Donald Trump's indictment on federal charges of mishandling secret documents is a politically motivated prosecution based on de-classified files and personal "mementos," one of the ex-president's lawyers argued Sunday, days before his scheduled arraignment in a Florida court.
Trump is facing 37 charges, including violations of the Espionage Act, making false statements and conspiracy regarding his mishandling of classified material – the most serious legal jeopardy the rebellious Republican has faced. His arraignment is set for Tuesday, at a federal court in Miami.
His lawyer Alina Habba argued Trump had done "nothing wrong" and would not take a plea deal to minimize fallout from the case as he seeks his party's nomination for the 2024 election.
"He would never admit guilt, because there was nothing wrong with declassifying documents," Habba told talk show "Fox News Sunday".
"This is completely politically motivated. It's election interference at its best."
Habba also portrayed Trump's opposition to federal agents searching and seizing materials in his Mar-a-Lago home as frustration over officials going through his personal effects.
"He has every right to have classified documents that he declassified... things that are mementos, things that he has a right to take," she said.
"So if I'm someone with documents that I have a right to have as the president who left the White House, do I want people rummaging through my personal items? No."
But the US attorney-general under Trump, one-time ally Bill Barr, said his former boss faces "solid counts" filed by the Department of Justice and that Trump is not a victim of a witch-hunt, as the former leader repeatedly insists.
"The idea that the president has complete authority to declare any document personal is... ridiculous," Barr told Fox.
If even half the indictment is true, "then he's toast," Barr added. "It's very, very damning."
'Still a secret'
The charges each carry up to 20 years in prison.
In its indictment, the Justice Department described evidence including an audio recording from a July 2021 meeting that Trump, who was no longer president, had with an author, a publisher and two of his staff – none of whom had a US security clearance – in which Trump showed them what he called a "secret" and "highly confidential" document.
"This is secret information... See as president I could have declassified it," Trump said according to the indictment. "Now I can't, you know, but this is still a secret."
A defiant Trump attended Republican events Saturday, telling a GOP convention in North Carolina that the legal attack against him was being waged by "crazy lunatics."
"The 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," he said.
The twice-impeached Trump, who turns 77 Wednesday, handily leads the Republican race to see who will challenge President Joe Biden in 2024.
An ABC-Ipsos poll released Sunday highlighted the country's political polarisation over the indictment, finding that 48% of Americans think Trump should have been charged, while 47% believe the charges are politically motivated.
The poll of 910 random US adults in the aftermath of the indictment also shows a solid majority 61% find the charges very or somewhat serious, while 28% say the charges are not too serious or not serious at all.
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said the city will have a press conference Monday to address security surrounding Trump's court appearance.
All Miamians will "be able to express their First Amendment rights," he told Fox, adding: "We're going to make sure that there is no disorder."