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Defiant Trump says he will run for president even if sentenced in criminal case

Donald Trump
The Justice Department brought fresh charges against Donald Trump, accusing him of obstruction and endangering national security - PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP

Donald Trump vowed to continue his White House bid even if convicted of criminal charges and sentenced after prosecutors broadened their case accusing him of mishandling US secrets.

A defiant Mr Trump said the multiple indictments he faces were a politicised attempt to deny him, as the 2024 Republican frontrunner, a second term as president.

Asked by radio host John Fredericks if being sentenced would stop his campaign, Mr Trump replied: “Not at all. There’s nothing in the Constitution to say that it could.”

He added: “These people are sick. What they are doing is absolutely horrible”.

It came as the Justice Department brought fresh charges against Mr Trump, 77, accusing the former president of endangering national security and obstruction in the classified documents case.

The three new criminal counts allege Mr Trump and his aides sought to delete CCTV footage of a storage room at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida where classified documents were stored after the US government demanded the tapes.

The updated indictment said Mr Trump attempted to “alter, destroy, mutilate, or conceal evidence”.

A third defendant, Carlos de Oliveira, was added to the indictment and accused of joining Mr Trump and his valet, Walt Nauta, to seek the destruction of the footage.

The indictment details a series of covert interactions between Mr Nauta, and Mr de Oliveira, a Mar-a-Lago property manager, after investigators demanded the videos.

Following the subpoena, Mr Nauta used “shushing” emojis when he told a colleague of his plans to travel to Mar-a-Lago, prosecutors claim.

On arrival in Florida, Mr de Oliveira spoke on the phone with Mr Nauta and “walked through the bushes” to meet him on Mr Trump’s property.

Mr de Oliveira is charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice, making false statements, and destroying documents.

Mr Nauta has pleaded not guilty. Lawyers for Mr De Oliveira, who is due in court on Monday, declined to comment on the charges.

Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida
Classified documents were stored at Mr Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida - Steve Helber/AP

Mr Trump was also charged with illegally retaining secret military plans for an attack on Iran after he left office and is accused of showing the plans to journalists at his New Jersey golf club.

The charges broaden the indictment brought last month by Jack Smith, a special counsel acting for the Justice Department, accusing Mr Trump of illegally keeping top secret files relating to America’s nuclear weapons and foreign allies.

Only two of the charges carry a possible prison sentence of fewer than 10 years.

Mr Trump’s trial is scheduled for May 20, in the middle of the 2024 election, meaning the former president will have to juggle a gruelling campaign and criminal case.

They come as he braces for separate federal charges by Mr Smith over efforts to undo his 2020 election loss.

Mr Trump denied mishandling the camera footage in his radio interview on Friday, saying: “These were security tapes. We handed them over to them... I’m not even sure what they’re saying.”

He also hit out at Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor who is running as a distant second in the race for the Republican nomination.

Mr Trump said: “I think he has to get out for the good of the party. He could have waited and he would have been odds-on favourite for ’28 but he didn’t do that.

“He’s proven to be a terrible campaigner. He’s got no personality… and it looks like he’ll be superseded by somebody else.”

Trump and DeSantis to share stage for first time in campaign

The pugnacious interview came as he and Mr DeSantis prepared to share a stage for the first time in the 2024 Republican campaign.

Almost the entire GOP presidential field will be addressing the Iowa Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Dinner on Friday night.

Seen as a landmark event in the early presidential cycle, the dinner in Des Moines comes as Mr DeSantis faces his own challenges.

He has seen Mr Trump’s lead widen from 13 points in February to 34 points as the 44-year-old struggles to charm voters and incurred a series of largely self-inflicted controversies.

The governor’s campaign was forced this week to fire a staffer who promoted a video featuring Nazi imagery, and Mr DeSantis sparked outrage by suggesting he would pick anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist Robert F Kennedy Jr. to lead his public health policy.

Aides also announced they were firing a third of the campaign’s staff as they acknowledged wild overspending and the Florida governor earned further opprobrium as he defended his state’s heavily criticised new curriculum touting the benefits of slavery.

With Republican voters in Iowa and New Hampshire due to cast their votes in six months, most of the candidates have been camped out in the states, attending campaign events daily.

Other speakers at the Lincoln Dinner include Mr Trump’s former vice president Mike Pence, who is running a lowly fourth in the primary behind businessman Vivek Ramaswamy.

Nikki Haley, a former UN ambassador, and Tim Scott, a South Carolina senator, will also take the stage.