Former President Donald Trump speaks to the media at the Waldorf Astoria following his appearance in U.S. District Court in D.C. on Tuesday. Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

Republican polling leader Donald Trump on Tuesday threatened unrest if the criminal charges against him cause him to lose the 2024 election.

Speaking to reporters after an appeals court hearing in which Trump’s lawyers said he should be immune from prosecution for trying to overturn the 2020 election, Trump claimed without evidence that he was being prosecuted because of polls showing him leading President Biden. He warned that if the charges succeed in damaging his candidacy, the result would be “bedlam.”

“I think they feel this is the way they’re going to try and win, and that’s not the way it goes,” Trump said. “It’ll be bedlam in the country. It’s a very bad thing. It’s a very bad precedent. As we said, it’s the opening of a Pandora’s box.”

The former president did not take questions and walked away as a Washington Post reporter asked him to rule out violence by his supporters.

Trump’s comments came three days after the third anniversary of his supporters’ attack on the U.S. Capitol, inspired by Trump’s false insistence that the 2020 election was stolen. Over the years, Trump has increasingly defended the riot and embraced people charged in the attack. On Saturday he called them “hostages” and demanded their release.

His repeated evasions of ruling out political violence come amid a rising menace of threats and attacks throughout American politics. Biden on Friday condemned Trump for refusing to reject violence.


“Trump won’t do what an American president must do; he refuses to denounce political violence,” Biden said. “So hear me clearly, I will say what Donald Trump won’t: Political violence is never acceptable in the United States – never, never, never. It has no place in the democracy. None.”

The specter of violence also came up during the court argument itself. One of the three judges on the panel, Florence Y. Pan, asked, “Could a president order SEAL Team 6 to assassinate a political rival?” D. John Sauer, a lawyer for Trump, said a president could be prosecuted for such an action only if Congress first impeached and convicted him.

The lawyer representing special counsel Jack Smith argued that Trump’s view of immunity would mean an “extraordinarily frightening future.”

Capitol Riot Ray Epps

Rioters loyal to President Donald Trump gather on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021. AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File

If that’s the case, Justice Department lawyer James Pearce asked, “what kind of world are we living in?”

Trump defended his lawyer’s arguments in his own remarks.

“As a president, you have to have immunity,” he said. “If it’s during the time [in office], you have absolute immunity.”


Without immunity, Trump said, Biden or former president Barack Obama could be prosecuted for actions as president such as the 2021 Afghanistan withdrawal, border policy changes or drone strikes. Trump has repeatedly threatened to retaliate by prosecuting Biden and his family if he returns to office.

“Joe would be ripe for indictment,” Trump said in a video posted to social media late Monday. “. . . He has to be careful because that can happen to him also.”

In his remarks Tuesday, Trump repeated a years-old allegation that Biden, as vice president, withheld $1 billion in U.S. aid to Ukraine to pressure the country to remove a prosecutor who was investigating a company whose board included Biden’s son Hunter. In reality, Joe Biden leveraged the aid to push out the prosecutor because he wasn’t aggressively pursuing corruption.

Trump also repeated false claims about the 2020 election, and afterward an aide passed out copies of a report that he published online last week and his lawyers cited in a court filing. The report contained allegations that were not new and had already been disproved.

Trump’s presence in court on Tuesday was voluntary, and advisers said he chose to attend because he believes he gets better treatment from the legal system and better media coverage when he shows up in person. People close to the former president also said he wanted to go on offense against Smith, part of his campaign’s efforts to portray the charges as political.

The appeals court will determine whether Trump’s trial can proceed in March as scheduled, as his legal team tries to delay the case and the three others he’s facing until after the November election. If Trump loses the appeal, he is likely to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has already agreed to review whether states can disqualify Trump from appearing on primary ballots under the 14th Amendment’s ban on government officials who “engaged in insurrection.”

The Smith indictment does not accuse Trump of inciting the Jan. 6, 2021, riot but alleges that he and co-conspirators tried to exploit the violence to delay the formal certification of Trump’s electoral defeat.

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