in early 2021.

The raid was triggered by a review of records that Trump surrendered to authorities in January 2022.

The Justice Department began investigating after the 15 boxes were found to contain national defence information, including 184 documents marked as confidential, secret, or top secret.

One of Trump's attorneys, Jim Trusty, told CNN that his client has been indicted on charges, including the wilful retention of documents in violation of the Espionage Act, making false statements, obstruction of justice and a count of conspiracy.

Though the precise details of the charges were not immediately clear, people familiar with the matter told The New York Times the conspiracy charge was related to obstruction of justice.

"The corrupt Biden Administration has informed my attorneys that I have been Indicted, seemingly over the Boxes Hoax," Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform as he broke the bombshell news of a historic moment for the US: the first time a sitting or former commander-in-chief has faced federal charges.

In his post, Trump, who is running for president again, said he has been summoned to a federal courthouse in Miami on Tuesday – the day before his 77th birthday.

Stormy hush money?

A New York grand jury indicted Trump in March over hush money payments made to porn star Stormy Daniels.

Prosecutors say the money was paid prior to the 2016 election to silence Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, over claims she had a relationship with Trump in 2006 -- a year after he married Melania Trump.

Late in the campaign, Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen arranged a payment of $130 000 to Daniels in exchange for her pledge of confidentiality.

After US media broke the story, Cohen cooperated with prosecutors and pleaded guilty in 2018 to charges of tax and bank fraud, as well as violating federal campaign financing laws.

Cohen testified that the Trump Organization reimbursed Cohen for his payment to Daniels, which prosecutors said amounted to an undeclared campaign gift in violation of election financing laws.

That case, in which he faces 34 felony counts, is due to go to trial next March, in the middle of primary election season.

Incited Capitol attack?

The independent prosecutor Smith will also decide whether to charge anyone alleged to have "unlawfully interfered with the transfer of power" after the 2020 election or during certification by Congress of the results.

On January 6, 2021, a mob of Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol seeking to stop that certification.

Before the assault, Trump delivered a fiery speech nearby urging the crowd to "fight like hell".

In explosive hearings separate from the Justice probe, lawmakers argued that Trump knew he lost the election yet pressed fake claims of fraud.

They also presented evidence of alleged misconduct by Trump leading up to the insurrection, including accusations that he attempted to co-opt government departments into his bid to overturn the election results.

Federal prosecutors have obtained convictions of or guilty pleas from more than 500 people for participating in the uprising, but it remains unclear if Trump will face charges for any plotting or fomenting of the Capitol attack.

Other probes

Trump was found liable in a civil case last month for sexually abusing and defaming an American former magazine columnist E Jean Carroll in 1996, and ordered the ex-president to pay her $5 million in damages.

It marked the first time Trump faced legal consequences over a string of sexual assault allegations dating back decades.

The former leader immediately rejected the verdict as a "disgrace".

Separately, Trump is being investigated for pressuring officials in the southern swing state of Georgia to overturn Biden's 2020 victory, including a taped phone call in which he asked the then-secretary of state to "find" enough votes to reverse the result.

The top prosecutor in Georgia's Fulton County, Fani Willis, has assembled a special grand jury that could see Trump facing conspiracy charges connected to election fraud and interference.

This year, the grand jury forewoman said the 23-member panel had recommended indictments of multiple people, including "certainly names that you would recognize". She did not confirm whether Trump was among them.

In New York, meanwhile, the state attorney general Letitia James filed a civil suit against Trump and three of his children, accusing them of fraud by over-valuing assets to secure loans and then under-valuing them to minimize taxes.

James is seeking $250m in penalties as well as banning Trump and his children from serving as executives at companies in New York.

Agence France-Presse (AFP)