Former President Donald Trump is set to return to the campaign trail Saturday, traveling to Georgia and North Carolina for speeches at a pair of state Republican conventions as news of his federal indictment roils the party’s 2024 presidential race.
The pre-planned stops come the day after the Justice Department unsealed its indictment laying out the government’s case that Trump and aide Walt Nauta mishandled classified national security documents.
Trump’s speeches will mark his first public outings since he was indicted for a second time in less than three months, with probes into election interference efforts in Georgia and his actions surrounding January 6, 2021, in Washington threatening to pose further legal troubles.
The visits will give Trump a chance to respond to the charges in a campaign-style as he mounts battles on both the political and legal fronts. The former president is scheduled to appear Tuesday in a federal courtroom in Miami, where he will be read the charges against him.
So far, Trump has cast his prosecution as a politically motivated effort to stop his bid for the presidency. He has described special prosecutor Jack Smith as “deranged” and the case against him as a “hoax,” while accusing President Joe Biden of similarly mishandling classified documents.
“I had nothing to hide, nor do I now. Nobody said I wasn’t allowed to look at the personal records that I brought with me from the White House. There’s nothing wrong with that,” he said Friday on his social media platform Truth Social.
Trump released a four-minute video Thursday evening repeating many of his past claims, including that the Justice Department is being weaponized and that the investigations into him represent “election interference.”
“I am an innocent man. I did nothing wrong,” Trump said in the video.
News of the former president’s indictment Thursday was met at his Bedminster golf club in New Jersey with a belief that he would benefit politically as conservatives rallied around him.
Trump spent Friday morning in Bedminster playing golf with Florida Rep. Carlos Gimenez as his allies made rounds of phone calls to shore up support for the former president.
After the indictment was unsealed Friday, concern began to settle in, a source familiar with the mood at Bedminster told CNN, as Trump aides began to acknowledge the legal implications. His team still thinks Trump will likely benefit politically – at least in the short term – the source said, but aides have grown more wary of how the indictment will play out legally.
Trump has long avoided legal culpability in his personal, professional and political lives. He has settled a number of private civil lawsuits through the years and paid his way out of disputes concerning the Trump Organization. As president, he was twice impeached by the Democratic-led House but avoided conviction by the Senate.
But after leaving office, the Justice Department’s criminal investigations into the alleged retention of classified information at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and his efforts to overturn the 2020 election cast dark clouds over the former president. Smith’s investigation into January 6, 2021, and efforts to overturn the election is still ongoing.
In March, the Manhattan district attorney in New York indicted Trump on charges related to hush-money payments to a former adult star. In Georgia, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is expected to announce in August whether there are any charges in her investigation into attempts by Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election in the state.
On the campaign trail, many of Trump’s Republican 2024 presidential rivals responded to the news of his indictment by attacking the Justice Department – another indication that they see advantage among conservative primary voters in defending a former president who remains popular with the party’s base.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday accused the DOJ of “weaponization of federal law enforcement” while vowing, if elected president, to “bring accountability to the DOJ, excise political bias and end weaponization once and for all.”
Former Vice President Mike Pence had called on the Justice Department to release the indictment against his former boss. After it did so, he did not comment on its contents while campaigning in New Hampshire.
Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and Trump’s United Nations ambassador, characterized the indictment as “prosecutorial overreach” in a statement Friday, adding that it was time to move “beyond the endless drama and distractions.”
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, who entered the GOP race earlier this week, said Saturday that Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified documents is not something voters want to spend their time on.
“When we’re on the road in Iowa the last two days and here in New Hampshire talking about the economy, energy policy, national security – those are the things that are hitting every American every single day,” Burgum told Fox News.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, another onetime ally and close adviser to Trump who has emerged as his chief critic in the 2024 race, described the details of the indictment as “damning.”
“This is irresponsible conduct,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Friday, adding that “the conduct that Donald Trump engaged in was completely self-inflicted.”
“The bigger issue for our country is, is this the type of conduct that we want from someone who wants to be president of the United States?” Christie said.
Another Trump critic, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, said the former president should drop out of the race “for the good of the country.”
“This is unprecedented that we have a former president criminally charged for mishandling classified information, for obstruction of justice. This obviously will be an issue during the campaign,” Hutchinson told Tapper on Friday in a separate interview.
“For the sake of the country, he doesn’t need this distraction. The country doesn’t need this distraction, as well.”
This story has been updated with additional information.