Former President Donald Trump said Thursday the nation would face "problems ... the likes of which perhaps we’ve never seen" if he is indicted over his handling of classified documents after leaving office, an apparent suggestion that such a move by the Justice Department could spark violence from Trump's supporters.
The former president said an indictment wouldn’t stop him from running for the White House again and repeatedly said Americans “would not stand” for his prosecution.
“If a thing like that happened, I would have no prohibition against running,” Trump said in an interview with conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt. “I think if it happened, I think you’d have problems in this country the likes of which perhaps we’ve never seen before. I don’t think the people of the United States would stand for it.”
Hewitt asked Trump what he meant by “problems.”
“I think they’d have big problems. Big problems. I just don’t think they’d stand for it. They will not sit still and stand for this ultimate of hoaxes,” Trump said.
It’s not the first time Republicans have hinted at potential civil unrest if the DOJ indicts Trump. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham made headlines last month when he said there would be “riots in the street” if “there is a prosecution of Donald Trump for mishandling classified information.” Graham’s comments were slammed as “irresponsible” and “shameful.” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, without naming the South Carolina senator, said these comments from “extreme Republicans” were “dangerous.”
Hewitt appeared to see Trump’s comments as a nod toward potential unrest, asking the former president how he would respond when the “legacy media” accuses him of inciting violence.
“That’s not inciting. I’m just saying what my opinion is,” Trump said. “I don’t think the people of this country would stand for it.”
On Capitol Hill, senior FBI and DHS officials briefed members of the Senate Judiciary and Homeland Security committees Thursday on the uptick in threats against federal law enforcement in the aftermath of the Mar-a-Lago search. Senators said the briefers didn’t specifically pinpoint a politician or political party when it comes to the threats, but they said the trend was clear.
“It was stunning the number of threats that have been cataloged since the Aug. 8 search of Mar-a-Lago,” Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said after the briefing, specifically mentioning the gunman who tried to enter an FBI building in Cincinnati, Ohio, in the days following the search. “It’s a much more dangerous environment because of the political statements made by some individuals since Aug. 8 — it’s alarming to me.”
Durbin said the threats ranged from explicit and specific to more generalized ones, most notably on social media. He also called out Trump for his rhetoric.
“Inviting a mob to return to the streets is exactly what happened here on Jan. 6, 2021. This president knew what he was doing...and we saw the results,” Durbin added. “His careless, inflammatory rhetoric has its consequences.”
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), a Trump ally and member of the Homeland Security Committee, said after the briefing that the Justice Department needed to be more transparent about the justification for the search in order to push back against “conspiracies.”
“You have to give people good information so these rumors don’t continue,” Scott said, condemning attacks on law enforcement. “I don’t know why they raided the former president’s house ... They know the conspiracy theories that are out there. So convince people that they’re not true.”
The FBI search of Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida sparked a political firestorm last month. According to a Justice Department court filing released in August, prosecutors obtained a search warrant for the estate after receiving evidence there was “likely” an effort to conceal classified documents at the residence in defiance of a grand jury subpoena. Agents recovered highly classified records mixed among personal items, in addition to dozens of empty folders with classified markings.
The DOJ and Trump's lawyers are now in the midst of legal deliberations on an outside review of the seized documents.
Graham, one of Trump's staunchest Capitol Hill allies, echoed concerns that the Justice Department may have overstepped in its dealings with the former president. But he left open the possibility that the department's probe could uncover material that might justify an indictment.
"There's a belief from many on the right that the DOJ and the FBI have been less than unbiased when it comes to Trump. But having said that, nobody's above the law including the president, but the law's gonna be about politics," Graham said. "So let's wait and see what they find. I've got an open mind about what they find, but they need to have something that would justify what I think is political escalation."
Speaking with Hewitt on Thursday, Trump continued to use the defense that he "declassified" everything he took to Mar-a-Lago, a claim his legal team has thus far declined to make in court.
Rhetoric that could be seen as alluding to violence is not out of character for Trump. In his speech on Jan. 6, 2021, to supporters before rioters stormed the Capitol in an effort to block the certification of President Joe Biden's Electoral College victory, the then-president told the crowd to “fight much harder” against “bad people” and to “show strength.” His comments that day have been a focal point of Jan. 6 select committee's investigation into the president and his inner circle, with investigators using one of their summer hearings to make the case that Trump's efforts to hold on to power resonated with extremist groups and brought them to the Capitol.
Nancy Vu contributed to this report.