Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Trump's supporters say the federal criminal charges he's facing are a double standard


Former President Trump has arrived in Miami ahead of his arraignment at a federal courthouse tomorrow. He's facing unprecedented criminal charges over his handling of classified materials. And he went on attack over the weekend, telling a crowd at the North Carolina Republican Convention that the case against him amounts to election interference by President Joe Biden.


DONALD TRUMP: The baseless indictment of me by the Biden administration's weaponized department of injustice will go down as among the most horrific abuses of power in the history of our country. I think it already is when you think about it.

SHAPIRO: President Biden has said he's never, quote, "suggested to the Justice Department what they should or should not do." NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez is covering the politics around the case and is here in the studio. Hey, Franco.


SHAPIRO: All right. What should we expect tomorrow?

ORDOÑEZ: I mean, you shouldn't expect too much substance. An arraignment is more of a procedural event. But this is, of course, a very significant and historic arraignment. Trump is expected to plead not guilty to the 37 charges. I spoke with Steven Groves, who was a former White House attorney who worked on the Mueller investigation. He told me he expects Trump's lawyers will soon file a motion to dismiss the case. And he argues they have a good basis to do that because presidents have brought authority on what they can classify and declassify.

STEVEN GROVES: The old saying is tried and true that no one is above the law. The question is, what is the law here? Do laws that were not written and not designed to handle presidents and former presidents really apply?

ORDOÑEZ: He went on to say that the authors probably didn't have presidents in mind when they wrote these laws and that the courts will have to determine whether or not they have constitutional privileges that excuse the president from some of these laws like this.

SHAPIRO: And yet, when you read the indictment, it goes way beyond keeping classified documents. They allege that he actively worked to stop the government from recovering those documents.

ORDOÑEZ: Right, the conspiracy to obstruct the justice charge. Trump's accused of suggesting to one of his lawyers, even, that they lie to the FBI about the documents or hide them or possibly even destroy them. But his lawyers are likely going to argue about these broad executive powers as president. And Groves says there are better ways of checking that power - by not reelecting him or, if he was still in office, by impeaching him. And he says, in his opinion, at least, it'll be a stretch under the Constitution to bring criminal charges against a former president over classified documents because of that broad authority.

SHAPIRO: Of course, we are seeing others from the former Trump administration, including his own attorney general, Bill Barr, saying this looks like a really tough indictment to get over. How are other people close to the former president responding?

ORDOÑEZ: You know, they are really fighting back. As one former adviser told me, you know, they're not going to give an inch. It's not that Trump's team is not concerned, but they also see this as an opportunity to galvanize support around a central message of his campaign, that there is a double standard of treatment against Republicans at the Justice Department and FBI. I spoke about this with Bryan Lanza, who was a former aide to Trump and remains in very close contact with the campaign.

BRYAN LANZA: It also highlights the fact that there's a dual track of judicial system in the United States that appears to be, you know, thumb on a scale towards conservatives and benefiting liberals.

ORDOÑEZ: And he says the campaign is already making a lot of money in that process on that argument. The campaign has sent a bunch of texts and emails asking for donations for Trump's legal defense as well as asking for campaign donations. We'll also hear more from Trump just a few hours later after he appears in court. He plans to address the indictment in public remarks when he returns to his golf club in Bedminster, N.J.

SHAPIRO: The 2024 presidential primary season is already underway with a growing Republican field. How is the indictment likely to affect the election?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, I mean, what happens tomorrow is just the start. The criminal cases can take months, if not years to resolve, of course. And it's going to add a lot of uncertainty to the 2024 presidential race. There's a real possibility that Trump will be in the thick of this legal fight at the same time he's in the thick of his campaign fight. But few of his opponents in the Republican primary have used the charges to try to attack him. Even Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, his closest rival, has come to his defense. And it's going to be interesting to watch whether Trump can maintain his support, but it's really early.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Franco Ordoñez giving some insight into the perspective from those close to former President Trump. Thank you.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you, Ari. 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.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.