“It’s really called prosecution misconduct. It’s a terrible, terrible thing,” Trump told thousands of supporters gathered outside in Sarasota, Florida.
The Trump Organization and its chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, pleaded not guilty Thursday to what a New York prosecutor called “general and audacious” tax fraud stemming from an investigation into the Trump business and its practices.
Weisselberg and other executives were accused of receiving perks and benefits such as free apartments and leased cars, without properly reporting them on their tax returns. The outcome of the investigations and other lawsuits facing Trump could affect whether he decides to run again for president in 2024.
“They have mobilized all the powers of government to persecute me, my family, my wonderful employees and my company solely for political reasons,” Trump told the crowd.
The rally was billed as a July 4 celebration with fireworks, the latest in a string of appearances as the former president tries to keep Republicans’ attention on him.
Trump used his speech to denounce the policies of his successor, Democratic President Joe Biden, and repeat his false claim that he lost the 2020 election due to fraud.
He urged his supporters to back their allies in their midterm campaigns as Republicans fight to regain control of Congress from the Democratic Party next year.
Trump focused heavily on Biden’s policies along the United States’ border with Mexico and the rise in crime, two issues Republicans hope to tap into in the 2022 midterm elections.
Trump’s image took a beating after the January 6 deadly attack on the United States Capitol by his supporters. But about 53% of Republicans believe Trump won last year’s election and blame his defeat on illegal voting, and a quarter of the general public agreed that Trump won, a Reuters / Ipsos poll showed. from May 17 to 19.
BUILD BY 2024
Trump, 75, has raised the possibility of running again for president in 2024, and his latest rallies mark an effort to keep his base energized and on his side.
“We are looking at the election, rather than looking at it,” Trump said of 2024, drawing cheers from the Sarasota crowd.
Many Republicans see 42-year-old Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as an attractive option for a 2024 party candidate. Longtime Trump ally, DeSantis has been at the forefront of Republican-led struggles against strict coronavirus shutdowns, racial justice protests and expanded access to ballots.
In an informal 2024 poll of potential candidates at a conservative conference in Denver in June, DeSantis finished ahead of Trump, 74% to 71%.
DeSantis’s office has said the governor is focused on winning re-election in Florida next year, not on running for national office.
Lindsay Gordon, a 35-year-old Sarasota resident who works in retail, said it was her third time attending a Trump rally and was excited to show her support for the former president. He said he hopes Trump will run again, but thought DeSantis might be a better, less polarizing alternative.
“I think DeSantis would probably have a better chance since he’s younger,” Gordon said. “Because it is still new and fresh, there is still a chance that people will understand where it came from. There is not so much negativity.”
DeSantis did not attend Trump’s rally. A spokesman said he would spend the weekend in Surfside, Florida, where rescuers spent more than a week searching the rubble from a condo building collapse that killed at least 24 people and left dozens.
During his speech at the rally, which lasted about 90 minutes, Trump called by name several Republican politicians whom he described as warriors on his behalf, including embattled US Rep. Matt Gaetz.
Trump did not mention DeSantis, but told Newsmax in a behind-the-scenes interview that he and DeSantis had “mutually agreed” that the governor should continue to assist with the Surfside rescue and recovery operation.
“I told him he should stay there,” Trump said.