By Nathan Layne
(Reuters) -Former President Donald Trump used the first public appearance since his federal indictment to ratchet up attacks on the Justice Department, accusing prosecutors, without evidence, of a politically motivated campaign to keep him from the White House.
Speaking on Saturday at Georgia's state Republican convention, Trump alleged that President Joe Biden, a Democrat, orchestrated the criminal charges in order to undermine his main political rival's presidential campaign, as well as to distract from federal and congressional investigations into Biden's son.
There is no evidence to support Trump's allegations. The Justice Department maintains that all its investigative decisions are made without regard to partisan politics, and Biden has said he would not get involved in the Trump probe.
"The ridiculous and 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," Trump told the crowd of local party officials.
"This vicious persecution is a travesty of justice."
His remarks came one day after prosecutors unsealed a 37-count indictment against him, alleging he mishandled classified documents that included some of the country's most sensitive security secrets after leaving the White House in 2021.
Prosecutors allege the former president held on to materials, including documents about the U.S. nuclear program and domestic vulnerabilities to a potential attack, that he knew he should not have retained.
The 49-page indictment also detailed two instances in which Trump allegedly shared classified information with people not authorized to receive it, as well as efforts to obstruct government investigators seeking to retrieve the materials.
The indictment of a former U.S. president on federal charges is unprecedented in American history and came as Trump is the clear front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination next year.
Trump told Politico on Saturday that he will continue running for president even if he were convicted.
The charges ensure the case will be a focal point of the party's nomination contest. Most of Trump's rivals responded by accusing the Justice Department of political bias, reflecting their fears of upsetting Trump's core supporters, a group thought to be 30% of the Republican electorate.
He is due to make a first appearance in the case in a Miami court on Tuesday, a day before his 77th birthday.
In a wide-ranging and at times dark and conspiratorial speech, Trump portrayed his campaign to return to the White House as part of an "epic struggle" to defeat the "sinister forces" that he said were a bigger threat to the country than foreign adversaries like Russia, North Korea and Iran.
"Think of that: from within is worse than without," he said.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed two different special counsels to independently investigate the handling of classified records by Trump and Biden, who discovered documents at his home and one-time office at a think tank.
Trump sought to equate the investigation into his conduct with that of Biden, even as legal experts say there are stark differences. For more than a year, Trump rebuffed efforts by the National Archives to retrieve all of the records he retained and, according to the indictment, worked to hide documents from his lawyers and investigators. In Biden's case, his attorneys informed the National Archives and the Justice Department of the discovery of classified files, according to Garland. The Justice Department has not said whether it would indict Biden.
"Biden was not indicted. And what he did is terrible," Trump said. He referred to Jack Smith, the special counsel who indicted him, as a "thug" and called for the removal of officials investigating him. "This is a sick nest of people that needs to be cleaned out immediately. Get 'em out," he added to applause.
Trump told the audience in Georgia that the "joke of an indictment" would further bolster his support within the party, similar to how charges in New York in March over hush-money payments to a porn star elevated his ranking in primary polls.
"The only good thing is it's driven my poll numbers way up."
It was unclear to what poll numbers he was referring.
(Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Daniel Wallis)