Trump Allies Mount ‘Witch-Hunt’ Defense in Criminal Investigation

  • MAGA allies are using an old playbook to defend against Trump Org criminal charges in New York.
  • But Trump and his aides no longer have the White House bullhorn to dominate the national debate.
  • “He'll win the PR war with 20% of the country” but not the rest, one GOP strategist said.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

What happens if you shout “witch hunt” to America, but most people don't hear it? 

As they face imminent criminal prosecution of the Trump Organization, former President Donald Trump and his team are likely to find out during the coming weeks and months as they mount the same defense they've used in previous nation-shaking scandals: a special-counsel investigation of Russian meddling in 2016 and a pair of impeachments.

But this time, they don't have the bullhorn of the presidency — or Facebook, or Twitter. Trump's ability to reach beyond his most loyal advocates is decidedly diminished even from a few months ago. For instance, Fox News didn't air his recent campaign-style rally in Ohio live.

Read more: Trump's troubles expand the Republican field. Here's the 5th edition of Insider's 2024 presidential power rankings.

“He'll win the PR war with 20% of the country,” said one longtime Republican strategist in regular touch with Trump's team. “It used to be 40% of the country that would walk across hot coals for him. Now it's 20% diehards.”

Meanwhile, the shock of prosecutors filing criminal charges against the former president's top accountant affected even the most dedicated Trump loyalists.

“It's like going after Al Capone for tax evasion. It's petty,” one former Trump White House official said. 

Regardless of whether Trump's messaging machine is marginalized, the president and his acolytes likely won't simply shut up.

Twitter and Facebook have tried to “memory-hole” Trump, but it won't work, Liz Harrington, a Trump spokeswoman, told Insider Thursday.

“It's part of this unprecedented pursuit against one man” Harrington said. “Why are they doing this now? Because President Trump got 75 million-plus votes. You saw the rally on Saturday. This movement isn't going anywhere. They're trying to harass everyone.”

Shortly after news broke Wednesday night that a New York grand jury had returned an indictment against Trump's longtime accountant and chief financial officer of his namesake company, Allen Weisselberg, Trump's team went to work.

Hunter Biden

Hunter Biden, the son of President Joe Biden, is a frequent scourge of Trump supporters.


Kris Connor/WireImage



Indictments? ‘Where's Hunter'

Trump senior advisor Jason Miller gave a sense of the Trump team's playbook last night, tweeting a series of rebuttals.

“WHERE'S HUNTER?” Miller tweeted three hours after news broke of the indictments, referring to President Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden. 

Miller also appeared on Newsmax and dubbed the indictments a “big face-plant.”

Trump himself, in an interview Wednesday with the Fox News personality Sean Hannity, called the New York investigation “nonsense,” adding that when the “New York radical-left prosecutors come after me — you have to fight.”

The “witch-hunt” playbook is old hat for Trump and his allies.

Trump himself has dubbed any investigation of him a “witch hunt,” starting from the special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of whether the Trump 2016 campaign colluded with Russians meddling in the election.

Read more: We identified the 125 people and institutions most responsible for Donald Trump's rise to power

Trump used the same language through his unprecedented pair of impeachments — first over allegations that Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine to try and force an investigation of his then-opponent Joe Biden, and later against charges that he incited the fatal attack on the Capitol.

The power of the presidency helped Trump overcome previous scandals.

When the long-awaited special counsel's report landed, Trump's attorney general William Barr jumped in front of the release and presented its findings in a way that suggested it exonerated Trump. (In fact, the report did not exonerate Trump.)

Trump and his advisors have long downplayed the importance of the criminal inquires internally, Trump advisors have told Insider repeatedly over the past few months. Internally, they compare it to not paying the full value of a house by using outdated property-tax assessments or driving 10 or 15 miles over the speed limit. 

“I figured they would try to get him on something. But it's hard to implicate Trump one way or another,” said one former Trump campaign advisor, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private debates among Trump and his advisors. 

Trump, the former advisor said, is very good at keeping his nose out of potentially damaging situations. 

“One of the most brilliant things Trump ever did was not use email,” the former advisor said.

Another former Trump-campaign advisor told Insider that the charges were unlikely to reach Trump himself. 

But when Insider told this person a first wave of charges did not mean Trump would or would not be indicted, the source said: “That's bad.”

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