Hours after pleading not guilty to 34 felony charges in a Manhattan courtroom, former President Donald Trump was back home at his Mar-a-Lago resort Tuesday night, where he unleashed a tirade against the prosecutor and judge.
“I never thought anything like this could happen in America,” he said. “The only crime I have committed is to fearlessly defend our nation from those who seek to destroy it.”
“This fake case was brought only to interfere with the upcoming 2024 election, and it should be dropped immediately.”
Trump repeatedly asserted that he’s being persecuted.
He described Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who brought the “ridiculous” case against him as a “local, failed district attorney.” He said Bragg is a “criminal” who should be prosecuted or resign.
“Every single pundit and legal analyst said there is no case,” he said, adding, “virtually every one. It’s worse than that because he knew there was no case.”
He then attacked the New York judge presiding over his case as “a Trump-hating judge with a Trump-hating wife and family.”
He brought up, and denounced, all the investigations of him asserting that each — in Manhattan, by the New York state attorney general, by the Atlanta district attorney, and by a federal special counsel spearheading two probes — are all motivated by politics and run by people who are out to get him.
He called the federal independent counsel a “lunatic” and asserted that the New York attorney general, who is Black, is “racist in reverse.”
His speech veered from claims that the United States is in decline, complaints about the investigations and ways the country would be better off if he were president. And he frequently shifted among those different arguments.
In one two-minute passage, he discussed border security, the withdrawal from Afghanistan, killed and wounded soldiers, energy policy, crime in the U.S., threats by other nations, the possibility of nuclear war, inflation, and a U.S. military he said is preoccupied with woke indoctrination.
“We are now a failing nation. We are a nation in decline,” he said.
He said he’s been plagued by an “onslaught of fraudulent investigations,” including when he was president. And he repeated his false claims about “millions of votes illegally stuffed into ballot boxes and all caught on government cameras.” Multiple investigations found no such evidence of any kind of large-scale voter fraud.
The speech lasted about 25 minutes, unusually short for Trump who often talks for 90 minutes or more.
Trump appeared before hundreds of supporters ranging from people in business attire to bikers with leather vests — and many wearing MAGA hats — in the Donald J. Trump Grand Ballroom at Mar-a-Lago, and to a larger television audience.
People who gathered hours before Trump spoke were in a jovial mood: smiling, chatty and excited, similar to the gathering in the same place as he announced his 2024 candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination.
Shortly after the speech started, some people started leaving.
Roger Stone of Fort Lauderdale, a longtime political adviser to the former president, was among those at Mar-a-Lago for Trump’s speech as was Mike Lindell — the CEO of My Pillow familiar to many for his cable TV ads pitching his company’s products and a prominent proponent of conspiracy theories falsely claiming Trump won the 2020 election.
Kari Lake, the 2020 election denier who lost her candidacy for Arizona governor last year, and U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the MAGA Republican from Georgia, both attended. Lake and Greene are both thought to be potential vice presidential candidates with Trump if he wins the Republican nomination next year.
Two of the former president’s sons, Don Jr. and Eric, were present. Melania Trump, his wife, did not appear to be present in the ballroom. The case against Trump stems from payments including those that went to including porn star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who alleged extramarital sexual encounters with Trump, relationships he’s denied.
Before the speech, some attendees streamed themselves on Instagram or recorded themselves on Snapchat, showing where they were. “The fake news is out tonight!” one man said as he recorded the TV camera crews behind the press barricade.
Arthur Lewis‚ 38, of Denver, and his mother Candy Lewis flew to PBIA so they could attend Trump’s remarks and planned to head back home after his appearance.
Candy Lewis said she believes God is using Trump and his tribulations to give the world a wake-up call. “I feel there’s no coincidence that this indictment has taken place during Holy Week,” she said. “This is God saying, ‘Listen to me. I’m talking to you.’”
She met Trump in Denver in 2016, one week before he was elected. “He did not fit into the mold of the politicians,” she said. “They wanted to have him like a puppet. But he’s going to do things his way.”
Jeffrey Hall, 57, a bond trader from West Palm Beach, was at Mar-a-Lago for the first time. “Just curious,” he said. “Just taking it all in.”
“This is going to be a long drawn-out process. I don’t think this was the right action to take in this case or for our country really,” he said. “From what I’ve seen so far, this is a very weak case. It makes us look very weak across the world.”
Trump’s day was the subject of wall-to-wall television coverage of every movement, including video of his red, white and blue Boeing 757, emblazoned with “TRUMP” in gold, and television helicopters following his travels by car, reminiscent of the 1994 police chase of the white Ford Bronco carrying former football star O.J. Simpson after his ex-wife and her friend were murdered.
On Monday, Trump’s trip from Mar-a-Lago to Palm Beach International Airport was chronicled, as was his takeoff, his landing at LaGuardia Airport in Queens, the New York borough where he spent his childhood, and the motorcade to Trump Tower.
It was more of the same on Tuesday, when Trump went to the New York criminal courts building and back to LaGuardia. As was the case with his departure Monday from PBIA, Trump’s jet had to wait and take his turn in the line of planes waiting to take off from LaGuardia.
He touched down at the West Palm Beach airport at about 6:40 p.m., almost 30 hours after he departed the day before.
About an hour and a half later, he began speaking in the ballroom.
As Trump traveled to his Mar-a-Lago home and resort in Palm Beach along his usual route from the airport on Southern Boulevard, the former president’s motorcade slowed when he got to spots where supporters had gathered.
About an hour before Trump arrived, about 100 people, mostly dressed in red, white and blue gathered at the shopping plaza between Parker Avenue and Lake Avenue in West Palm Beach that over the years has been a frequent gathering point for Trump’s supporters.
Lindell stopped his Audi underneath the shopping center’s Publix sign to pose for photos before heading east to Mar-a-Lago.
The gathering was loud, with many motorists honking their horns and participants expressing dissatisfaction with President Joe Biden. Some yelled about the “Biden crime family” and pedophiles. Flags included: “God Guns Trump” along with a cross and AR-15 rifles, a four-letter expletive and “Biden,” and “Trump 2024 I’ll be back.”
Farther east, at the Southern Boulevard Bridge, linking West Palm Beach and Palm Beach, more supporters were gathered.
As the former president was returning, the campaign put out an email blast under Trump’s name in which he boasted he had raised more than $10 million “since news of the indictment first broke.” He asked for more contributions.
“I’m writing you this email as I fly back home to Mar-a-Lago. While we are living through the darkest hours of American history, I can say that at least for this moment right now, I am in great spirits,” Trump wrote. “Because my team showed me all of the support, the love, the prayers, and the donations YOU gave our movement while I was getting arrested and arraigned. You are why I could NEVER give up our mission to save America — no matter how nasty and vicious the attacks ever got.”
He didn’t receive a completely warm welcome to the place he’s called home since 2019 when he got mad at his lifelong New York home and declared Mar-a-Lago his permanent home.
The progressive political organization MoveOn.org had a message timed for Trump’s return: A billboard proclaiming in large capital letters proclaiming that “Trump Is Not Above the Law” just outside PBIA along his route to Mar-a-Lago.
State Democratic Chairperson Nikki Fried lamented Republicans’ coming to Trump’s defense.
“Donald Trump’s indictment and the reaction of Republican politicians makes it clearer than ever that the Republican Party is the party of MAGA extremism and Donald Trump. Regardless of how this case progresses, Florida Democrats will fight tirelessly to hold all MAGA Republicans, including Ron DeSantis, accountable for the extreme positions they are taking including banning abortion, pushing cuts to Social Security and Medicare, and aligning themselves with Vladimir Putin over democracy,” Fried said via email.
Mindy Koch, chairperson of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party, contrasted the charges against Trump with the Monday night arrests of Democrats in Tallahassee for protesting a restrictive abortion measure in the state Legislature. “Trump is getting arrested for paying off a porn star and Democrats are arrested for protesting peacefully,” Koch said via text.
When word of the indictment came out last week, and before details were official and public, South Florida’s members of Congress issued measured statements, calling for respecting the rule of law and calling it a sad time for the nation. On Tuesday, they referred to their statements from last week, declined to comment, or didn’t have any immediate comment.
Sun Sentinel staff photographer Mike Stocker contributed to this report.
Anthony Man, Angie DiMichele
Anthony Man can be reached at [email protected], on Twitter @browardpolitics and on Post.news/@browardpolitics.
©2023 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Visit sun-sentinel.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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