‘I will never be detained’: Trump defiant after federal indictment

Former President Donald Trump struck a defiant tone Saturday in his first public appearance since being indicted on 37 counts of mishandling classified documents, calling the prosecution by the Biden Justice Department a dangerous abuse of power to stop his campaign as the frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination. 

Mr. Trump told an audience at the Georgia Republican Party convention that the indictment against him is politically motivated and that President Biden had a hand in the decision to go after him.

“The ridiculous and baseless indictment of me by the Biden administration’s weaponized Department of Injustice will go down as among the most horrific abuses of power in the history of our country,” Mr. Trump said. “This vicious persecution is a travesty of justice.”

Mr. Trump said Mr. Biden is trying to deflect attention from a probe by congressional Republicans of his family’s overseas financial dealings.

“He said ‘let’s try and arrest a president that served before him and had an unbelievable success record,” Mr. Trump said. “It’s no coincidence they indicted me the very same day that it was revealed the FBI had hidden explosive evidence [alleging] that Joe Biden took a $5 million illegal bribe from Ukraine.”

Mr. Biden said he had no role in the investigation of his predecessor.

The former president also offered a glimpse of his agenda for a second term. He said he would carry out the largest deportation operation of illegal migrants in U.S. history; ban birthright citizenship for children of illegal aliens; prohibit federal funding of schools that teach Critical Race Theory, engage in “transgender insanity” or institute vaccine or mask mandates and stop natural-born men from participating in women’s sports.

Mr. Trump also vowed to “investigate every radical [district attorney] in America for their illegal and racist enforcement of the law.”

“Either we have a Deep State, or we have a democracy. Either they win, or we win,” Mr. Trump said.  “If you put me back in the White House, their reign will be over and we will be a free nation again.”

Mr. Trump claimed the indictment over classified documents was driven by recent polls showing him beating President Biden in a potential head-to-head 2024 matchup.

“I’ve put everything on the line and I will never yield. I will never be detained. I will never stop fighting for you,” he told the crowd.  “In the end, they’re not coming after me. They’re coming after you and I’m just standing in their way.” 

The speech marked Mr. Trump’s first public appearance since being indicted on 37 counts by a federal grand jury, charges that were unsealed Friday. Mr. Trump was indicted on 31 counts of willful retention of national defense information alone.

The former president is accused of taking classified documents from the White House after he left office in 2021 and storing them at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. The indictment alleges, that Mr. Trump kept classified documents in unsecured areas including a ballroom and a shower area at Mar-a-Lago.

“Our laws that protect national defense information are critical to the safety and security of the United States and they must be enforced,”  special counsel Jack Smith, who brought the indictment against Mr. Trump, said. “Violations of those laws put our country at risk.”

Contrary to the charges in the indictment, Mr. Trump said he did not obstruct justice and was cooperating with the National Archives and Records Administration when the FBI raided his Florida home last summer. 

Mr. Trump contrasted his indictment for retaining classified documents to Mr. Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence, another GOP 2024 candidate. Mr. Pence and Mr. Biden disclosed that they also retained classified documents, but turned them over promptly to the National Archives once made aware.

“They looked at Mike Pence. He had classified documents — no problem,” said Mr. Trump. 

Referring to classified documents found at Mr. Biden’s former think-tank office and his home in Delaware, Mr. Trump said: “But unlike me, who had absolute declassification authority as president, Biden did not have any authority and had no right to possess those documents; none whatsoever. Yet nothing happened to crooked Joe!” 

He said of the federal officials investigating him, “This is a sick nest of people that needs to be cleaned out immediately.”

Mr. Smith, the special counsel, is seeking a speedy trial. The timing could put Mr. Trump, the first ex-commander-in-chief to face federal charges, in a courtroom at the height of the 2024 presidential nominating contest.

Former federal prosecutor Neama Rhamani said that if Mr. Trump is convicted he “could get some jail time.” Although as a first-time offender convicted of a non-violent crime, a judge would likely sentence Mr. Trump only to probation.

Mr. Trump opened his remarks in Georgia on Saturday with a joke about his legal predicament. 

“Every time I fly over a blue state, I get a subpoena,” he said to laughs from the crowd. 

The former president also was speaking to a GOP gathering in North Carolina later Saturday.

— Dave Boyer contributed to this story.