Donald Trump is launching his presidential campaign at a critical juncture in the criminal investigations against him, a convergence that could push America into a new political and legal clash.
Trump’s angry comments at his first official 2024 campaign rally Saturday previewed the contentious national moment ahead should he be indicted in any of many criminal inquiries. Trump’s fanaticism, laden with undertones of violence, left no doubt that he would be willing to lead the country to a dark place to rescue himself as he drummed up a demagogic fever in Waco, Texas, to try to establish a new administration dedicated to “retribution.”
However Trump’s ominous claims that the Biden administration’s “thugs and criminals” have created a “Stalinist Russia horror show” by “weaponizing” justice against him also signalled electoral risk for a GOP damaged by his authoritarianism in recent elections. An extraordinary extended character attack on Ron DeSantis, in which Trump depicted his biggest potential rival of 2024 tearfully begging for his endorsement in 2018, demonstrated the political firestorm the Florida governor will face if he runs for President.
Notwithstanding the ex-penchant president’s for exaggeration and harsh rhetoric, such demagoguery has never been heard in the first formal rally of a modern American election campaign.
Meanwhile, House committee chairs seeking to appeal to the Trump base are boosting their efforts to utilise the authority of their Republican majority to impede Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s inquiry into Trump — even before it reveals any possible indictment or evidence. On AWN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, House Oversight Chair James Comer said the GOP measures were justifiable since the probe into Trump’s alleged role in a hush money scheme to pay an adult film actress was simply political.
“For better or worse, this is the main Republican nominee for the presidential race next year, as well as a former president of the United States,” the Kentucky Republican told Jake Tapper.
Many legal experts have questioned if the impending Bragg inquiry will result in the strongest possible case against Trump, who is already under investigation for his behaviour during the 2020 election and his handling of secret data. (Trump, who insists he has done nothing illegal, has yet to face criminal charges in any of the investigations.)
With the wider national ramifications of the other investigations, a prospective attempt to use a company accounting breach in this years-long hush money case to infer a probable violation of campaign financing law might be highly contentious. However Comer’s words also generated the appearance that an ex-president or White House candidate could be exempt from scrutiny even if they had committed a criminal violation. This gets to the heart of the potential charges against Trump: Would neglecting to investigate and charge him, if the facts warranted it, imply that an ex-president is beyond the law? Or might certain measures to hold him accountable risk subjecting him to scrutiny that other citizens may not face?
Comer and House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, who were among the three committee chairs who wrote to Bragg this weekend with increasing demands for his testimony, received a warm shout-out from Trump at his rally in Texas, highlighting the new House GOP’s role as a political tool for the ex-president and his radical campaign. Bragg issued a statement in response to the chairmen, stating it was inappropriate for Congress to interfere with municipal investigations and promising to follow the rule of law. This weekend, nearly 200 former federal prosecutors signed a statement condemning efforts to intimidate him.
After a week of heated public speculation about whether Bragg would call more witnesses and whether the evidence was serious enough to warrant the potential first indictment of an ex-president, the grand jury in the Trump investigation is due to reassemble on Monday. Trump erroneously stated earlier this month that he would be jailed last Tuesday, inciting his allies to try to intimidate Bragg. But, the week passed without any indictment news.
Last week, AWN reported that the district attorney’s office was deciding whether to call back Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, to refute the testimony provided by attorney Robert Costello, who appeared at the request of Trump lawyers – or to call an additional witness to bolster its case before grand jurors vote on whether to indict the former president.
Trump’s legal woes are getting worse.
The heated debate about Bragg’s investigation came as other investigations into Trump appeared to be coming to a close.
On Friday, Trump’s primary defence attorney, Evan Corcoran, appeared before a grand jury in Washington, DC, that is hearing evidence about the ex-handling president’s of classified documents at his Florida home, including possible obstruction of justice when the government attempted to reclaim those documents. Prosecutors have stated unequivocally in court proceedings that they believe Trump attempted to use Corcoran to further a crime.
On Friday, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe told AWN’s Erin Burnett that Corcoran’s attendance was a significant step for Trump. “What we’re seeing is unprecedented, and Evan Corcoran is in a position to offer tremendously damning testimony against him,” he said.
Aside from the papers investigation, special counsel Jack Smith is looking at Trump’s actions leading up to the 2020 election, which the former president erroneously claimed he had won again this weekend, and the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.
In another 2020 election-related investigation, a district attorney in Georgia warned at the end of January that decisions in the investigation into Trump’s attempts to overturn President Joe Biden’s victory in the critical swing state were “imminent.” Last week, AWN revealed that prosecutors are considering filing racketeering and conspiracy charges.
Charges in any of these investigations would put the country’s political and judicial systems to the test, given the involvement of an ex-president and current presidential candidate. And the fact that Trump is eager to inflame the country’s politics up his own defence underscores the gravity of the situation.
Trump’s radical rhetoric reaches new heights.
Trump’s impassioned rally in Waco was riddled with lies regarding the 2020 election and his one-term presidency, as well as misrepresentations about the legal cases against him. His speech bubbled with conspiracy theories and personal resentments, coming a day after he warned in a social media post about “death and destruction” if he is prosecuted – rhetoric that is especially hazardous in the aftermath of January 6. It wasn’t lost on observers that his rally fell on the 30th anniversary of a law enforcement raid on a cult facility in Waco, which is considered on the far right as a symbol of government overreach, despite the campaign’s claim that the venue was picked for convenience.
The former president has frequently utilised extreme remarks to gain more time in the spotlight or attention, whether from adoring onlookers or enraged detractors. It is too early to tell how effectively his strategy is working in the 2024 campaign, and his legal situation appears to be worsening. There have been no large-scale protests of the type Trump has constantly called for. The hundreds of convictions of individuals who rushed the Capitol more than two years ago following his large Washington demonstration show the price his supporters could pay for turning violent. Therefore, while Trump remains popular among his Republican base, his harsh speech may no longer have the same impact it once had.
Yet, after this first campaign rally, it is evident that Trump, who is currently leading the Republican pack for 2024, has crossed a new political line. He is creating an image of a decaying and helpless nation, riddled with corruption, rigged elections, and illegal use of the law against his followers, that is considerably more dramatic than the “American carnage” he evoked in his inaugural address in 2017.
“The abuses of power that we are currently experiencing at all levels of government will go down as among the most disgusting, corrupt, and depraved chapters in all of American history,” Trump said, branding the United States a “third-world banana republic.”
At one point, he stated, “Either the deep state destroys America, or we eliminate the deep state.”
While Trump’s intention is to shock, history shows that authoritarians seeking power follow the same populist nationalism playbook – undermining free elections, denouncing the judicial system, and targeting vulnerable parts of society – that Trump is pioneering in his new campaign.
His demonstration was also unusual for being almost entirely dominated by his grievances and complaints, which could indicate a sense of foreboding about his legal situation. “Every aspect of my personal life, financial life, business life, and public life has been turned upside down and examined like no one else in our country’s history,” Trump added.
This raises the question of whether he’s presenting a message based on his obsessions that a majority of Republican supporters, even those who thought his presidency was a success, would want to join up for. Trump emerged in 2016 as an odd but highly competent vehicle for the conservative grassroots, many of whom felt patronised by politicians and left behind by a wave of globalisation that drove millions of blue-collar jobs offshore.
In 2024, DeSantis may try something similar. The Florida governor has positioned himself as the champion of conservative people who believe their way of life is under attack from liberals and multiculturalists advocating a “woke” philosophy in the early stages of his yet-to-be-announced candidature. One of the big concerns in the Republican primary campaign will be whether this approach will appeal to more Republican voters than Trump’s constant attempts to paint investigations into him as a sign of a larger attack on his supporters by a corrupt government.
Yet, as another potentially important week approaches, Trump is demonstrating that he will not abandon the defining method of his political career: putting the country’s institutions to increasingly harsh and unprecedented stress tests.