Former US President Donald Trump has called the federal indictment against him “ridiculous and baseless” in his first public appearance since the charges were announced.
A 37-count indictment made public on Friday accuses him of keeping sensitive documents at his Mar-a-Lago property.
At two campaign speeches on Saturday, Trump said the indictment amounted to “election interference” by the “corrupt” FBI and justice department.
He has denied any wrongdoing.
Trump has been charged with mishandling hundreds of classified documents, including some about US nuclear secrets and military plans.
The indictment accused him of keeping the files at his Florida estate Mar-a-Lago including in a ballroom and a shower.
He lied to investigators and tried to obstruct their investigation into his handling of the documents, the indictment alleged.
It is the first ever federal criminal prosecution against a former US president.
Speaking at the first Republican Party convention in Georgia, Trump said: “They’re cheating, they’re crooked, they’re corrupt – these criminals cannot be rewarded, they must be defeated.”
He joked that every time he flies over a “blue state” – one controlled by the Democrats – he gets subpoenaed.
Trump, who is running for the White House again in 2024, called the indictment a “hoax” by the “corrupt political establishment”, also describing it as a “joke” and a “travesty of justice”.
Both speeches – in Georgia and later in North Carolina – went on for more than an hour.
He thanked the “record crowd” as well as “patriots” who had supported his White House bid, and went on to criticise “sinister forces” that were running the country.
“We’re going to stand up to the current political establishment … and we’re going to finish the job we started, the most successful presidency,” he said, a line that led to chants of “USA, USA” breaking out in the crowd.
“I will never yield, I will never be deterred,” he said, before turning his attention to the groups he said were plotting against him.
This included Marxists, communists, “environmental extremists”, Rinos – Republicans in Name Only – as well as “open border fanatics” and “radical left democrats”.
Referencing the indictment, he claimed the highly-sensitive documents should have fallen under the Presidential Records Act, rather than the Espionage Act.
Under the Presidential Records Act, White House records are supposed to go to the National Archives once an administration ends. Regulations require such files to be stored securely.
He also said “gun-toting FBI agents” had raided Mar-a-Lago.
Special counsel Jack Smith, who oversaw the investigation, has denied the charges are politically-motivated, saying: “We have one set of laws in this country, and they apply to everyone.”
Laws protecting national defence information were critical and must be enforced, he has said. (BBC)