How Team Trump plans to manage indictment fallout during 2024 election campaign

Donald Trump - MANDEL NGAN/AFP
Donald Trump - MANDEL NGAN/AFP

The voice of the Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti wafted over the patio of Donald Trump’s New Jersey golf club as the former president waited to learn what charges the US government was bringing against him.

It was Thursday night and just 90 minutes earlier, Mr Trump had received the call he had been bracing for all week.

Mr Trump’s lawyers were calling to inform him he was about to be prosecuted by the Justice Department he once oversaw.

Apparently unperturbed, the former president went out onto the patio of his New Jersey golf club to mingle with guests as he dined and played a few of his favourite tunes.

Wearing his trademark red “MAGA” cap, Mr Trump acted the DJ as he played a selection of favourites - Pavarotti, Elvis Presley, and James Brown - from an iPad and took calls from his closest allies.

By Friday morning, Mr Trump, 76, was on the golf course as he waited, with the rest of the country, for the charges against him to be unsealed.


But behind the apparent calm was a well-versed plan to manage the legal and political ramifications of his indictment for retaining highly classified documents after leaving office.

Mr Trump’s team know he must now wage a difficult 2024 presidential campaign alongside fighting his growing criminal charge sheet in court.

But they see benefits to the media spotlight, which energises his supporters while drowning out his rivals’ efforts.

Chris LaCivita, one of the key strategists behind Mr Trump’s 2024 campaign, said: “We are going to fight like hell, and we’re going to hang it on Joe Biden every day that he did this.”

Mr Trump had already recorded a defiant video, denouncing the charges before they had even been filed, in front of a painting of Theodore Roosevelt and Kaiser Wilhelm II.

His team, meanwhile, had collected a dossier and were ready to paint Jack Smith, the special counsel leading the case, as a “radical-Left prosecutor”.

Within 20 minutes of receiving the call from his lawyers, Mr Trump had drafted and released a statement announcing his indictment on his platform Truth Social.

In another 20 minutes, the first fundraising appeal had gone out to his supporters.

“We are getting pretty good at this,” one Trump insider told the Washington Post.

His campaign hopes to see a fundraising spike akin to the $12 million it received following Mr Trump’s March indictment on hush money payments in New York.

But as the charges were finally unveiled by the Justice Department on Friday in granular detail over 49 pages, it became clear that the classified documents case posed a far more serious threat.

By lunchtime, Mr Trump’s legal defence was in turmoil. Two of his lawyers had quit.

Advisers ‘shaken’

Mr Trump’s calm of Thursday night had reportedly given way to fury at the details laid out in the indictment - from texts between his staff discussing moving documents, to Mr Trump’s discussions with his own lawyers in which he suggests they make false representations to the FBI.

Some advisers were said to be shaken by the indictment, which contained far more - and more damning - evidence than they had anticipated.

Mr Trump was due to deliver an angry speech in Georgia on Saturday in which he was expected to paint himself as a victim of a politicised Justice Department.

To hammer that point, he will draw a contrast with his treatment and that of Mr Biden’s son, Hunter, who is also under federal investigation over his tax affairs and the purchase of a gun.

In the words of one close adviser, Mr Trump is now “running for his freedom”.