Former President Donald Trump accused New York prosecutors of behaving like a ‘communist dictatorship targeting political opponents’ as he railed against criminal charges leveled against his company during a rally in Florida.
He unloaded his fury after a week that included seeing an employee paraded into court in handcuffs with a fiery rally speech on Saturday night in Sarasota, Florida.
Trump hit all his favorite targets, from immigration to fake news, but reserved special fury for prosecutors in New York.
‘It’s reminiscent of a communist dictatorship targeting their political opponents … fabricating charges to try and silence them, abusing the justice system and leaking out information on a daily basis to the press, to engage in flagrant character assassination,’ he said to cheers.
But he said the ‘witch hunt’ that began when he first ran for office would backfire, cementing his support.
‘In America people will not stand for it,’ he said.
The Florida trip was his second campaign-style rally since leaving office, a mass gathering of the MAGA faithful as he seeks to retain his grip on the Republican Party and boost allies before next year’s midterm elections.
Before the rally began, Trump told Newsmax that he had spoken to Florida governor Ron DeSantis and had told him not to attend the event, and instead stay in Miami where he is dealing with the aftermath of the Surfside condo collapse.
He said: ‘He is working very hard. He is doing a very good job. He should be there. I told him: “You should be there, this is not that important for you”. He of all people should be there.’
The rally, billed as a Fourth of July celebration, drew tens of thousands of people to a grassy fairground, braving first blistering temperatures and then torrential Florida rain.
Former President Trump delivered angry retort to criminal charges against his company during a rally in Sarasota, Florida
The rally, billed as a Fourth of July celebration, drew tens of thousands of people to a grassy fairground
It was also a chance to respond to the events of Thursday, when Trump’s namesake company and chief financial officer pleaded not guilty to 15 criminal charges brought by prosecutors investigating suspected tax fraud.
They alleged that Allen Weisselberg had failed to pay tax on $1.7 million of perks – including Mercedes cars, an apartment and tuition fees for his grandchildren.
Trump said financial companies that caused the financial crash, or Democrats like Hillary Clinton or Hunter Biden were never investigated.
‘They leave Democrats alone no matter how bad they are but mobilize every powre of government to come after me, my family, my wonderful employees and my company solely because of politics,’ he said.
‘They want to do things to hurt us.’
Trump’s audience lapped up his attacks, booing the villains of the story and cheering Trump’s defiance.
Russell Kasper, 45, said the timing of the court appearance, just as the former president, returns to the rally stage was suspect.
‘It’s very odd timing,’ he said.
‘I’m not someone who thinks Trump is perfect or who has never done anything wrong – but it looks as if they are out to get him.’
Trump unloaded his fury after a week that included seeing an employee paraded into court in handcuffs
Trump also described his visit to the border this week, contrasting his policies with those of Biden who he described as responsible for the ‘willful and deliberate’ destruction of immigration controls.
‘We ended catch and release, we stopped asylum fraud, he said.
‘We stopped the migrant caravans. You remember the caravans? They are coming back like never before.’
And he said Democrats’ policies of ending cash bail and defunding the police were responsible for spreading the ‘nightmare of lawlessness.
‘The bloodshed is beyond belief,’ he said.
His remarks included a Fourth of July flavor, tying his election defeat to the spirit of the American Revolution.
‘We have a truly sick election system,’ he said after revisiting familiar, unfounded complaints about last year’s election and promising to restore the time-honored tradition of voting in person on election day.
He added: ‘Remember this: I am not the one trying to undermine American democracy. I am the one trying to save American democracy.’
But nobody, he said could take away Americans’ God-given right to liberty.
‘Our movement is up against some of the most sinister forces and entrenched interests that anyone can imagine,’ he said.
‘But no matter how powerful or how big they may seem, you must never forget this nation does not belong to them. This nation belongs to you.’
The Florida trip was his second campaign-style rally since leaving office
The rally at the Sarasota County Fairgrounds is the latest event as Trump eases back into public campaigning.
He retains a strong grip on his party. Some 53 percent of Republicans still believe that Trump won last year’s election, according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll.
Last week he visited the border with Mexico, where he accused Biden of dismantling immigration control.
And this week he is promising to make an announcement on protecting free speech, after for weeks trailing the idea that he would soon be returning to social media.
It has all stoked speculation that he is serious about mounting a 2024 run even though he says he won’t make an announcement until after next year’s midterms.
‘Not only does he feel the country is in a dire situation, he wants to be out there giving hope to our supporters and Americans who are really worried about their country,’ said his spokeswoman Liz Harrington.
‘What is happening is not America and we need to stand up for our country on a weekend like this, celebrating our history.’
The rally at the Sarasota County Fairgrounds is the latest event as Trump eases back into public campaigning
At the same time, many Republicans see DeSantis as an attractive candidate.
His standing grew as Florida reopened early from the coronavirus pandemic and he has been at the head of Republican fights against racial justice protests and voting reform.
In a recent straw poll of possible 2024 candidates in Denver he even beat Trump by 74 percent to 71 percent.
Trump aides were forced to deny they had been asked to postpone Saturday’s campaign-style rally, amid reports DeSantis’s team asked for a delay while the state was still recovering bodies from the collapsed building.
But advisers and former staff close to the two Republican figureheads say reports of tensions are overblown.
‘It’s a media creation,’ said Sam Nunberg, Trump’s former campaign adviser.
‘People are just looking for splits that don’t exist.’
Helen Aguirre Ferre, executive director of the Florida Republican Party and a former communications director for the governor, said: ‘Any idea of a rift comes from anonymous sources who don’t put their names on the records is pretty tell-tale.
‘If it was well-founded information they should go on the record.’