Donald Trump repeatedly insisted on Saturday night he was not upset by expected criminal charges that might arise from the Manhattan district attorney’s investigation into his role in paying hush money to adult film star Stormy Daniels as he returned from a campaign rally in Waco, Texas.
But the manner of Trump’s responses to questions suggested worries about potential damage to his image, and he came across as someone angry that his good vibrations with his “Make American great again” base in Texas could be interrupted by the reality of a possible indictment as soon as this week.
Travelling back from his first rally as a 2024 presidential candidate, Trump claimed during a recorded interview with four reporters aboard his Trump Force One plane that he was unafraid about the investigation even as he attacked the case and attacked media reporting about the case.
“I’m not frustrated by it. It’s a fake investigation. We did nothing wrong – I told you that,” the former president said before proceeding to lash out at the NBC News reporter on the plane who asked if he was frustrated. “This is fake news, and NBC is one of the worst. Don’t ask me any more questions.”
Trump also acknowledged during the interview that he had no actual insight into the investigation. He said “I have no idea what’s going to happen” – before deciding that he supposedly knew what would happen anyway and claiming, “They’ve already dropped the case, from what I understand.”
Trump then settled on attacking the investigation, insisting the case is over while making various assertions not supported by concrete evidence and mainly based on speculation that has circulated among his allies and the campaign.
“If anything ever happened with the case, it’s a fake case. This is a fake case. They have absolutely nothing. They have it in reverse. They should indict Michael Cohen for all the lies that he told,” Trump said, referring to the attorney who made the hush money payment to Daniels. “They may not do that, but that’s what should be happening.”
The case centers on $130,000 that Trump paid to Daniels through Cohen in the final days of the 2016 campaign. Trump later reimbursed Cohen with $35,000 checks using his personal funds, which were recorded as legal expenses. Cohen later pleaded guilty in 2018 to federal crimes.
It remains unclear what charges the district attorney Alvin Bragg might seek against Trump, though some members of his legal team believe the most likely scenario involves a base charge of falsifying business records coupled with potential tax fraud because Trump would not have paid taxes on the payments.
The remarks from Trump on the flight came during an interview with four reporters. The Guardian obtained the recording after this reporter, confirmed to travel with the former president, was bumped off the manifest the day before the trip over recent reporting that the campaign disliked.
The former president also said during the interview that the previous week had buoyed him, at least from a 2024 campaign perspective, correctly noting how he has surged in recent polls amid news of an expected indictment and the Republican base’s clamoring to his defense.
“We’ve had the best polls we’ve ever had,” Trump said. Using a derisive nickname for Florida governor and expected 2024 candidate Ron DeSantis, Trump added: “Ron DeSanctimonious is crashing. They’re already looking for somebody to take his place.
“You know where he would be right now [if he wasn’t the governor]? Probably working either at a cigar store or a law firm.”
Trump’s rhetoric about the hush money investigation has turned increasingly bitter in recent days as he has gone from lashing out at the prospect of criminal charges, to insisting he wanted to be handcuffed and arrested, back to once again attacking the matter with vehemence.
The former president’s attacks on Bragg took a turn on Friday when he predicted in an overnight post on his Truth Social website that “death and destruction” could come should the grand jury in New York return an indictment against him.
Returning from the Texas rally on Saturday, where he used his speech to repeatedly air grievances about the investigation, Trump sought to distance himself from his darkest comments that had come as Bragg’s office discovered a threatening letter and white powder in its mailroom.
“No – I don’t like violence and I’m not for violence,” Trump said.
Then, repeating his lie that electoral fraudsters stole victory from him over Joe Biden in 2020, he said: “But a lot of people are upset and you know they rigged the election, they stole an election, they spied on my campaign. They did many bad things.”