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Trump remains defiant in face of second indictment

When Donald Trump was indicted in Manhattan in March with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, his supporters rallied around him.

Buoyed by the backing of former and current elected Republicans — including some of those challenging him for the party’s presidential nomination in 2024 — Trump’s standing in national opinion polls surged after he pleaded not guilty to the charges in a New York state court.

Now Trump faces a much bigger test of his political strength in an unprecedented second indictment, this time on federal criminal charges relating to his handling of classified documents found at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

When Trump appears before a judge in Miami, Florida, on Tuesday, he will be battling an indictment with national security implications — which could be more difficult for the former president to defend in court and on the campaign trail.

Trump has reacted with customary defiance to news of the federal indictment, casting himself as a victim of political persecution. In an interview on Fox News Digital on Thursday night, he called the charges “election interference at the highest level” and “the greatest witch hunt of all time”, declaring himself “totally innocent”.

The Trump campaign quickly went into overdrive, issuing several statements in defence of the former president and attacking Jack Smith, the US special counsel who has been leading the investigation into Trump. Merrick Garland, the US attorney-general, appointed Smith last year to oversee probes into the former president, including an investigation into the January 6 2021 attack on the Capitol and the aftermath of the 2020 election.

Trump and his campaign accused US president Joe Biden, a Democrat, of orchestrating an effort to malign his former — and possible future — opponent at the ballot box. “By politically weaponising the DoJ, the Biden administration and their henchmen in the swamp are now conducting an all-out prosecution of the leader of the current administration’s political opposition,” the Trump campaign said.

Trump and his allies have also pointed out that Biden has also been the subject of a probe into his treatment of classified documents dating back to his years as vice-president.

The looming federal charges in Florida may not be the last of the former president’s legal woes. Trump is the subject of another federal investigation into his role in the January 6 events and an inquiry in Georgia into whether he attempted to overturn the 2020 election result in the state.

The latest charges underscore the unprecedented nature of Trump’s bid for another term in the White House, as the first former president to face criminal charges and the first former commander-in-chief in more than a century to seek a non-successive second term in the Oval Office.

The pending legal cases do not preclude Trump from seeking another four years in office, and he has vowed repeatedly to stay in the race while he fights the charges.

Trump has established himself as the undisputed frontrunner in a crowded field of Republican hopefuls for 2024. According to an average compiled by RealClearPolitics, he commands the support of just over half of Republican voters nationwide, with Florida governor Ron DeSantis in a distant second place, with the support of about 22 per cent. The remaining candidates including former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, former vice-president Mike Pence and anti-ESG investor Vivek Ramaswamy all languish in the single digits.

The Trump campaign even sought to leverage the expected charges as a fundraising opportunity, calling on backers to donate to his campaign. “With YOUR support, we will once again surge even higher and prove that our America First movement truly is UNSTOPPABLE,” Trump said in one fundraising email.

Trump received sympathy from his Republican rivals. DeSantis wrote on Twitter on Thursday that the “weaponization of federal law enforcement represents a mortal threat to a free society”, lamenting the “uneven application of the law depending upon political affiliation.”

Earlier in the day, at a campaign stop in Iowa, Pence said hypothetical charges in a second, federal indictment would be “extremely divisive” and “send a terrible message to the wider world”.

Ramaswamy offered more full-throated support for Trump. “It would be much easier for me to win this election if Trump weren’t in the race, but I stand for principles over politics. I commit to pardon Trump promptly on January 20, 2025, and to restore the rule of law in our country,” he said in a statement.

Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill also leapt to his defence. Jim Jordan, the Republican House member from Ohio, said it was a “sad day for America,” adding: “God Bless President Trump.” Kevin McCarthy, the House Speaker, wrote on Twitter it was “unconscionable for a President to indict the leading candidate opposing him”.

Democrats were more welcoming of the charges. “He will have his day in court, in Miami and Manhattan and Atlanta too if it comes to it. But I am grateful to live in a nation where no man is above the law,” Jerry Nadler, a Democratic member of Congress from New York, wrote on Twitter.

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