- By Anthony Zurcher
- North American reporter
Donald Trump’s indictment was filed in two courts Tuesday afternoon – a federal courtroom in Florida and a court of public opinion.
Inside the Miami courthouse, Mr. Trump and his legal team were measured. One of Mr Trump’s lawyers told the judge the former president pleaded not guilty to all charges. There was some back-and-forth about what form of contact he might have with potential witnesses. The former president was released without restrictions on movement.
Outside the courthouse and on social media, it’s a very different scene.
Throughout the day, the former president posted to his website Truth Social, insulting special counsel Jack Smith and questioning why he was not investigating the crimes accused by Democrats.
“One of the saddest days in the history of our country,” he wrote. “We are a nation in decline!!!”
That is standard fair play for Mr. Trump, who tends to launch his fiercest attacks when he feels most threatened.
Another message Mr. Trump sent after the impeachment was a more subtle political one, though delivered in typical Trumpian performance.
His motorcade stopped at Versailles Restaurant, a Cuban cafe and bakery popular with Little Havana neighborhood residents and tourists alike. While there, he shook hands, took photos and made brief remarks, as patrons sang the 77-year-old former president a Happy Birthday song.
It looked like a typical meet and greet of a politician campaigning in an important battleground state. It’s a clear sign that, for Mr. Trump, his bid for the White House is progressing, the indictments are damned.
That’s not really good news for Trump’s Republican presidential opponents, who are grappling with how to respond to the former president’s latest indictment.
Some, like former governors Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson, have attacked and criticized the former president’s behavior and called for him to end his campaign.
Ron DeSantis, who is closest to Mr Trump in the polls, criticized the federal prosecutor. Perhaps it’s a reflection that the Florida governor is particularly wary of angering Trump supporters, who polls show often see him as their second choice.
Former Vice President Mike Pence and Trump’s United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley fall somewhere in the middle, trying to walk a fine line between criticizing their Republican opponents while not inciting outrage. anger of his supporters.
Sometimes that walk seems more wobbly.
Last week, Ms Haley said the indictment was “not the way to pursue justice in our country”. On Monday, she criticized Mr Trump for being “extremely reckless” with US national security. On Tuesday, she stood by that comment, but went on to say she would be “intended” to forgive Mr Trump if she became president.
“It would be bad for the country if a former president had to spend years in prison for a document case,” she said.
All of this becomes more complicated as many Republican politicians appear to be turning to a (political) war stance.
“We’re not going to support that,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said of the indictment. Republicans in the room are promising an active investigation into the Justice Department’s handling of the case.
Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio pledged to slow down the process of confirming Mr. Biden’s three candidates to the Justice Department, and threatened to “stop his department”.
The more Trump’s indictment is framed as a clash between Biden and the Republican Party, the more any criticism of the former president will be seen as bringing solace to political opponents. – and the greater the risk of attack.
All of this could overshadow the real mystery at the heart of this new indictment and what might be Mr. Trump’s biggest weakness in this case.
In Mr. Trump’s first indictment in New York, the motive seemed clear. Who couldn’t avoid a shameful allegation of an affair with an adult movie star that popped up just before election day? However, the alleged business fraud charges involve what legal experts consider an unusual interpretation of state law.
In the federal case, the crimes are simple. Mr. Trump is accused of mishandling sensitive government information, obstructing a federal investigation and lying to federal investigators. That motive is still unclear.
Why didn’t the former president hand over all the classified documents when the government called? Why did he dig deep and resist investigators, when cooperation could have ended the investigation?
Mr. Trump’s opponents may want to try to get him to answer these questions – and do so in a way that convinces Republican voters that Mr. Trump doesn’t deserve to be the party’s nominee.
To win, they may have to make the former president self-explanatory.