Former President Donald Trump was meeting with his top political advisers in the office near his poolside cottage at his club in Bedminster, New Jersey, when his phone rang around 7 p.m. Thursday. On the phone, according to two people familiar with the call, was one of his lawyers, informing him that he had been charged for the second time in less than three months.
Unlike the first indictment — in Manhattan state court tied to allegations he paid silent money to a porn star in the 2016 election — the current charges were federal and stemmed from his conduct just before leaving office and for about 18 months afterwards.
Trump, still compartmentalizing, immediately shifted to a political reaction.
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At 7:21 p.m., he did what he did so often when he was president: he personally programmed the chyrons on every news channel in the country. He broke the news of his own indictment – writing and then posting a three-part statement on his social media network, Truth Social, which quickly interrupted nightly shows on Fox News, MSNBC and CNN.
The former president issued a screed against the Biden administration, but buried in his attacks on Democrats were pertinent details: not only that he had been charged, but also that he had been summoned to appear before a courthouse. Miami court on Tuesday afternoon.
A van was brought to Bedminster so that one of his lawyers could appear on television. Another Trump attorney, James Trusty, quickly took to CNN to outline some of the charges and recounted his client’s reaction.
“He thought about it,” Trusty said. “He said, ‘It’s just a sad day. I can’t believe I’ve been charged. Trusty continued, “Those are kind of my – my summary words of what he had to say. But, at the same time, he immediately recognizes its historical character. It’s crossing the Rubicon.
For days, Trump’s team had been searching for information about his indictment, after three of his attorneys met with Justice Department officials on Monday. They entered that meeting after being told charges were likely, and nothing said has changed that outlook, according to people close to Trump. But while they suspected an indictment was imminent, they were operating more on rumours, gossip and news reports than verified facts.
As speculation intensified ahead of the Justice Department’s indictment, Trump’s team pre-recorded video of the former president reacting to the expected charges in a direct-to-camera speech – and standing in front of what appeared to be a version of a painting of President Theodore Roosevelt and Kaiser Wilhelm II, leader of Germany during World War I.
Half an hour after announcing his indictment, he posted the video on his social media site. In it, he denounces Democrats, paints the indictment as evidence of a “nation in decline” and calls himself an “innocent man.”
Trump’s team had been urging Republicans close to him to start issuing statements, and soon his allies obliged: Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a tweet: ” Sad day for America. God bless President Trump.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy went further, calling it a “dark day” and swearing, “House Republicans will hold accountable this brazen weaponization of power.”
The fact that Trump was surrounded in Bedminster by his political and communications circle, and not by most of his lawyers, reflected both the uncertainty about when charges might be brought and the way Trump has always approached his legal challenges.
His political advisers had been preparing for weeks to fully exploit the federal indictment. His team came to view the actions of federal law enforcement against him as a central part of their fundraising strategy. Online fundraising — which has long been a cornerstone of Trump’s political operation because high-end Republican donors largely avoid it — has dried up for all Republican candidates in recent years. , including Trump.
GOP donors are exhausted by constant hysterical pleas to give Trump money to stop the Democrats from destroying the nation. It takes a lot these days to get the attention of such contributors; the indictments are among the few events that energize the base enough to dip into their pockets.
The last time Trump was indicted, in New York, his campaign said it had raised more than $12 million in the week following the indictment – a huge bump in his previously anemic fundraising. Since then, Trump’s fundraising has fallen back to a disappointing level, according to people briefed on the situation.
Not even an hour had passed since Trump learned of his indictment before his campaign sent out its first mass email to monetize the sense of persecution and shared victimization the former president fostered among his supporters. . Trump’s fundraising call at around 7:45 p.m. Thursday began, “We watch our Republic DIE before our eyes.”
Trump’s allies outside of his formal campaign structure also prepared to capitalize on this moment and enforce his political antibodies.
Officials of the main pro-Trump super PAC, MAGA Inc., have fueled research into the allied opposition so they have talking points to attack Jack Smith, the special counsel who brought the case against Trump, in appearances on TV and radio and on social media. The group even distributed information about Smith’s wife in an attempt to suggest that her donations to Democratic politicians created a conflict of interest for her husband.
Last week, as the former president’s allies learned that Smith was likely nearing the end of his investigation, strategists working with Trump’s super PAC began drafting a TV ad to coincide with the act of federal indictment expected.
The commercial will go through national cable placement on Friday, according to a person with direct knowledge of the plans. The ad’s messages will tie into talking points circulating among some of Trump’s staunchest supporters on Capitol Hill. They will frame the indictment as a partisan conspiracy by President Joe Biden’s Justice Department.
Those allies also plan to insinuate — without any evidence — that the Justice Department timed this indictment to distract from House Republicans’ investigations of Biden and his family’s business dealings.
As Trump prepares for his impeachment on Tuesday afternoon at the Miami federal courthouse, some of his close allies are preparing a campaign to pressure his competitors in the Republican presidential nominating contest to side with him. .
“Every ‘Republican’ presidential candidate should pause their campaign and travel to Miami in support,” tweeted Charlie Kirk, a young conservative activist close to Trump.
“If you don’t,” Kirk added, “you’re part of the problem. Either we have an opposition party or we don’t.
Agents from several rival campaigns had privately conceded they feared the indictment because it would take over the news cycle and rob their candidates of media attention.
A senior adviser to one of Trump’s contenders in the Republican primary, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said GOP voters overwhelmingly believe any charges against Trump were a plot by the Democrats and that they wanted to see all Republicans fight to defend the old. president.
That leaves most Republicans running in 2024 in the abject position of feeling like the only way to appease their constituents is to defend Trump head on and suspend efforts to compare their records with his.
Trump’s team ran the same pressure campaign the last time he was indicted, in New York – and it worked like a charm.
In mid-March, the former president predicted his arrest was imminent, and his political operation and media allies began publicly bullying Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida into coming to Trump’s defense. , which he eventually did.
This time, DeSantis attacked prosecutors, but also failed to defend Trump. Without promising to forgive Trump, as fellow candidate Vivek Ramaswamy did, DeSantis tweeted, “The DeSantis administration will hold DOJ to account, root out political bias and end gunning once and for all. all.”
There were other, more eccentric parallels Thursday night with Trump’s first indictment.
About 90 minutes after discovering his latest setbacks, Trump – who had been playing disc jockey on the terrace of his club in Mar-a-Lago after his arraignment in April – went to the main building in Bedminster for dinner in outdoors.
Wearing a red Make America Great Again cap, he once again acted as a DJ, according to an attendee, using an iPad to play some of his favourites: Elvis, opera singer Pavarotti and his idol of the show, James Brown.
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