Former US president Donald Trump is set for his first public appearances since his federal indictment.
Mr Trump will speak to friendly Republican audiences in Georgia and North Carolina on Saturday as he seeks to rally supporters to his defence.
The front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination – despite his mounting legal woes – is expected to use his scheduled speeches at state party conventions in the two states to deliver a rebuke of the charges and amplify his assertions that he is the victim of a politically motivated “witch hunt” by Democratic President Joe Biden’s justice department.
His appearances will come a day after the unsealing of an indictment charging him with 37 felony counts in connection with his hoarding of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.
The indictment accuses the former president of wilfully defying justice department demands to return classified documents, enlisting aides in his efforts to hide the records and even telling his lawyers that he wanted to defy a subpoena for the materials stored at his estate.
The indictment includes allegations that he stored documents in a ballroom and bathroom at his resort, among other places.
The most serious charges against him carry potential prison sentences of up to 20 years each, but first-time offenders rarely get anywhere near the maximum sentence and the decision would ultimately be up to the judge.
For all that, Mr Trump can expect a hero’s welcome this weekend as he rallies his fiercest partisans and seeks to cement his status as Republicans’ leading 2024 presidential candidate.
“Trump is a fighter, and the kinds of people that attend these conventions love a fighter,” said Jack Kingston, a former Georgia congressman who supported Mr Trump in 2016 and 2020.
With former vice president Mike Pence also slated to address North Carolina Republicans, Saturday will be the first time the former running mates have appeared at the same venue since Mr Pence announced his campaign against his old boss.
For his part, Mr Trump has insisted he committed no wrongdoing, saying: “There was no crime, except for what the DOJ and FBI have been doing against me for years.”
The indictment arrives at a time when Mr Trump is continuing to dominate the Republican presidential primary.
Other party candidates have largely attacked the justice department – rather than Mr Trump – over the investigation, although the indictment’s breadth of allegations and scope could make it harder for Republicans to rail against than an earlier New York criminal case that many legal analysts had derided as weak.
A Trump campaign official described the former president’s mood as “defiant” on Friday ahead of his trip. But aides were notably more reserved after the indictment’s unsealing as they reckoned with the gravity of the legal charges and the threat they pose to Mr Trump beyond the potential short-term political gain.
The federal charging document alleges that Mr Trump not only intentionally possessed classified documents but also boastfully showed them off to visitors and aides.
The indictment is built on Mr Trump’s own words and actions as recounted to prosecutors by lawyers, close aides and other witnesses, including his professing to respect and know procedures related to the handling of classified information.
The indictment includes 37 counts – 31 of which pertain to the wilful retention of national defence information, with the balance relating to alleged conspiracy, obstruction and false statements – that, taken together, could result in a long prison sentence.
Mr Trump is due to make his first federal court appearance Tuesday in Miami.