Trump Indictment Takes Center Stage at Georgia GOP Convention

Former President Donald Trump delivers remarks during the Georgia state GOP convention on June 10, 2023. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

COLUMBUS, Georgia—Despite everything, Georgia’s most zealous Republican activists are still all in on Donald Trump.

An enthusiastic crowd of more than 2,000 party delegates welcomed the former president to their state party convention this weekend with open arms. They whooped and cheered throughout his hour-and-a-half speech Saturday afternoon, in which he blasted the new criminal indictment against him as a “witch hunt” and described himself as a martyr for the Republican Party.

Trump’s remarks in the Columbus Georgia Convention & Trade Center marked his first public address since the Justice Department unsealed a 37-count indictment against him and one of his aides Friday. The former president is charged with willfully retaining hundreds of classified documents after he left office and obstructing the federal government’s efforts to retrieve them.

Yet few convention attendees interviewed by The Dispatch expressed even an inkling of concern about the contents of the classified materials listed in the charges, which the indictment alleges included sensitive information about U.S. nuclear programs and the weapons capabilities of the U.S. and other countries. 

“I don’t know what things he took home. From what I understand, the man had the right to carry the things out of there—he was the president of the United States,” claimed 65-year-old delegate Joe Bohannon of Sylvania, Georgia. Trump “supposedly” had the legal right to declassify the documents, he added. “I am so sick of all these investigations.”

But according to evidence released thus far, Trump did not declassify those documents yet still took them with him after leaving the White House. The Justice Department’s latest move comes three months after a Manhattan district attorney indicted Trump on charges relating to falsifying business records in connection to hush money payments he made to a porn star. And as Trump’s Georgia supporters repeatedly pointed out throughout the weekend, the new indictments follow years of attempts by Democrats to investigate him on other fronts. 

Many mentioned Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, which ultimately determined that the Trump campaign had not colluded with Russian attempts to meddle in the 2016 election, and Special Counsel John Durham’s subsequent report that accused the FBI of demonstrating a “lack of analytical rigor” in launching the Russia probe in the first place.

Others argued Trump had been subjected to a double standard. They cited House Republicans’ recent, unverified claim, sourced to a classified document from an FBI informant, that then-Vice President Joe Biden accepted $5 million from an executive of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings, where his son Hunter was then serving as a board member. 

Patti Minton, a 65-year-old delegate for Gainesville, Georgia, believes the latest charges against Trump were an attempt by the White House to distract voters from this story. 

“​​I think it’s just going to boost his numbers even more,” Minton said. “Even people on the left are starting to see it truly is a witch hunt, when so many people on the left have gotten away with basically murder, and never been charged with having to pay for the crimes they’ve committed.”

“They’re trying to take away what’s going on with Biden and all that, so they’ve got to take the focus to Trump,” said Tammy Watson, a convention attendee from Warner Robins, Georgia.

In recent years, Georgia Republicans’ state party apparatus has remained deeply devoted to the former president even after he lost the presidential election there in 2020—a fact Trump and his supporters still deny. Over the same period, Republicans have suffered a number of embarrassing losses in statewide elections—most notably the 2021 Georgia Senate runoffs, in which Republican voters’ suspicions of election rigging caused many to stay home. Both Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler lost reelection by a whisker, handing control of the Senate to Democrats. Then came the 2022 midterm elections, when Trump-endorsed Georgia Senate nominee Herschel Walker didn’t make it across the finish line either. 

“At this point, it has just become an institution of people who feel aggrieved at Republicans running the Republican Party,” Georgia-based conservative talk show host Erick Erickson said in an interview.

Lt. Gov. Burt Jones was the highest-ranking statewide official to attend the convention. But looming over the entire weekend was GOP Gov. Brian Kemp, who declined to attend the convention after enduring years of criticism from Trump and Georgia GOP officials for not doing more to investigate election fraud in the 2020 election. 

Kemp has doubled down in recent months on his insistence that to win Georgia in 2024, Republicans need to nominate a forward-thinking Republican presidential candidate who can appeal to independents and suburban leaning voters. In a thinly veiled shot at the state GOP, Kemp’s federal super PAC released a new poll on the first day of the convention hitting Trump on his electability. 

Only one convention attendee interviewed by The Dispatch expressed openness to another presidential candidate in 2024. Eighteen-year-old Cooper Guyon, a delegate from Paulding, Georgia, said he’s “leaning toward” supporting GOP Sen. Tim Scott in 2024. 

Guyon also voiced concern that the state GOP in Georgia has veered from its original mission of registering GOP voters and electing Republicans to beat Democrats, no matter who the nominee is. “I think we’ve lost sight of that and become more of an activist group that’s focused more on the issues and primaries,” he said. 

All eyes are on the state party’s newly elected chairman, Josh McKoon, who expressed optimism in a Friday interview that the party will be united against Democrats next cycle. “We’re all going to come together as Republicans, no matter who the nominee is,” he said. But even he dismissed the Trump indictment as an attempt by Justice Department lawyers to “score political points.”

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