‘I will never be detained’: Trump defiant in first speech since federal indictment

<span>Photograph: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Donald Trump delivered his first public address following the announcement of his federal indictment this week in Columbus, Georgia, on Saturday.

The former president took the stage at state Republican conventions in Georgia and North Carolina where he lashed out against the Department of Justice, the FBI and the Biden administration, called his recent indictment “a travesty of justice” and repeated unsupported conspiratorial claims that Joe Biden had stashed secret documents in the Chinatown neighborhood of Washington DC.

“We got to stand up to the … radical left Democrats, their lawless partisan prosecutors … Every time I fly over a blue state, I get a subpoena,” said Trump at the onset of the meandering speech that attempted to bridge his legal troubles with campaign promises.

“I’ve put everything on the line and I will never yield. I will never be detained. I will never stop fighting for you,” he added.

He went on to launch a tirade against federal officials, saying, “Now the Marxist left is once again using the same corrupt DoJ [justice department] and the same corrupt FBI, and the attorney general and the local district attorneys to interfere … They’re cheating. They’re crooked. They’re corrupt. These criminals cannot be rewarded. They must be defeated. You have to defeat them.

“Because in the end, they’re not coming after me. They’re coming after you and I’m just standing in their way,” he said.

Trump accused the Biden administration of weaponizing the justice department, calling the recent indictment “ridiculous and baseless” and “among the most horrific abuses of power in the history of our country”.

He went on to add that “the only good thing about [the indictment] is it’s driven my poll numbers way up”.

Trump repeated his baseless attacks against his former opponent Hillary Clinton, whom the state department investigated for several years over her use of private email before it found “no persuasive evidence of … deliberate mishandling of classified documents”.

He also lashed out at Joe Biden over the classified documents from his time as vice-president and senator which were found in his office in Washington and his Delaware home.

“Nothing happened to Crooked Joe with all that … He has so many classified documents … This is a sick nest of people that needs to be cleaned out immediately,” said Trump as the crowd in Georgia cheered fervently.

Trump also brought up his former vice-president and now presidential opponent Mike Pence, who also had marked documents discovered in his Indiana home.

“They looked at Mike Pence. He had classified documents, no problem,” said Trump.

While Biden and Pence turned over the marked documents as soon as they were discovered and allowed their lawyers to look through their properties, Trump has been accused of deliberately concealing boxes of records from his attorney, the FBI and the grand jury, according to the latest indictment.

Related: Trump indictment is stress test for US democracy as Republicans rally round

On the plane to North Carolina after his Georgia speech, Trump told Politico he would not drop out of the presidential race, even if he was convicted on the latest charges. “I’ll never leave,” he said.

When asked if he would pardon himself should he become president again, he said: “I don’t think I’ll ever have to … I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Pence also appeared at the North Carolina event, marking the first shared venue with his former boss since the ex-vice president announced his own campaign. He condemned the “politicization” of the Justice Department and urged attorney general Merrick Garland “to stop hiding behind the special counsel and stand before the American people” to explain the basis for the federal investigation into Trump.

In an interview with the Associated Press after his speech, Pence said he had read the indictment but repeatedly declined to share his personal reaction to its contents or to criticize Trump.

“The very nature of a grand jury is that there is no defense presented,” Pence said. “That’s why I said today I’m going to urge patience, encourage people to be prayerful for the former president, but also for all those in authority and for the country going forward.”

In North Carolina, Florida governor and Trump rival Ron DeSantis didn’t mention Trump by name but compared his situation to that of Clinton.

“Is there a different standard for a Democratic secretary of state versus a former Republican president?” DeSantis said. “I think there needs to be one standard of justice in this country ... At the end of the day, we will once and for all end the weaponization of government under my administration.”

On Saturday night, Trump said he would endorse lieutenant governor Mark Robinson in the race for governor of North Carolina. Trump said he would save his formal endorsement for another time but told Robinson from the stage, “You can count on it, Mark.” He referred to Robinson as “one of the great stars of the party, one of the great stars in politics.”

Robinson has attracted a reputation as a sharp-spoken social conservative, telling a church in 2021: “There’s no reason anybody anywhere in America should be telling any child about transgenderism, homosexuality, any of that filth.”

Trump’s two speeches had been planned before the justice department indicted him on Thursday evening with 37 criminal charges regarding his alleged illegal retention of classified government documents after leaving office in 2021.

The sweeping indictment which was unsealed on Friday accuses Trump of mishandling classified documents as well as obstructing justice, making him the first US president to be federally indicted.

Trump is expected to appear in a federal court in Miami on Tuesday and may face prison if convicted.