Donald Trump said he “wouldn’t even think about” dropping out of the race for the White House if he’s indicted. The former president has increasingly used his campaign as a cudgel against investigators.
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Former president Donald Trump at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC, gathering in Maryland, on Saturday.
OXON HILL, Md. — Former President Donald J. Trump said on Saturday that he would not drop out of the 2024 presidential race if he was indicted in one of several investigations he is facing.
Mr. Trump made the comments to a group of conservative media before his speech to the Conservative Political Action Coalition conference in National Harbor, Md. It was the first time Mr. Trump spoke publicly about how he would respond if he was indicted while actively seeking the presidency, an event that would roil the 2024 campaign.
Mr. Trump is facing two state investigations — one in New York City and one in Fulton County, Ga. — as well as two federal investigations led by Jack Smith, a special prosecutor. Mr. Smith is investigating Mr. Trump’s attempt to thwart the peaceful transfer of power after losing the 2020 election, as well as Mr. Trump’s possession of hundreds of classified documents and presidential material at his private club, Mar-a-Lago.
The precise status of the efforts is unclear, but the two state investigations are believed to be in advanced stages.
Mr. Trump was definitive when asked Saturday whether he would stay in the race if one of the prosecutors brought an indictment. “Oh absolutely. I wouldn’t even think about leaving,” he said, adding that he believed an indictment would increase his poll numbers.
Understand the Events on Jan. 6
- Timeline: On Jan. 6, 2021, 64 days after Election Day 2020, a mob of supporters of President Donald J. Trump raided the Capitol. Here is a close look at how the attack unfolded.
- A Day of Rage: Using thousands of videos and police radio communications, a Times investigation reconstructed in detail what happened — and why.
- Lost Lives: A bipartisan Senate report found that at least seven people died in connection with the attack.
- Jan. 6 Attendees: To many of those who attended the Trump rally but never breached the Capitol, that date wasn’t a dark day for the nation. It was a new start.
It isn’t unusual for a candidate who is facing legal problems to say they will stay in a race regardless of whether they are prosecuted or to claim that an investigation is politically motivated. But it is uncharted territory for a former president running as the poll leader in primaries to intertwine a candidacy with a defense against investigations.
Several people close to Mr. Trump have said he believes his presidential campaign can be used as a cudgel to hit back against the prosecutors. In his remarks on Saturday, Mr. Trump repeatedly cast the prosecutors as corrupt and politically motivated, citing no evidence. As he has for years, he cast the investigations not as result of his own actions, but as an effort to silence the voices of his supporters.
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“I am your warrior. I am your justice,” Mr. Trump told the crowd, before appearing to promise payback if elected to a new term. “And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution.”
He went on to describe the campaign in stark, nearly apocalyptic terms: “This is it, either they win or we win. And if they win, we no longer have a country.”
Mr. Trump insisted he became a target once he joined politics.
“I didn’t know the word ‘subpoena,’” said Mr. Trump, who has sued and been sued hundreds and hundreds of times in civil courts and was first investigated by federal officials in the 1970s in Brooklyn.
Mr. Trump explicitly tried to link his candidacy with the status of potential prosecutions. “Every time the polls go up higher and higher, the prosecutors get crazier and crazier,” he said.
In reality, the Jan. 6 riot, during which Mr. Trump’s supporters attacked the Capitol, had a damaging effect on Mr. Trump’s poll numbers. His support also fell in the weeks after the F.B.I.’s search of Mar-a-Lago in August to recover documents. Mr. Trump’s aides claimed they had performed a diligent search in response to a grand jury subpoena. Some of the material the F.B.I. found was among the most secret information the government had.
Mr. Trump’s remarks on Saturday were only his latest attempt to embrace the Capitol riot and his supporters who participated.
Over the summer, Mr. Trump met with Cynthia Hughes, the founder of the Patriot Freedom Project, one of the largest legal defense funds for people charged in connection with the attack, according to three people familiar with the project.
The meeting led to a video statement of support from Mr. Trump that was played at an event the group held in Washington in December. Several people connected to the Patriot Freedom Project were ultimately disappointed that Mr. Trump personally donated only $10,000 to the organization.
Mr. Trump also contributed to a song released this week on streaming services called “Justice for All” that featured several Jan. 6 defendants who were being held in a jail in Washington before their trials. In the song, Mr. Trump can be heard reciting the “Pledge of Allegiance” as the group of 20 or so inmates, calling themselves the J6 Prison Choir, sing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which they do nightly at the jail.
Alan Feuer contributed reporting.