Trump, Facing Potential Indictment, Holds Defiant Waco Rally

As footage from the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol is displayed in the background, former President Donald Trump stands while a song, "Justice for All," is played during a campaign rally at Waco Regional Airport, Saturday, March 25, 2023, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
As footage from the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol is displayed in the background, former President Donald Trump stands while a song, "Justice for All," is played during a campaign rally at Waco Regional Airport, Saturday, March 25, 2023, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
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Trump, Facing Potential Indictment, Holds Defiant Waco Rally

As footage from the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol is displayed in the background, former President Donald Trump stands while a song, "Justice for All," is played during a campaign rally at Waco Regional Airport, Saturday, March 25, 2023, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
As footage from the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol is displayed in the background, former President Donald Trump stands while a song, "Justice for All," is played during a campaign rally at Waco Regional Airport, Saturday, March 25, 2023, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Facing a potential indictment, Donald Trump took a defiant stance at a rally Saturday in Waco, disparaging the prosecutors investigating him and predicting his vindication as he rallied supporters in a city made famous by deadly resistance against law enforcement.

With a hand over his heart, Trump stood at attention when his rally opened with a song called “Justice for All” performed by a choir of people imprisoned for their roles in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the US Capitol. Some footage from the insurrection was shown on big screens displayed at the rally site as the choir sang the national anthem and a recording played of Trump reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

The extraordinary display opened Trump’s first rally of his 2024 Republican presidential campaign. He then launched into a speech brimming with resentments and framed the probes, including a New York grand jury investigation, as political attacks on him and his followers, The Associated Press said.

“You will be vindicated and proud,” Trump said “The thugs and criminals who are corrupting our justice system will be defeated, discredited and totally disgraced.”

Trump's event at the airport grounds in Waco was part of a broader effort by the former president to use the potential indictment as a rallying cry for supporters to maintain his status as the GOP frontrunner in what is expected to be a crowded primary. It came one day after Trump raised the specter of violence should he become the first former president in US history to face criminal charges.

Trump declared his innocence in the Manhattan investigation into a hush money payment made during the 2016 election to porn actor Stormy Daniels to keep her from going public about a sexual encounter she said she had with Trump years earlier. A grand jury hearing the case is expected to meet again on Monday.

Trump said the Manhattan district attorney was investigating him "for something that is not a crime, not a misdemeanor, not an affair.”

Some of Trump's recent rhetoric, including at the rally, has echoed language he used before the Capitol insurrection by a mob of his supporters seeking to stop the transfer of power to Democrat Joe Biden, who won the presidential election.
Trump declared Saturday that his “enemies are desperate to stop us" and that “our opponents have done everything they can to crush our spirit and to break our will."

He added: “But they failed. They’ve only made us stronger. And 2024 is the final battle, it’s going to be the big one. You put me back in the White House, their reign will be over and America will be a free nation once again."

Trump could be indicted soon by a Manhattan grand jury investigating a $130,000 payment that Trump’s longtime lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, made as Trump was in the throes of his 2016 presidential campaign.

Trump later reimbursed Cohen and his company logged the reimbursements as a legal expense. Cohen has already served time in prison after pleading guilty to campaign finance charges and lying to Congress, among other crimes.

Trump's eyebrow-raising choice of venue in Waco for his first rally came amid the 30th anniversary of a 51-day standoff and deadly siege between US law enforcement and the Branch Davidians that resulted in the deaths of more than 80 members of the religious cult and four federal agents and has become a touchstone for far-right extremists and militia groups.

Trump’s campaign insisted the location and timing of the event had nothing to do with the Waco siege or anniversary. A spokesperson said the site, 17 miles from the Branch Davidian compound, was chosen because it was conveniently situated near four of the state’s biggest metropolitan areas — Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Austin and San Antonio — and has the infrastructure to handle a sizable crowd.

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said before Trump’s arrival that he was the one who had suggested Waco as the venue. Any suggestion Trump had picked the city because of the anniversary was "fake news. I picked Waco!” he told the crowd.

Trump did not make any direct references in his speech to Waco's history, telling the crowd of thousands that he told Patrick he wanted to hold his rally in a place with overwhelming support, not “one of those 50-50 areas," and said he told Patrick, “Let’s go right into the heart of it."

At several points, Trump criticized Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected to run for president and is seen as his strongest potential challenger for the GOP nomination. Trump called his onetime ally disloyal and said he was “dropping like a rock.”

Audience members were holding red and white signs handed out by the campaign that said “Witch Hunt," “Trump 2024” and “I stand with Trump.”

Hours before Trump arrived, hundreds of his supporters began streaming into the airport past vendors selling merchandise including Trump flags, bumper stickers and action figures.

Among them was Eugene Torres, 41, who said he was unfazed by the prospect that Trump could be indicted.

“It’s just another political attack on him to keep him from running and winning this race again,” said Torres, who is from the Texas coast city of Corpus Christi.
Alan Kregel, 56, traveled with his wife from Dallas to see Trump in person for the first time. While he voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020, he said he felt the former president's "methods and vocabulary" often detracted from his policies. But now, two years out of office, he said he is more supportive of Trump than he was before.

“He’s an innocent man, just persecuted," said Kregel, arguing an indictment would help Trump win in 2024.

Trump has spent weeks now railing against the New York probe and in a post on his social media site on Friday warned of “potential death & destruction in such a false charge" if he’s charged with a crime.

In a move that seemed designed to preempt a formal announcement, he claimed last Saturday that he would be arrested the following Tuesday. While that did not happen, Trump has used the days since to try to shape public perception — echoing a strategy he has used before, including during special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

Trump has also repeatedly invoked violence, urging his supporters to protest, and used increasingly racist and dehumanizing rhetoric as he has launched ever more personal attacks against Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

On Friday, a powdery substance was found with a threatening letter in a mailroom at Bragg's offices, authorities said. Officials later determined the substance wasn't dangerous.

Even before the threatening letter was sent to Bragg's office, Democrats warned that Trump's remarks had the potential to incite violence.

“The twice-impeached former president’s rhetoric is reckless, reprehensible and irresponsible. It’s dangerous, and if he keeps it up he’s going to get someone killed,” House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York said.

In addition to the Manhattan case, Trump is also facing an investigation in Georgia over his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election as well as federal investigations into his handling of classified documents and possible obstruction, as well as his efforts on Jan. 6.



Biden Battles COVID and Democrats as Crisis Grows

President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
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Biden Battles COVID and Democrats as Crisis Grows

President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Joe Biden holed up at his beach house Thursday, battling both a bout of COVID and calls by senior allies for him to abandon his 2024 reelection bid.

While rival Donald Trump prepared for his star turn at the Republican National Convention, the 81-year-old US president found himself in both personal and political isolation.

The top Democrats in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, both reportedly met with Biden in recent days to warn that his candidacy threatens his party's prospects in November's election.

Influential former House speaker Nancy Pelosi added to his woes by privately telling Biden he cannot win and could harm Democrats' chances of recapturing the lower chamber, CNN reported.

Several party figures were meanwhile quoted anonymously by the Axios news outlet as saying that they believed the pressure would persuade Biden to drop out as soon as this weekend.

Biden has insisted he is not backing down, adamant that he is the candidate who beat Trump before and will do it again this year. Pressed about reports that Biden might be softening to the idea of leaving the race, his deputy campaign manager Quentin Fulks said Thursday: “He is not wavering on anything.”

"He's staying in the race," Fulks told a press conference on the sidelines of the Republican convention in Milwaukee.

"Our campaign is not working through any scenarios where President Biden is not the top of the ticket -- he is and will be the Democratic nominee."

California Senator Alex Padilla said Biden was "not skipping a beat."

"I know having spoken to him personally he's committed to the campaign," he added.

Using mountains of data showing Biden’s standing could wipe out the ranks of Democrats in Congress, frank conversations in public and private, and now, the president’s own time off the campaign trail after testing positive for COVID-19, many Democrats see an opportunity to encourage a reassessment.

Biden told reporters on Wednesday that he was "doing well."

His COVID diagnosis however came at the worst possible time for his campaign, forcing him to cut short a trip to Las Vegas and isolate at his holiday home in Rehoboth, Delaware.

The split-screen with Trump could not have been more stark, with Trump set to formally accept the Republican nomination in Milwaukee.

US networks showed images of frail looking Biden gingerly descending the steps of Air Force One in Delaware, in a week when Trump is lauded by supporters each night at a packed party convention.

Former president Trump, who at 78 is just three years younger than Biden, is riding a wave of support from his party after surviving an assassination attempt on Saturday that left him with a bandaged ear.

The United States could now be approaching the climax of an extraordinary three weeks in politics, which started when Biden gave a disastrous performance during a televised debate with Trump.

Biden blamed jet lag and a cold, but the fact that America's commander-in-chief has now fallen ill for a second time just as fears grow about his fitness for the job has merely intensified the panic in Democratic ranks.