Former President Donald Trump’s ex-chief of staff said the twice-impeached Republican is intimidated by the possibility he may finally face accountability for his actions.
“He’s scared shitless,” John Kelly, the chief of staff from 2017 to 2019, told The Washington Post on Tuesday.
Trump, now the first president to be federally charged with a crime, pleaded not guilty on Tuesday in response to a 37-count indictment accusing him of illegally holding on to classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago private club in Florida.
For Trump, his second indictment in less than three months doesn’t seem to be losing him voters. Instead, a Republican strategist told HuffPost’s Liz Skalka that his indictments are more likely to add to his political support.
There’s also been a strong effort from Trump and politicians that align themselves with him to discredit the case and paint him as a victim of prosecutorial overreach.
Trump, a 2024 Republican presidential candidate, has raised more than $7 million in donations since the news of his indictment first broke, CNN reported.
After his Miami courthouse appearance, Trump made a stop at a well-known Cuban restaurant, Versailles, and received a “warm welcome.”
“It’s part public relations and part babysitting,” Stephanie Grisham, a former White House press secretary, also told The Washington Post. “He wants people to see the cheering crowds so they don’t think anything is going wrong. It’s also because the staff around him wants to keep him busy and wants to have people cheering for him and giving him the ego stroke that he’ll need so they don’t have to deal with him being completely pissed.”
On the evening of his arraignment, Trump also ranted on his Truth Social platform about being the victim of “political persecution,” claiming the indictment occurred only because the Justice Department wants to “take away” his followers’ freedom.
Before his arrest date, Trump said he was fairly optimistic about the indictment. “I’m just fighting for the country,” he told right-wing pundit Howie Carr, according to the Post.
Kelly told The Washington Post that Trump is putting on a show.
“This is the way he compensates for that. He gives people the appearance he doesn’t care by doing this. For the first time in his life, it looks like he’s being held accountable. Up until this point in his life, it’s like, I’m not going to pay you; take me to court. He’s never been held accountable before.”
Kelly has critiqued his former boss on multiple occasions. In 2020, Kelly claimed that American voters need to be careful in picking presidents and consider their moral values.
In 2022, Kelly claimed Trump unfairly weaponized his presidential powers against people who made him “look bad.” In another instance that year, he also condemned Trump for praising Russian President Vladimir Putin during his unprovoked attack on Ukraine.