(CN) — Former President Donald Trump gave a speech at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, Tuesday night after returning from his arraignment at a New York City criminal courthouse where he pleaded not guilty to a 34-count indictment.
Shortly after his plane landed and just hours after being fingerprinted in New York, the 76-year-old addressed a devout crowd of cheering supporters in his resort ballroom to once again proclaim his innocence, as Lee Greenwood’s “I’m Proud to be an American” welcomed him on the stage decorated with American flags. Notable Republican attendees included defeated Arizona GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, evangelist and election fraud conspiracy promoter Mike Lindell, and Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Matt Gaetz of Florida and Ronny Jackson of Texas.
"The only crime I've committed is to fearlessly defend our nation from those who seek to destroy it," Trump defiantly told his supporters Thursday night.
"There is no case," he added, calling the New York indictment the latest in an "onslaught of fraudulent investigations.”
Instead of letting the investigations deteriorate his bid for a third presidential nomination, Trump attempted to use them as political assets to draw sympathy and boost a campaign built on frustration with what he claims to be a politically motivated justice system.
As the first former or sitting U.S. president to be criminally charged, much of Trump's speech focused on touting himself as a victim of "radical, left, lunatics." The speech was less than 30 minutes long and strongly resembled a campaign rally, as Trump reiterated much of his typical political rhetoric bent on inciting fear from "open borders" a "crooked Hillary Clinton" and threats of "Russia joining with China."
Trump attacked the FBI and the Department of Justice for "relentlessly pursuing Republicans," as he is also the focus of three other criminal investigations.
He lashed out against the investigation into his alleged mishandling of classified documents after leaving the White House, in what he called the “boxes hoax.” He claimed that he was protected by the Presidential Records Act and said that he and his team were “negotiating in very good faith" with the Justice Department, despite reports that Trump did not immediately respond to their requests.
Although there has been no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election, Trump repeated his discredited claims that the election was rigged against him, saying "millions of votes" were "illegally stuffed into ballot boxes and all caught on government cameras."
He and several of his allies could soon face indictments from a separate grand jury investigation in Fulton County, Georgia, for promoting such narratives and other efforts to overturn the state's 2020 ballot count. Trump called for the case to be dropped immediately and referred to the Fani Willis, the Black district attorney leading the probe, as a "racist Democrat."
After Trump’s court appearance Tuesday, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg told reporters that the former president participated in a “catch-and-kill” scheme to buy and suppress negative information about him ahead of the 2016 election.
An unsealed 13-page statement of facts, along with the 16-page indictment, describe the criminal charges pending against the Queens native in the very city where he conceived his real estate career and rose to public prominence before he jumped into the political arena.
Trump face 34 criminal charges, which accuse him of falsifying business records relating, his company of illegally accounting reimbursement payments to his former attorney Michael Cohen, and paying adult-film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal to refrain from making public statements about extramarital affairs they claimed to have had with Trump.
Although Trump has denied having sexual relationships with either woman, Cohen was charged in 2018 by federal prosecutors for campaign finance violations related to the hush money payments. The attorney is now a key witness for prosecutors in the Manhattan district attorney’s investigation.
Cohen, who worked for the Trump Organization from 2006 to 2017, arranged the $130,000 payment to Daniels by passing it through a corporation he established for that purpose. He was later reimbursed by Trump, whose company recorded the payment under "legal expenses." Cohen had also arranged the $150,000 payment to McDougal through the publisher of the National Enquirer for the rights to her story about her alleged affair with Trump.
New York Supreme Justice Juan Merchan set the next court hearing for Dec. 4 and did not issue a gag order on any of the parties, although he explicitly told Trump: “Please refrain from making statements that are likely to incite violence or civil unrest ... making comments that have potential to incite violence, create civil unrest [or] jeopardize the state or well-being of any individuals.”Follow @@Megwiththenews
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.