NEW YORK (AP) -- At a moment of growing legal peril, Donald Trump ramped up his calls for his GOP rivals to drop out of the 2024 presidential race as he threatened to primary Republican members of Congress who fail to focus on investigating Democratic President Joe Biden and urged them to halt Ukrainian military aid until the White House cooperates with their investigations into Biden and his family.
"Every dollar spent attacking me by Republicans is a dollar given straight to the Biden campaign," Trump said at a rally in Erie, Pennsylvania, on Saturday night. The former president and GOP front-runner said it was time for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and others he dismissed as "clowns" to clear the field, accusing them of "wasting hundreds of millions of dollars that Republicans should be using to build a massive vote-gathering operation" to take on Biden in November.
The comments came two days after federal prosecutors unveiled new criminal charges against Trump as part of the case that accuses him of illegally hoarding classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago club and refusing to turn them over to investigators. The superseding indictment unsealed Thursday alleges that Trump and two staffers sought to delete surveillance at the club in an effort to obstruct the Justice Department's investigation.
The case is just one of Trump's mounting legal challenges. His team is currently bracing for additional possible indictments, which could happen as soon as this coming week, related to his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election brought by prosecutors in both Washington and Georgia. Trump already faces criminal charges in New York over hush money payments made to women who accused him of sexual encounters during his 2016 presidential campaign.
Nevertheless, Trump remains the dominant early figure for the Republican nomination and has only seen his lead grow as the charges have mounted and as his rivals have struggled to respond. Their challenge was on display at a GOP gathering in Iowa Friday night, where they largely declined to go after Trump directly. The only one who did -- accusing Trump of "running to stay out of prison" -- was booed as he left the stage.
In the meantime, Trump has embraced his legal woes, turning them into the core message of his bid to return to the White House as he accuses Biden of using the Justice Department to maim his chief political rival. The White House has said repeatedly that the president has had no involvement in the cases.
At rallies -- including Saturday's -- Trump has tried to frame the charges, which come with serious threats of jail time, as an attack not just on him, but those who support him.
"They're not indicting me, they're indicting you. I just happen to be standing in the way," he told the arena crowd in Erie, adding that, "Every time the radical left Democrats, Marxists, communists and fascists indict me, I consider it actually a great badge of honor.... Because I'm being indicted for you."
But the investigations are also sucking up enormous resources that are being diverted from the nuts and bolts of the campaign. The Washington Post first reported Saturday that Trump's political action committee, Save America, will report Monday that it spent more than $40 million on legal fees during the first half of 2023 defending Trump and all of the current and former aides whose lawyers it is paying. The total is more than the campaign raised during the second quarter of the year.
"In order to combat these heinous actions by Joe Biden's cronies and to protect these innocent people from financial ruin and prevent their lives from being completely destroyed, the leadership PAC contributed to their legal fees to ensure they have representation against unlawful harassment," said Trump's spokesman Steven Cheung.
At the rally -- held in a former Democratic stronghold that Trump flipped in 2016, but Biden won narrowly in 2020 -- Trump also threatened Republicans in Congress who refuse to go along with efforts to impeach Biden. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said this past week that Republican lawmakers may consider an impeachment inquiry into the president over unproven claims of financial misconduct.
Trump, who was impeached twice while in office, said Saturday that, "The biggest complaint that I get is that the Republicans find out this information and then they do nothing about it."
"Any Republican that doesn't act on Democrat fraud should be immediately primaries and get out -- out!" he told the crowd to loud applause. "They have to play tough and ... if they're not willing to do it, we got a lot of good, tough Republicans around ... and they're going to get my endorsement every singe time."
Trump, during the 2022 midterm elections, made it his mission to punish those who had voted in favor of his second impeachment and succeeded in unseating most who had by backing primary challengers.
At the rally, Trump also called on Republican members of Congress to halt the authorization of additional military support to Ukraine, which has been mired in a war fighting Russia's invasion, until the Biden administration cooperates with Republican investigations into Biden and his family's business dealings -- words that echoed the call that lead to his first impeachment.
"He's dragging into a global conflict on behalf of the very same country, Ukraine, that apparently paid his family all of these millions of dollars," Trump alleged. "In light of this information," Congress, he said, "should refuse to authorize a single additional payment of our depleted stockpiles ... the weapons stockpiles to Ukraine until the FBI, DOJ and IRS hand over every scrap of evidence they have on the Biden crime family's corrupt business dealings."
House Republicans have been investigating the Biden family's finances, particularly payments Hunter, the president's son, received from Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company that became tangled in the first impeachment of Trump.
An unnamed confidential FBI informant claimed that Burisma company officials in 2015 and 2016 sought to pay the Bidens $5 million each in return for their help ousting a Ukrainian prosecutor who was purportedly investigating the company. But a Justice Department review in 2020, while Trump was president, was closed eight months later with insufficient evidence of wrongdoing.
Trump's first impeachment by the House resulted in charges that he pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to dig up dirt on the Bidens while threatening to withhold military aid. Trump was later acquitted by the Senate.