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Trump addressed his indictment at the annual convention of North Carolina Republicans

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Indicted on Thursday, on stage on Saturday - former President Donald Trump spoke publicly for the first time since the Department of Justice charged him with criminal activity over his handling of classified documents.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: In the end, they're not coming after me. They're coming after you. And I'm just standing in their way.

RASCOE: As the frontrunner in the Republican field, running for president in 2024, Trump got the prime time slot when he spoke before the North Carolina GOP last night. Our own Don Gonyea was there, and he joins us now from Greensboro, N.C. Good morning, Don.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Hi, good morning.

RASCOE: So what else did Trump have to say about the indictment last night? It sounds like he's wearing it as a badge of honor.

GONYEA: Certainly, that. Let me just set the scene. This was a speech that ran 90 minutes. That's a long political speech.

RASCOE: Yeah.

GONYEA: And in that time, he'd be talking about the indictment, and he'd even crack a joke about it, saying, I've been invited - I'm sorry, I've been indicted in, like, twice in two weeks. Then he'd go off on another topic very abruptly - the border wall or transgender athletes. Then he'd get right back into the indictment and start talking about the Marxists of the Justice Department who are out to get him. Here's just one of many examples I could have chosen to play for you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: And now these radical left lunatics want to interfere with our elections by using law enforcement. It's totally corrupt, and we can't let it happen. This is the final battle. With you at my side, we will demolish the deep state.

GONYEA: So you can hear the apocalyptic language he used and always making the point that they're coming after Trump, but that they're really coming after his supporters.

RASCOE: So then how did the audience in North Carolina respond? I mean, these are people who are probably pretty sympathetic to Trump.

GONYEA: Absolutely. This was a state GOP convention, not an official Trump rally. That said, the room was full of Trump supporters, most of them local county GOP officials and party operatives and activists. Some of them are supporters of other candidates in 2024. But overwhelmingly, it was a Trump crowd. And it didn't take any convincing at all for them to see all of this as the conspiracy to get Trump that Trump described it as over and over.

RASCOE: So two other candidates spoke at the convention - former Vice President Mike Pence and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. So what did they have to say about Trump's indictment?

GONYEA: Well, it's a fine line for both, right? I mean, they are his opponents for the nomination. For Pence, it is a moment of solidarity with Trump. He is very critical, I should say, of Trump over the January 6 insurrection, saying Trump put himself above the Constitution that day. But on this topic, he said he was, quote, "deeply troubled" by the indictments.

DeSantis - he does not typically directly criticize Trump anyway in his speeches, and on this he is clearly sympathetic with the former president. Now, I should say, he did not mention Trump by name at all, but he did say that any citizen could be similarly victimized by a federal agency just for their beliefs.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RON DESANTIS: So the weaponization of these agencies strikes at the heart of what it means to have a free society. And it's not just affecting people at the top. It's affecting people all throughout our country.

GONYEA: So he's sympathetic to Trump but trying to win over his voters, too.

RASCOE: So it seems like the Republican opponents who - of Trump in the Republican presidential primary are walking this fine line where they don't want to criticize him about the federal indictment. So what does this mean politically?

GONYEA: When you work the crowd after an event like this, as I did, you do find some Republican voters, past Trump voters, who see this as another thing that might make it harder for Trump to win next November. But they're far from a majority of the party, far from a majority in this crowd. And at least near term, you can feel how all of this is helping Trump with the base.

RASCOE: NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea. Thank you so much, Don.

GONYEA: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.

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