Hours after being formally arraigned for the 37 indictment counts that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has charged him with relating to his improper handling of sensitive government documents, former President Donald Trump, snidely and with great bravado, attacked special counsel Jack Smith, President Joe Biden, and others, accusing them of persecuting him.
Within the courtroom itself, however, earlier on Tuesday, Trump’s demeanor was markedly different, a far cry from the confident strongman image he has tried to portray.
Speaking to supporters at his Bedminster, New Jersey, property, Trump directed vicious attacks against Smith, calling him a “raging and uncontrolled Trump hater.”
“Today we witnessed the most evil and heinous abuse of power in the history of our country,” Trump said, adding that the day would “go down in infamy,” and demanding that the case against him be dropped immediately.
Citing the special counsel’s remarkable legal bona fides, Trump somehow spun those attributes to formulate an attack against Smith that only his supporters would seemingly understand. He even appeared to suggest that Smith’s work at the International Criminal Court was somehow indicative of his failings as a lawyer.
“It’s no wonder this raging lunatic was shipped off to The Hague to prosecute warfare rules using globalist tribunals not beholden to the Constitution, or the rule of law,” Trump told his adoring supporters.
Notably, Trump’s criticism of Smith included the antisemitic “globalist” terminology, which alludes to a conspiracy theory that alleges Jewish elites are trying to run the affairs of the world behind the scenes. The anti-Jewish attacks against Smith, whose religious faith is not well-documented, isn’t new territory for Trump, writer David Margolick, writing an op-ed for The Nation earlier this year, has noted.
Trump has attacked Smith many times by insinuating his real name isn’t actually “Smith,” and that he changed it — a charge that could be construed as an anti-Jewish dog whistle, Margolick said, noting that historically, bigots have viewed Jews changing their names as “evidence of a plot.”
Indeed, Trump has used the attack before: in 2013, he used similar language to malign comedian Jon Stewart, to suggest he shouldn’t be viewed as a trustworthy news source. “If Jon Stewart is so above it all & legit, why did he change his name from Jonathan Leibowitz[?]” Trump asked on social media at the time.
Beyond the antisemitic conspiracy theories he alluded to against Smith, Trump’s speech on Tuesday night verged on other paranoid and conspiratorial notions. For instance, Trump made the wild claim that the “persecution” against him was being run by “the same weaponized [U.S. government] agencies” conducting “illegal psychological warfare campaigns against the American people.”
If Trump appeared confident and strong in front of his supporters, he was the exact opposite inside the Miami, Florida, courtroom where he had been arraigned hours before, several news agencies reported.
Although the former president didn’t speak one word during his arraignment (a lawyer entered a “not guilty” plea on his behalf), several media opined on Trump’s body language, asserting that he appeared glum and bitter.
The New York Times reported that Trump appeared “grim” during the hearing, with his muscles “visibly tensing under his dark suit jacket.” The Times added:
Mr. Trump’s body language in the courtroom suggested he understood the gravity of the situation. A former president who thrives on being in control seemed uncomfortable with having so little as a defendant.
Trump’s attacks against Smith and his allegations that the indictment charges trace back to his likely 2024 election rival, President Joe Biden, make it clear that his strategy is to win in the court of public opinion. Although such moves won’t play well within a courtroom, Trump has good reason to try this strategy out, as the court case will likely extend years, and possibly won’t even begin until after the next presidential contest. That means, if he wins in 2024, Trump could potentially select an attorney general that may order the case against him to be dropped.
But the strategy hinges on Trump actually winning. Meanwhile, polling suggests that most Americans are supportive of the charges he now faces.
An ABC News/Ipsos poll published this week finds that a plurality of respondents — nearly half (48 percent) — agree with Trump being charged in the Mar-a-Lago documents case, with only a third (35 percent) of respondents disagreeing. In a Reuters/Ipsos poll, 62 percent of respondents said the charges against Trump are “believable.”
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