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Trademark Trump defiant as he tries to set narrative that indictments are political not legal

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Donald Trump popped into a waffle restaurant in Columbus, Georgia, on Saturday afternoon.

The idea, presumably, was to create an impromptu moment – to present a man not rattled by the days ahead.

The pre-positioned supporters suggest it was rather more pre-arranged. But there is no question that the former president looked relaxed, confident, and upbeat.

The pit-stop came after his first public appearance since that remarkable indictment was unsealed.

I watched from the “fake news” media pen at the back of the Columbus Convention Center as he delivered a defiant 90-minute speech.

The capacity crowd were the great and the good of Georgia’s Republican Party – gathered for the state’s two-day Republican Convention.

It was trademark Trump.

“They want to use something called the Espionage Act. Doesn’t that sound terrible?” he said facetiously, referring to the charges against him.

“Espionage? We got a box! I got a box! The espionage…” he trailed off. The crowd laughed.

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After a rattle through his greatest hits as president, he got back to the indictment.

“The ridiculous and baseless indictment of me by the Biden administration’s weaponised department of injustice will go down as among the most horrific abuses of power in the history of our country.

“Many people have said that, the Democrats have even said it.”

“This vicious persecution is a travesty of justice,” he said to applause. At times people stood. Not all, but a good proportion.

“Think of it: Biden is trying to jail his leading political opponent that’s beating him by a lot in the polls just like they do in Stalinist Russia or Communist China. No different.” More applause.

It was a grievance-laced speech. He cast himself as the victim of an establishment out to get him.

“We are going to stand up to the corrupt political establishment, we are going to evict a totally corrupt Joe Biden from the White House…”

The narrative he is setting is that all this is political not legal. It’s Biden trying to stop him in the courts rather than face him at the ballot box.

Deflection and “whataboutism” play very well. And that’s the crux of all this for sections of American society that have been so angered by the indictment.

In the Columbus convention hall I heard it repeatedly: what about Joe Biden and the classified documents found in his Delaware garage, next to his Corvette? Hilary Clinton and the classified documents on her email server? Mike Pence and the classified documents found at his home?

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Trump indictment: ‘Laws apply to everyone’

American standards of justice are being questioned by the first federal indictment of a former and possible next president.

There are clear distinctions with those cases: quantity, intent, obstruction.

The number of documents in Trump’s case is far larger. There appears to have been an intent to remove them from the White House and an obstruction of National Archive and FBI attempts to retrieve them.

There is also plain misinformation. Trump talks frequently about the “1850 boxes Biden took”.

He is referring to boxes of Biden documents at the University of Delaware. They are papers from his senate career between 1973 to 2009. They are not secret, there is no requirement for him to give them to the National Archives and there is no wrongdoing.

Still, President Biden has been blasé about the documents found in his Corvette garage – his assurance that the “garage was locked” cemented the incredulity.

All of this, not to mention the stories about his son Hunter, reflect a genuine American crisis of distrust.

The 45th president of the United States has been indicted, by the Justice Department of the Biden administration, on 31 of the counts relating to the espionage act – “wilful retention of national defence information”.

That is a massive moment. It is not yet clear quite what it will unleash in America.

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