Former US president Donald Trump promised to remain in the 2024 presidential race even if convicted on multiple federal charges for mishandling classified documents.
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.
“I’ll never leave,” Trump told Politico aboard his plane on Saturday. “Look, if I would have left, I would have left prior to the original race in 2016. That was a rough one. In theory that was not doable.”
Trump is not prohibited by United States law from running while under indictment or even if convicted and sentenced to prison time.
Trump also claimed, without evidence, that he was the target of political persecution, laying into special counsel Jack Smith: “These are thugs and degenerates who are after me.”
Trump’s Tuesday afternoon appearance in Miami will mark his second time in as many months facing a judge on criminal charges. But unlike a New York case some legal analysts derided as relatively trivial, the Justice Department’s first prosecution of a former president concerns conduct that prosecutors say jeopardized national security and that involves Espionage Act charges carrying the threat of a significant prison sentence in the event of a conviction.
The former president said he believed he would not be convicted and would not need a plea deal, but was open to signing one where “where they pay me some damages.”
If he does win the 2024 election, Trump said he won’t use presidential powers to pardon himself, claiming: “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Trump is expected to depart for Miami on Monday and will spend the rest of the day in Florida, huddled with advisers. After his court appearance, he will return to New Jersey, where he’s scheduled a press event to publicly respond to the charges.
Trump supporters were also planning to load buses to head to Miami from other parts of Florida, raising concerns for law enforcement officials who are preparing for the potential of unrest around the courthouse. Mayor Francis Suarez was expected to announce additional details Monday about the preparations, though there was little police presence near the courthouse as late as Sunday afternoon and barricades hadn’t yet been erected nearby, a stark contrast to New York City where police planned for protests for weeks even though no violence ultimately happened.
The Justice Department unsealed Friday an indictment charging Trump with 37 felony counts, 31 relating to the willful retention of national defense information. Other charges include conspiracy to commit obstruction and false statements.
The indictment alleges Trump intentionally retained hundreds of classified documents that he took with him from the White House to his Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, after leaving the White House in January 2021. The material he stored, including in a bathroom, ballroom, bedroom, and shower, included material on nuclear programs, defense and weapons capabilities of the US and foreign governments, and a Pentagon “attack plan,” the indictment says. The information, if exposed, could have put at risk members of the military, confidential human sources, and intelligence collection methods, prosecutors said.
Beyond that, prosecutors say, he sought to obstruct government efforts to recover the documents, including by directing personal aide Walt Nauta — who was charged alongside Trump — to move boxes to conceal them and also suggesting to his own lawyer that he hide or destroy documents sought by a Justice Department subpoena.
Some fellow Republicans have sought to press the case that Trump is being treated unfairly, citing the Justice Department’s decision in 2016 to not charge Democrat Hillary Clinton for her handling of classified information through a private email server she relied on as secretary of state. But those arguments overlook that FBI investigators did not find any evidence that Clinton or her aides had willfully broken laws regarding classified information or had obstructed the investigation.
New Hampshire Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, speaking Sunday on CBS News, said there was a “huge difference” between the two investigations but that it “has to be explained to the American people.”
The Justice Department earlier this month informed former US vice president Mike Pence that it would not bring charges over the presence of classified documents in his Indiana home. A separate Justice Department special counsel investigation into the discovery of classified records at a home and office of US President Joe Biden continues, though as in the Clinton case, no evidence of obstruction or intentional law-breaking has surfaced.
Trump’s own former attorney general, William Barr, offered a grim prediction of Trump’s fate, saying on Fox News that Trump had no right to hold onto such sensitive records.
“If even half of it is true,” Barr said of the allegations in the indictment, “then he’s toast. I mean, it’s a pretty — it’s a very detailed indictment, and it’s very, very damning. And this idea of presenting Trump as a victim here — a victim of a witch hunt — is ridiculous.”