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Trump Frames Felony Charges as 'Political'

FILE: Former U.S. President Donald Trump gestures after delivering remarks at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in Bedminster, New Jersey, on June 13, 2023. Trump appeared in court that day for arraignment on 37 federal charges, including violations of the Espionage Act.

WASHINGTON — Former U.S. President Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, insists he is being targeted for prosecution by a Justice Department weaponized by Democratic President Joe Biden.

"This is called election interference," the 77-year-old Republican leader Trump said. "It's a political persecution like something straight out of a fascist or communist nation."

In fighting the classified documents charges, Trump is waging a battle on two fronts - in a Miami courtroom and in the court of public opinion, analysts said.

"It's a classic Trump move," said Thomas Holbrook, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. "It helps to rally his supporters."

"Trump's attacks on the courts or on the Department of Justice just sort of further cement his supporters' distrust for those institutions," Holbrook added.

Shirley Warshaw, author of several books on the U.S. presidency, agreed, saying Trump's strategy is to "erode people's confidence in a nonpartisan Department of Justice and a nonpartisan FBI."

Polls suggest that Trump's attacks on the Justice Department, like his efforts to discredit the 2020 election results, have paid off to some extent - at least with Republicans.

According to a CBS News-YouGov poll, 76 percent of likely Republican primary voters believe that the indictment was politically motivated.

Sixty-one percent said they would vote for Trump to be the 2024 Republican presidential nominee if the primary was held today.

Several analysts expressed concern that Trump could rile up his loyal base and provoke violence such as that of January 6, 2021, when his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in a bid to block Congress from certifying Democrat Joe Biden's election victory.

Wendy Schiller, a professor of public and international affairs at Brown University, said it is not surprising that Trump is seeking to sway public opinion in his favor.

"That's what politicians do," Schiller said. "You can argue that in a jury trial, a good lawyer is also trying to appeal to the public opinion on the jury."

"But the other thing he's doing that's more frightening is that he's not trying to appeal to a jury. He's trying to rouse up the people, the violent forces that attacked the Capitol," she added, saying "He's trying to intimidate the legal system."

One of the main targets of Trump's ire has been special counsel Jack Smith, who brought the indictment against the former president in the classified documents case and is also looking at whether he should face charges for the attack on Congress.

Smith, who was named by Attorney General Merrick Garland to head the investigations into Trump, has been branded a "thug," a "lunatic" and other colorful epithets by the former president.

Edward Foley, a professor in constitutional law at Ohio State University, said the prosecution of Trump "puts the country in a very fraught situation."

It also places two important principles in tension with each other, Foley said.

"Principle number one is no person is above the law. We want even a former president to be accountable for misdeeds.

"But principle number two is you don't want the government in power to use the power of government to hobble its political opponents."

In this case, Foley said it is not credible to allege that the prosecution of Trump is Biden personally waging a preemptive strike on his leading opponent.

But there is an "unavoidable" perception problem.

"The Justice Department is part of the executive branch and the president is the head of the executive branch," he said. "And Biden is the president running for re-election."