Former President Donald Trump joked about his legal difficulties while campaigning Tuesday night in eastern Iowa, only hours after announcing he’d received a target letter in the investigation by the Justice Department into efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
While headlining a GOP county meeting, Trump attacked investigators while making light of what could result in his third criminal indictment since March.
“I didn’t know practically what a subpoena was and grand juries. Now, I‘m becoming an expert,” he said to the crowd gathered at an Elks Lodge in Cedar Rapids.
In an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, he also vented his frustrations. “It bothers me,” he said while painting the cases as politically motivated. “It’s a disgrace what’s happening to our country.”
The trip to the state that leads off GOP voting was another indication that no political rules apply when it comes to the former president. He didn’t cancel the trip and was not uninvited. Instead, he carried on and incorporated his latest legal woes into his usual stump speech — a mixture of criticism of President Joe Biden, grievances, and plans for a second term.
Iowa is a critical state for Trump, with its caucuses only six months away.
He set off for Iowa only hours after announcing he received a letter Sunday informing him he is the target of special counsel Jack Smith’s investigation into the 2020 election and the events leading up to the January 6, 2021, incident at the U.S. Capitol.
Trump has previously been indicted twice — once in Florida and once in New York — and faces other possible charges in an election interference probe nearing its conclusion in Georgia, marking an unprecedented legal onslaught for a former U.S. president.
However, the indictments have not damaged Trump’s standing. Instead, early polls show Trump ahead of his closest GOP rival, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, by 20 to 30 points or greater.
News of the target letter emboldens Trump supporters
According to Linn County, Iowa, GOP chair Bernie Hayes, news of the target letter only emboldens the former president’s supporters.
“Does something like that engender sympathy? I think certainly it does,” said Hayes, as the small event room filled up beyond the number of chairs set out. “The man’s being persecuted, so they are just thinking of another way to persecute him.”
“If anything, people see President Trump is actually hardened by the trials he’s gone through and knows what he’s up against,” said Hayes.
Before the speech, Trump was interviewed on a local radio station and raged against the investigations while dismissing possible negative fallout.
“The people of our great country, they fully understand what’s going (on). It’s election interference. It’s a weaponization of justice,” said Trump.
When speaking to reporters, the former president said: “They are never leaving us because they want to make America great again. They’re with us. They have a passion like nobody’s ever had.”
Legal experts have said potential charges could include obstruction of official proceedings and conspiracy to defraud the United States.
Republican Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa said developments would not turn off Trump’s supporters. “We’ll see what they come up with…but I tell you, the more they target Donald Trump? I mean, boy, the base, they just eat it up. They see two systems of justice, one for Donald Trump and one for everybody else.”
Former President Trump called a top ally in the GOP House, Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, to rally Republicans against the investigation and discuss the strategy for going ahead on offense. Trump also spoke to Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy. On Tuesday, the speaker accused Democrats of trying to “weaponize government to go after their number one opponent.”
South Dakota Senator John Thune, the majority whip of the Senate, said that, with one indictment after the next, voters will eventually “tune it out. It doesn’t have the weight or meaning it does when you’ve got this many things coming at you.”
“Now, on the other hand,” added Thune, “it also creates, I think, kind of a lot of noise and distraction that always seem to surround the former president. At what point does that have some effect on people’s opinions? I don’t know.”