Trump defiant as political and legal worlds collide

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DERRY, N.H. — Other criminal defendants might play it safe when a gag order they’ve been subjected to gets temporarily lifted.

Donald Trump is not your average defendant.

At a series of appearances on Monday in New Hampshire, the former president seemed to take delight in flouting the court system that now endangers his livelihood and the judges urging him to watch his mouth. Clearer still was that he fully intends to wring political advantage out of the cases he is navigating.

It is, he told his followers, all “bullshit.”

Hours before he’s expected to appear back in court for his civil fraud trial in New York, Trump stood on a stage in a cavernous sports complex in southern New Hampshire and hurled insults at President Joe Biden and his Justice Department. He mocked New York Attorney General Leticia James and swiped at Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. And he wondered if his indictments would make his late father proud.

“I got indicted four times in the last 12 minutes. I heard we got two more, but I heard the DOJ called ‘no don’t do it’ because we’ve gone up in the polls every time I’ve gotten indicted,” Trump joked to cheers.

“‘Don’t indict him anymore. This is killing us,’” he went on, taking on the voice of a fictional caller from the DOJ. “We’re going to indict him right into the White House.”

Trump and his allies have long used the criminal cases against him to rally the MAGA base, an enduring feature of his unique brand of grievance politics. But never have those legal problems so clearly intersected with his political fate. Two Trump-aligned lawyers, Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro, recently agreed to plea deals in the Georgia election interference criminal case, right as Trump is upping efforts to defend his legal cases in the court of public opinion.

In a reflection of just how intertwined his legal and political paths have become, Trump’s campaign moved swiftly to fundraise off news of the gag order with email pleas to supporters reading, “I won’t let a gag order silence YOU.” And there has been consideration in Trump world about what an appeal of the gag order could mean electorally. The appeal could further delay the proceedings, which is what the former president has wanted, according to two people familiar with discussions and granted anonymity to speak freely.

Hanging over all the deliberations is a recognition that Trump likely won’t stop talking about it, though perhaps in more moderated tones.

“This is the first time in history that somebody’s been indicted and his poll numbers have gone up,” Trump said. “When you get indicted, screw them, because the people understand it’s bullshit.”

“Bullshit, bullshit,” the crowd chanted back.

Earlier in the afternoon, while filing for New Hampshire’s presidential primary ballot at the secretary of state’s office in Concord, Trump said he is not concerned “at all” about losing attorney-client privilege with Powell after he claimed she was never his attorney despite having once said just that. Trump went on to insist he did “nothing wrong,” that his mounting legal challenges were “dirty politics” and that he might go after his own political opponents.

“It’s a two-way street,” Trump said. “Now it can happen the other way also, and that’s a sad moment for our country.”

Trump’s remarks come amid an intensifying fight — in Washington, D.C., and New York — about the danger his rhetoric poses to the efforts to hold him accountable in criminal and civil court. And they underscore the rhetorical tightrope he is now going to have to walk as the primary voting season nears.

Judges in both cities are weighing concerns that Trump’s social media bombast and penchant for invective against his perceived enemies could poison the jury pool in his criminal cases or spook witnesses from being fully candid.

On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan gave Trump a temporary reprieve from a gag order she had imposed just three days earlier, after Trump’s attorney John Lauro argued that parts of the order were vague and indecipherable. Within hours, Trump had resumed his attacks on the lead prosecutor in his Washington and Florida criminal cases, special counsel Jack Smith, calling him “deranged” and also swiping at a potential witness in his Florida trial.

Chutkan had already warned Trump that some of his comments in that vein had violated his pretrial conditions of release. She imposed the gag order last Tuesday to formally bind Trump from making specific incendiary statements about Smith and his team, potential witnesses and court officials.

His comments, and any others he makes on the campaign trail or Truth Social, could figure into his legal fight to permanently lift the gag order — or a decision by Chutkan to reimpose it.

Already, Trump has run afoul of another judge’s gag order. Arthur Engoron, who is presiding over the civil fraud trial of Trump’s business empire, slapped Trump with a $5,000 fine last week after he learned that Trump’s campaign website continued to feature an attack on Engoron’s top clerk — even after the judge had order Trump to take it down and refrain from future attacks.

Trump’s attorney Chris Kise said the issue was an oversight because of some automated campaign procedures. Engoron said his decision to levy a nominal fine reflected that inadvertence. But he warned that he would impose far heavier punishment — including potential jail time — if Trump committed further violations.

Trump appeared to stay within those bounds at his Derry rally, where nearly 2,000 supporters from across New England packed into a gymnasium to see him.

Clad in bright red “Make America Great Again” hats and T-shirts depicting Trump behind bars, the former president’s fans danced on chairs to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” as they waited for him to arrive. They laughed and clapped as he impersonated Biden from the podium and jeered as Trump ripped the president’s approach to Israel. Cries of “we love you” occasionally rose up from the crowd.

In interview after interview on Monday, Trump’s supporters stressed they would not leave his side even as his legal problems mount. In fact, they said, the more charges pile up against him, the more motivated they are to vote for him again.

“We think it’s a bunch of bullshit,” Jackie Thibault, a Chester, N.H., Republican, said as she clutched a hand-painted “Trump 2024” sign. “We see what they’re trying to do with him. … They’re so afraid of him, and that’s why they’re going after him.”

There was an undercurrent of confusion among some of Trump’s supporters — Thibault included — about why Powell and Chesebro took plea deals last week and what that could mean for Trump.

“I don’t understand that,” Thibault said.

But Trump’s “got a plan,” she said. “I’m hoping he does.”

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