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    Friday, May 24, 2024

    UPDATED: Trump tells Jersey Shore ‘mega crowd’ he's being forced to endure 'show trial'

    People gather ahead of a campaign rally for Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump in Wildwood, N.J., Saturday, May 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

    Wildwood, N.J. — Sandwiched between his appearances in court, Donald Trump headed on Saturday to the Jersey Shore, where he repeatedly blamed President Joe Biden for the criminal charges he’s facing as the presumptive nominees prepare to face off in the November election and called his New York hush money case “a Biden show trial.”

    Blasting the Democratic president “a total moron,” Trump before a crowd of tens of thousands repeatedly characterized the cases against him as politically motivated and timed to harm his ability to campaign.

    “He’s a fool. He’s not a smart man,” Trump said of Biden. “I talk about him differently now because now the gloves are off.”

    Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, drew what his team called a “mega crowd” to a Saturday evening rally in the southern New Jersey resort town of Wildwood, 150 miles south of the New York City courthouse where he has been forced to spend most weekdays sitting silently through his felony hush money trial.

    Lisa Fagan, spokesperson for the city of Wildwood, told The Associated Press that she estimated a crowd of between 80,000 and 100,000 attendees, based off her own observations on the scene Saturday, having seen “dozens” of other events in the same space.

    Trump was joined on stage by several high-level endorsers including North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and NFL Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor, who is still listed as a registered sex offender after pleading guilty in New York in 2011 to misdemeanor criminal charges of sexual misconduct and patronizing an underage prostitute.

    The beachfront gathering, described by Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-N.J., as the largest political gathering in state history, was designed to serve as a show of force at a critical moment for Trump, who is facing dozens of felony charges in four separate criminal cases with the election less than six months away.

    Hours before he was scheduled to take the stage, thousands of Trump loyalists donning “Never Surrender” T-shirts and red “Make America Great Again” hats crowded onto the sand between the boardwalk and carnival rides to greet the former Republican president.

    “The everyday American people are 100% behind him,” said Doreen O’Neill, a 62-year-old nurse from Philadelphia.

    “They have to cheat and smear him and humiliate him in that courtroom every single day,” O’Neill said. “This country is going to go insane if they steal the election again.”

    Trump’s extraordinary legal woes, which include three other unrelated criminal cases, have emerged as a central issue in the campaign.

    Trump has repeatedly accused the Biden administration and Democratic officials in New York of using the legal system to block his return to the White House. Prosecutors allege the former president broke the law to conceal an affair with a porn actor that would have hurt his first presidential bid.

    On Saturday, Trump posited that even those whom he accuses of politically motivated prosecutions didn’t bring every case they could have, pointing to the boosts his campaign has sustained with each wave of charges.

    “I heard they were going to do a couple of other things and they said from Washington ... ‘we’re indicting him into the White House,’” Trump said. “They said, ‘Don’t do it.’”

    While Trump seized on his legal woes Saturday, a judge's gag order — and the threat of jail — limit Trump's ability to comment publicly on witnesses, jurors and some others connected to the New York trial, which is expected to consume much of the month. The judge in the case already has fined Trump $9,000 for violating the order and warned that jail could follow if he doesn’t comply.

    The order doesn't include references to Judge Juan M. Merchan, whom Trump called “highly conflicted” or District Attorney Alvin Bragg, both of whom Trump said are “doing the bidding for crooked Joe Biden.”

    Trump's responsibilities as a defendant have limited his ability to win over voters on the campaign trail.

    He spent last week's off-day from court in the general election battlegrounds of Wisconsin and Michigan. And he was campaigning with tens of thousands of voters Saturday in New Jersey, a reliably Democratic state. Parts of New Jersey have deep-red enclaves and the southern shoreline in particular draws tourists and summer homeowners from neighboring Pennsylvania, a key swing state.

    Biden, meanwhile, opened his weekend with a series of fundraising events on the West Coast.

    He avoided Trump’s legal challenges — as he has done consistently — while addressing donors in Seattle. Instead, the Democratic president focused on Trump’s recent interview with Time magazine in which the Republican former president said states should be left to determine whether to prosecute women for abortions or to monitor their pregnancies.

    Saturday’s visit to the New Jersey Shore resort wasn't Trump’s first.

    While president, Trump held a rally there in January 2020 to thank Van Drew, the New Jersey congressman who had just left the Democratic Party for the GOP as a rebuke for the former president’s first impeachment.

    Trump drew a crowd at the time that lined the streets, filled bars and supported numerous vendors in what is usually a sleepy city in the winter. This time, the summer season is around the corner for the resort known for its wide beaches and boardwalk games and shops.

    Wildwood is in New Jersey’s 2nd District, which Van Drew has represented for three terms and covers all or part of six counties in southern New Jersey. It went for Trump in 2016 and again in 2020 after earlier backing Barack Obama.

    Trump is set to return to the courtroom next week, when key prosecution witness Michael Cohen, Trump's fixer-turned-foe, is expected to take the witness stand. Last week, he was visibly angry at times as he was forced to sit through testimony from former porn actor Stormy Daniels, who described a sexual encounter with the former president in shocking detail.

    Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying internal Trump Organization business records. The charges stem from paperwork such as invoices and checks that were deemed legal expenses in company records. Prosecutors say those payments largely were reimbursements to Cohen, Trump's attorney, who paid Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet.

    The prosecution could rest its case by the end of the week. It's unclear if Trump himself will take the stand when the defense presents its case.

    Back on the Jersey Shore, 65-year-old Pat Day said she felt some urgency to see Trump in person on Saturday.

    “We want to see Trump before they take him out,” said Day, who was visiting from the Florida Keys. “I'm worried. They're going to do everything they can so he doesn't get elected again.”

    People cheer for a photo ahead of a campaign rally for Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump in Wildwood, N.J., Saturday, May 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
    People gather ahead of a campaign rally for Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump in Wildwood, N.J., Saturday, May 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
    People gather ahead of a campaign rally for Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump in Wildwood, N.J., Saturday, May 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
    Artist Scott LoBaido, right, looks on as crew members move his painting of Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump before a campaign rally in Wildwood, N.J., Saturday, May 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
    Anthony Pahopin wears an over-sized Donald Trump cap before a campaign rally for Republican presidential candidate former President Trump in Wildwood, N.J., Saturday, May 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
    Anthony Pahopin wears an over-sized Donald Trump cap before a campaign rally for Republican presidential candidate former President Trump in Wildwood, N.J., Saturday, May 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
    Anthony Pahopin, second right, wears an over-sized Donald Trump cap while posing for a photograph before a campaign rally for Republican presidential candidate former President Trump in Wildwood, N.J., Saturday, May 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
    People gather ahead of a campaign rally for Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump in Wildwood, N.J., Saturday, May 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
    Anthony Pahopin wears an over-sized Donald Trump cap before a campaign rally for Republican presidential candidate former President Trump in Wildwood, N.J., Saturday, May 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
    People gather ahead of a campaign rally for Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump in Wildwood, N.J., Saturday, May 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
    People gather ahead of a campaign rally for Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump in Wildwood, N.J., Saturday, May 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
    People wait in line to enter a campaign rally for Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump in Wildwood, N.J., Saturday, May 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
    People gather ahead of a campaign rally for Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump in Wildwood, N.J., Saturday, May 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
    People gather ahead of a campaign rally for Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump in Wildwood, N.J., Saturday, May 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
    People gather ahead of a campaign rally for Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump in Wildwood, N.J., Saturday, May 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

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