Just hours ahead of his 77th birthday on Wednesday, Donald Trump took to a stage at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in New Jersey to try and downplay the allegations he mishandled classified documents at Mar-a-Lago—then tried to shield them from the government when investigators demanded them back.
He said that he had every intention of going through the boxes—claiming that they held everything from memorabilia to abandoned items of clothing, and not the hundreds of classified documents he is accused of hoarding.
“I hadn’t had a chance to go through all the boxes,” he said. “It’s a long tedious job. Takes a long time, which I was prepared to do, but I have a very busy life. I’ve had a very busy life. They make it more busy, because you’re always fighting.”
“These boxes were containing all types of personal belongings. Many, many things. Shirts and shoes and everything,” he added.
Trump took to the stage on Tuesday night as “Suspicious Minds” by Elvis Presley and “God Bless The U.S.A.” by Lee Greenwood blared over the loudspeakers, a tight smile on his face as he acknowledged the crowd chanting “USA! USA!”
The audience, made up of his supporters, allies, and donors, cheered and booed at all the appropriate moments in his speech, and at one point broke into a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday.”
“We’re gonna make it into the greatest birthday of all,” Trump vowed.
He opened his 30-minute speech in characteristic fashion by claiming that he was the victim of “the most evil and heinous abuse of power in the history of our country,” perpetrated at the hands of President Joe Biden and “a band of his closest thugs, misfits, and Marxists.”
Trump also swore that, once re-elected, he would name a special prosecutor to go after Biden “and the entire Biden crime family.” In response, some in the crowd briefly lapsed into a chant of “Lock him up!”
“I will totally obliterate the deep state,” Trump added. “I am the only one who can save this nation.”
The speech was followed directly by a fundraising event at Bedminster, billed as the first of Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign. A copy of the invitation obtained by Politico promised backers who bundle at least $100,000 a private candlelit dinner. Donors who make more paltry offerings can still expect photo opportunities with Trump and a “VIP reception.”
His team said they expect to be able to raise $2 million, a not wholly unrealistic figure given the $4 million that flowed in following his first indictment at the end of March, according to data collected by Politico.
Outside of the exclusive New Jersey club, a crowd of roughly 30 supporters had gathered earlier to cheer on their hero, waving signs that read “Trump 2024” and “Save America,” according to the Asbury Park Press.
“He wouldn’t have that many supporters standing out there if he was that guilty,” one demonstrator told the newspaper.
Trump’s fiery diatribe came after a historic arraignment earlier on Tuesday at a Miami federal courthouse, where the former president pleaded not guilty to 37 charges related to allegations he mishandled classified documents at Mar-a-Lago after he left office, and tried to shield them from the government when investigators demanded them back.
At the 45-minute hearing, Trump scowled and slouched, frequently looking down at the floor, according to ABC News. Also at his table were his attorneys, Todd Blanche and Chris Kise, as well as his Diet Coke-fetching personal aide and co-defendant, Walt Nauta, who was charged with six counts in the 44-page indictment.
Nauta was not arraigned on Tuesday, lacking local counsel.
Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman ordered Trump and Nauta not to discuss the case directly with one another, a common restriction for criminally accused co-defendants. Trump was also barred by Goodman from speaking with any of the witnesses in the case, some of whom are his current employees at Mar-a-Lago.
Just under a dozen people from the Department of Justice were also present in the courtroom, including Jack Smith, the special counsel appointed in November to oversee the investigation into the Mar-a-Lago case. For most of the hearing, Smith stared directly at Trump, according to a reporter for The Guardian in the room.
Having surrendered to authorities at the court just before 2 p.m. local time, Trump departed the area in a motorcade around two hours later. Both he and Nauta were released on their own recognizance, and departed without Goodman imposing travel restrictions on either of them.
Before jetting back to Jersey on his private plane, however, Trump made a pit-stop at a local Cuban eatery, where he groused about how things were “rigged” against him to a room of supporters.
“Thank you Miami,” he wrote on Truth Social shortly after. “Such a warm welcome on such a SAD DAY for our Country!”
According to The New York Times, Trump was at his Bedminster club last Thursday when he was informed by phone that he’d been indicted (again). When details of the indictment were released to the public the next day, it boasted two cameos by the Jersey property, which in July 2021 served as the site of a conversation straight out of a political satire.
During the discussion, which was recorded, Trump showed several people, none of whom had security clearance, a “plan of attack” that had been prepared by the Defense Department and a senior military official. The plan, he assured the group, was “highly confidential.”
“As president, I could have declassified it,” he said, according to the indictment. “Now I can’t, you know, but this is still a secret.”
Several months later, in another meeting at Bedminster, Trump showed a staffer a classified military map, acknowledging that he probably shouldn’t be sharing it, and warning the person not to get too close.
Tuesday marked the second time in as many months that Trump was arraigned on criminal charges. In April, he pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records in a New York case related to an alleged hush-money payment made to porn star Stormy Daniels on the eve of the 2016 presidential election.
Trump faces even more legal trouble brewing on the horizon. In addition to another investigation that Smith is spearheading regarding alleged efforts by Trump and his cronies to reverse the results of the 2020 election, the former president is also under scrutiny by Fulton County prosecutors, who are specifically looking at his efforts to overturn President Joe Biden’s victory in Georgia.
Between the arraignment and the start of the Jersey fundraiser, it was reported that the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department had sent a team to Miami on Tuesday to prepare for possible charges against Trump in Georgia, having been put on notice by the district attorney’s office that a decision would be announced in the coming months.