Jun 14, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Trump makes court appearance a campaign day

Illustration of a letter style banner spelling out "MAGA" hung across several columns.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

On a historic day in Miami — the first time a former U.S. president was charged with federal crimes — Donald Trump seized on the attention to bash his foes and launch what amounted to a highly choreographed, multi-city campaign ad.

Why it matters: Trump often responds to bad news by creating distractions. Before he was arraigned Tuesday on 37 counts over his handling of classified documents, his team was orchestrating its most aggressive day yet of the 2024 campaign — and signaling how it will deal with future legal bombshells.

Zoom in: In preparation for Trump's court appearance, his team gave some of his backers in the House talking points on criticizing Special Counsel Jack Smith — and on what Republicans see as the Justice Department's "double standard" in charging cases, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

  • Before Trump's caravan drove to court from his Doral resort Tuesday afternoon, several GOP lawmakers already had been on TV and social media, echoing the talking points.
  • House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) were among several House members who issued statements of support.

Back in Miami, Trump pleaded not guilty — and moments later, Don Trump Jr. sent out a fundraising email for the campaign: "My father has been ARRAIGNED," it said, and asked for money.

  • While Trump was still in the Miami courthouse, one of his lawyers, Alina Habba, read a statement to reporters outside: "The people in charge of this country do not love America. They hate Donald Trump."
  • Habba's comments were vintage Trump, but drew some eyerolls. "OK, well, that's a lot of crazy," CNN's Jake Tapper said on the air.
  • On Fox News and Newsmax, Habba went from show to show, accusing the federal government of acting like dictatorships in Cuba and Venezuela.

After the arraignment, Trump's caravan stopped at Versailles, an iconic Cuban restaurant in Miami. There, with cameras rolling, Trump met an MMA fighter and supporters sang "Happy Birthday" to him (Trump turns 77 today) and prayed for the twice-indicted former president.

  • With Trump was Walt Nauta, the valet and personal aide who was charged with six counts in the classified documents case, including conspiracy to obstruct justice.
  • Nauta, who did not enter a plea Tuesday because he was given time to find a local lawyer, remained at Trump's side — even though Trump was ordered by the court not to discuss the case with Nauta.

Yes, but: Not everything went as Trump's team might have hoped. After Trump called on supporters to stage "peaceful" protests outside the courthouse, Miami police officials said they were expecting up to 50,000 pro- and anti-Trump protesters.

  • But only a few hundred showed up, and at times it seemed they were outnumbered by the media.

Several Republicans were dismayed by Trump's attacks on Smith and the U.S. court system.

  • "To kill the messenger does not account for the gravity of the indictment," Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) told CNN. "We have to take this seriously."
  • "I think it's obvious what the president did was wrong," said Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.)

Trump ended the day with a speech before supporters at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., where he claimed he had the authority to keep classified documents — and blasted Smith again.

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