Washington: Donald Trump spun his latest indictments into a 2024 campaign pitch Wednesday, but faced withering criticism from his former vice president who accused him of relying on "crackpot lawyers" for advice.
The twice-impeached Republican has remained defiant despite accumulating legal woes - including the extraordinary 45-page indictment unsealed Tuesday, which argues that while still president he put the foundations of American democracy at risk by conspiring to overturn the 2020 election results.
Pence a star witness
A key figure in the indictment was then-vice president Mike Pence, who provided prosecutors "contemporaneous notes" that he took documenting the efforts to reverse the poll outcome.
Pence, who is likely to be a star witness in any eventual trial, offered unyielding criticism on Wednesday of Trump for pressuring him to thwart the will of the voters by refusing to certify Joe Biden's election victory at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol that day called for Pence to be hanged over his refusal.
"Anyone who asks someone else to put themselves over the Constitution should never be president of the United States again," Pence, who is also running for the Republican nomination, told reporters in Indianapolis.
"I had no right to overturn the election and... what the president maintained that day and frankly, has said over and over again over the last two and a half years, is completely false."
"Sadly the president was surrounded by a group of crackpot lawyers who kept telling him what his itching ears wanted to hear," Pence, whose refusal to do as Trump asked on January 6 forms a key part of the indictment, said.
Trump spent part of the morning playing golf at his Bedminster, New Jersey, club, according to CBS TV broadcast images.
He also vented online about the new indictments, the third time he has been criminally charged this year, keeping up his refrain that the election was rigged.
In a post on his Truth Social platform, the 77-year-old suggested the indictment was all the more reason for his supporters to circle the wagons and elect him next year.
"I have never had so much support on anything before," Trump said in a five-sentence post written in all caps.
"This unprecedented indictment of a former (highly successful!) president, & the leading candidate, by far, in both the Republican Party and the 2024 general election, has awoken the world to the corruption, scandal & failure that has taken place in the United States for the past three years," he added.
"America is a nation in decline, but we will make it great again, greater than ever before."
The comments are the latest by the pugnacious ex-president insisting the charges against him are "fake," and that President Joe Biden is actively seeking to derail the campaign of his political rival.
With speculation mounting about when the case could go to court after special counsel Jack Smith said he is seeking a "speedy trial," a Trump attorney weighed in to warn that rushing the process would only confirm to observers that the indictment is "about pure politics."
"The government has had three years to investigate this, and now they want to rush this to trial in the middle of a political season? What does that tell you?" Trump attorney John Lauro said on CNN.
"We deserve as much time as any American citizen to defend on these issues... and for the government to have three years to do it and then expect us to do it in three weeks or four weeks is just ridiculous."
Trump already faces criminal prosecution over his handling of classified documents at his Florida estate after he left the White House, and over hush-money payments made to a pornographic actress in 2016.
Georgia prosecutors are also looking into whether Trump illegally attempted to overturn the 2020 election outcome in the southern state.
Despite his legal peril, Trump retains the loyalty of a large segment of his party. He holds a substantial lead in polls for the Republican nomination and is seen as widening the gap with his nearest rival, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.