Trump rails against New York fraud ruling as he faces fines that could exceed half-a-billion dollars

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Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Waterford Township, Mich., Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

WATERFORD TOWNSHIP, Mich.Former President Donald Trump railed against the judge who slapped him with a $355 million fine in his New York civil fraud trial and went after the long list of prosecutors with cases against him as he campaigned in Michigan Saturday night while facing penalties that, with interest, could exceed half-a-billion dollars.

Trump was making his pitch in a state that is expected to be critical in November as he pivots toward a likely general election rematch against President Joe Biden. While Biden narrowly beat Trump here in 2020, the president is facing deep skepticism in the state, especially from Arab-American voters angry over his support for Israel in the Israel-Hamas war as the Palestinian death toll has climbed.

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Trump, meanwhile, has been working to appeal to the blue-collar and union voters who were critical to his victory in 2016. On Saturday, he again made his pitch to auto workers, railing against electric vehicle mandates that he argues will ultimately lead to lost jobs and touted tariffs he put in place.

“We have to let them know a freight train is coming in November," Trump told more than 2,000 supporters gathered in a freezing plane hangar in Waterford Township, in the suburbs of Detroit.

But Trump was again most focused on his grievances, opening with a 15-minute screed about the criminal and civil cases against him.

On Friday, a judge in New York ordered Trump to pay $355 million after concluding he had lied about his wealth for years, scheming to dupe banks, insurers and others by inflating his wealth on financial statements. Trump has vowed to appeal.

That penalty came days after Trump was ordered to pay $83.3 million to the writer E. Jean Carroll for damaging her reputation after she accused him of sexual assault.

With interest payments, Trump’s legal debts might now exceed a half-billion dollars — an amount it is unclear whether or not Trump can afford to pay.

Trump cast Friday's decision as “a lawless and unconstitutional atrocity that sets fire to our laws like no one has ever seen in this country before."

He called the judge in the case, Arthur Engoron, “crooked," and New York Attorney General Letitia James, who brought the case, a “lunatic." He called special counsel Jack Smith, who brought two federal indictments against him an “animal," while mocking the pronunciation of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis' name.

Trump has succeeded in the GOP primary by casting the charges — which include state and federal criminal indictments across four separate jurisdictions — as part of a coordinated effort by Biden and other Democrats to damage his electoral prosects. He has also repeatedly cast them as an attack on his supporters.

“These repulsive abuses of power are not just an attack on me, they’re really an attack on you and all Americans,” Trump said Saturday. "We’re all in this mess together!”

But it's unclear whether those appeals will work in a general election, particularly among suburban voters in key swing-state metro areas in places like Oakland County, where Trump was speaking Saturday.

An affluent Detroit suburb and the state’s second-largest county, Oakland County was once a GOP stronghold, but has trended more Democratic in recent elections, in part due to women voters. Trump lost the county to Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Biden in 2020, both times by eight percentage points.

While Michigan will hold its primary next after South Carolina, only 16 out of 55 Republican presidential delegates will be determined by the Feb. 27 vote.

The remaining 39 will be distributed by precinct delegates at a Michigan GOP state convention on March 2.

Trump's visit came as the state's GOP has been in turmoil, amid competing claims on the chairmanship and financial crisis.

Trump waded carefully into the chaos by offering a shoutout to the newly elected state GOP Chairman Pete Hoekstra, a former longtime U.S. House member and Trump loyalist who served as Trump’s ambassador to the Netherlands.

Hoekstra was elected after then-Chair Kristina Karamo was ousted after racking up hundreds of thousands in debt.

“A great congressman, and a great ambassador,” Trump said.

A lone man in the crowd still loyal to Karamo, who has said she won’t cede the position, booed and called Hoekstra a RINO. The term is intended as an insult and an acronym for Republican In Name Only.

___ Colvin reported from New York. Associated Press writer Joey Cappelletti contributed to this report.

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