Former President Donald J. Trump was meeting with his top political advisers in the office at his poolside cottage at his club in Bedminster, NJ, when his phone rang around 7 p.m. Thursday. According to two people with knowledge of the call, one of his lawyers was on the phone, telling him he had been charged for the second time in less than three months.
Unlike the first charge – in a Manhattan state court related to allegations that he paid hush money to a porn star during the 2016 election – the current charges were federal and stemmed from his conduct just before he left office and during about 18 months after that.
Mr. Trump, always compartmentalised, immediately moved into a political response.
At 7:21 p.m., he did what he did so often when he was president: He personally programmed the chyrons on every news channel in the country. He broke the news of his own indictment by drafting and then posting a three-part statement on his social media network, Truth Social, which soon interrupted nightly shows on Fox News, MSNBC and NewsMadura.
The former president put a screed against the Biden administration, but hidden in his attacks on the Democrats were pertinent details: not only that he had been charged, but also that he had been summoned to appear before a Miami courthouse on Tuesday afternoon.
A studio van was brought to Bedminster so that one of his lawyers could get on television. Another Trump attorney, James Trusty, soon took to NewsMadura to detail some of the charges and talked about his client’s response.
“He’s thought about it,” Mr. Trusty said. “He said, ‘This is just a sad day. I can’t believe I’ve been charged.” Mr. Trusty continued, “That’s kind of my — my summarizing words of what he had to say. But at the same time he immediately recognizes the historical character of this. This is crossing the Rubicon.”
For days, Trump’s team sought information on his indictment after three of his lawyers met with Justice Department officials on Monday. They entered that meeting after being told that an indictment was likely, and nothing said changed that perspective, according to people close to Mr. Trump. But while they suspected charges were imminent, they acted more on rumours, gossip and news reports than verified facts.
As speculation mounted before the Justice Department announced the indictment, Trump’s team captured video of the former president responding to the anticipated charges in a speech directly to the camera — and standing in front of what appeared to be a version of a painting of President Theodore Roosevelt and Kaiser Wilhelm II, the leader of Germany during World War I.
Half an hour after announcing his charges, he posted the video on his social media website. In it, he taunts Democrats, portrays the indictment as evidence of “a nation in decline” and calls himself “an innocent man.”
Trump’s team had urged Republicans close to him to issue statements, and soon his allies obliged: Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a tweet: “Sad day for America. God bless President Trump.”
Speaker Kevin McCarthy continued, calling it a “dark day” and vowing, “House Republicans will hold this brutal weaponization of power accountable.”
That Mr. Trump was surrounded in Bedminster by his political and communications circle, and not by most of his lawyers, reflected both uncertainty about when the charges would come and how Mr. Trump has consistently handled his legal challenges.
His political advisers had been preparing for weeks to fully exploit the federal indictment. His team has come to view federal law enforcement actions against him as a core part of their fundraising strategy. Online fundraising — which has long been the lifeblood of Mr. Trump’s political operation because leading Republican donors largely shun it — has dried up in recent years for all Republican candidates, including Mr. Trump.
GOP donors have been exhausted by constant hysterical calls to give money to Mr. Trump to keep the Democrats from destroying the nation. It takes a lot these days to grab the attention of such contributors; indictments are among the few events that enliven the rank and file enough to dig into their pockets.
The last time Mr. Trump was indicted, in New York, his campaign said it raised more than $12 million in the week following the indictment — a huge bump in its previously anemic fundraising efforts. Since then, Mr Trump’s fundraising has fallen to disappointing levels, according to people briefed on the situation.
Less than an hour had passed since Mr. Trump learned of his indictment or his campaign sent his first mass email to capitalize on the sense of shared persecution and victimization the former president has nurtured among his supporters. Trump’s fundraising call began around 7:45 p.m. Thursday: “We’re watching our Republic die before our very eyes.”
Mr. Trump’s allies outside his official campaign structure have also prepared to milk this moment and trigger his political antibodies.
Officials at the main pro-Trump super-PAC, MAGA Inc., have fueled the investigation of opposition from allies so they have talking points to attack Jack Smith, the special counsel who brought the case against Trump in television and radio appearances and on social networks. media. The group has even circulated information about Mr Smith’s wife to suggest that her donations to Democratic politicians have created a conflict of interest for her husband.
Last week, as the former president’s allies saw reports that Mr. Smith was most likely nearing the end of his investigation, strategists working with Mr. Trump’s super-PAC began drafting a television ad to coincide with the expected federal indictment.
The commercial will be submitted Friday for nationwide cable placement, according to a person with direct knowledge of the plans. The ad’s messages align with talking points circulating among some of Trump’s most staunch defenders on Capitol Hill. They will portray the indictment as a partisan plot by President Biden’s Justice Department.
These allies also intend to insinuate — without evidence — that the Justice Department timed this indictment to distract from the House Republicans’ investigation into Mr. Biden and his family’s business affairs.
As Trump prepares for his arraignment Tuesday afternoon at the federal courthouse in Miami, some of his closest allies are preparing a campaign to pressure his competitors in the Republican presidential nominating contest to rally behind him.
“Any ‘Republican’ running for president should suspend their campaign and go to Miami as a show of support,” tweeted Charlie Kirk, a young conservative activist close to Trump.
“If you don’t,” Mr. Kirk added, “you’re part of the problem. Either we have an opposition party or we don’t.”
Staff from several rival campaigns had privately admitted they feared the indictment because it would take over the news cycle and deprive their candidates of media attention.
A senior adviser to one of Trump’s competitors in the Republican primary, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said GOP voters overwhelmingly believed any impeachment against Trump was a Democrat plot and they wanted to see all Republicans fight to get rid of the former president. to defend.
Because of this, most Republicans in 2024 are in the dire position of feeling that the only way they can appease their voters is to wholeheartedly defend Mr. Trump and pause their efforts to compare their data against his.
Mr Trump’s team ran the same pressure campaign the last time he was indicted, in New York – and it worked with great success.
In mid-March, the former president predicted his arrest was imminent, and his political operation and allies in the news media began publicly bullying Florida Governor Ron DeSantis into defending Mr. Trump, which he eventually did.
This time Mr. DeSantis attacked the prosecutors, but he also did not defend Mr. Trump. Without promising Mr Trump a pardon, if another candidate, Vivek Ramaswamy, didMr. DeSantis stated on Twitter, “The DeSantis administration will be accountable to the DOJ, excise political bias, and end armaments once and for all.”
There were other, more eccentric parallels to the first indictment against Trump on Thursday night.
About 90 minutes after learning of his latest ordeal, Mr. Trump — who played disc jockey on his club patio at Mar-a-Lago after his April indictment — headed to the main house in Bedminster for alfresco dining.
Donning a red Make America Great Again cap, he again performed as a DJ, according to a person there, and used an iPad to spin some of his favorites: Elvis, the opera singer Pavarotti and his idol in showmanship, James Brown.