'They want to damage me': Trump campaigns as victim at Arizona rally as Jan. 6 probes heat up

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WASHINGTON – Buffeted by investigations and hints of Republican opposition, Donald Trump is serving notice that he will campaign as a political victim while attacking the investigators.

"If I stayed home, took it easy – if I announced I was not going to run any longer for political office – the persecution of Donald Trump would immediately stop," Trump told supporters during a rally late Friday in Arizona.

"But that's not what I do," Trump said. "I can't do that."

Trump stumped for Republican candidates in Arizona a day after the special congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol attack wrapped up a first phase of hearings, and announced plans for more hearings in the fall.

Prosecutors in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., are also reviewing Trump's efforts to overturn his election loss to President Joe Biden, the inspiration for the assault.

Trump, who plans to campaign for Republican candidates across the country before the November elections and is considering another presidential run in 2024, visited Arizona just hours after a potential GOP primary opponent: His former vice president, Mike Pence.

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Speaking for another gubernatorial candidate in Arizona, Pence urged Republicans to focus on the future and move past the GOP complaints about the 2020 election – a main topic of Trump's remarks just hours later.

During his rally in Prescott Valley, Ariz., Trump claimed at one point that a friend told him "I was the most persecuted person in the history of our country."

He later told backers: "They want to damage me in any form, so I can no longer represent you."

Investigating Trump

Presenting testimony and documents over the course of eight hearings, Jan. 6 committee members said Trump's lies about election fraud in 2020 encouraged supporters to storm the Capitol in a failed effort to stop the counting of electoral votes.

Some witnesses, mostly Republicans, testified that Trump did nothing to try and stop the riot and promoted his claims of election fraud despite aides telling him he'd lost the election.

At its most recent hearing in prime time Thursday, the Jan. 6 committee announced it would hold more hearings in September.

In the meantime, a grand jury in Atlanta is investigating Trump's pressure campaign on Georgia election officials to change the election results in the state.

Former President Donald Trump embraces Republican candidate for governor Kari Lake at a "Save America" rally in support of Arizona GOP candidates on Friday in Prescott Valley, Arizona. Arizona's primary election will take place Aug. 2.
Former President Donald Trump embraces Republican candidate for governor Kari Lake at a "Save America" rally in support of Arizona GOP candidates on Friday in Prescott Valley, Arizona. Arizona's primary election will take place Aug. 2.

The Department of Justice is also investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection. That probe could touch on Trump and his actions surrounding the riot as spotlighted by the congressional committee.

“The mob was accomplishing President Trump’s purpose, so of course he did not intervene," said Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., one of two Republicans on the congressional panel.

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the panel's other Republican member, has urged Republicans and other Americans to move past Trump: "Can a President who is willing to make the choices Donald Trump made during the violence of January 6 ever be trusted with any position of authority in our great nation again?"

Cheney, who faces a tough GOP primary next month against a Trump-backed candidate, has not ruled out a presidential bid of her own in 2024, either as a Republican or an independent.

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Trump vs. Pence

Another possible 2024 Republican candidate, Pence, campaigned in Arizona by urging Republicans to move past the protests of 2020.

"If the Republican Party allows itself to become consumed by yesterday’s grievances, we will lose," Pence tweeted during his trip to Arizona. "But if we come together, keep our eye on the ball & focus on the future, we won’t just win the next election, we will change the course of American history for generations!"

Pence spoke at events for Republican gubernatorial candidate, Karrin Taylor Robson. Trump is backing another candidate in the Aug. 2 GOP primary, Kari Lake.

On Friday, Trump spoke on behalf of several Republicans, including Lake, Senate candidate Blake Masters, and other congressional and statewide candidates.

Trump also attacked Arizona Republicans who went against him on his election protest. That group included outgoing Gov. Doug Ducey and state House Speaker Rusty Bowers, who testified at one of the Jan. 6 congressional hearings.

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Arizona is a rerun of a Trump-Pence proxy fight in Georgia back in May.

Pence backed incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp. Trump, angry at Kemp because he refused to back his election protest, recruited a primary challenger, former Sen. David Perdue.

Kemp won the primary easily.

Trump and Pence will again be in close proximity next week in Washington, D.C.

The former president is scheduled to speak Tuesday at an "America First Agenda Summit." The event is sponsored by the America First Policy Institute, an organization that includes many former Trump administration officials.

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Pence speaks Monday at the D.C.-based Heritage Foundation.

Many Trump Republicans continue to criticize Pence for refusing Trump's demands that he throw out electoral votes during a congressional counting ceremony that also took place on Jan. 6, 2021.

Pence, echoing the views of most legal analysts, said he lacked the authority to interfere in the counting of electoral votes. But many of the rioters threatened Pence as they breached the U.S. Capitol, another major topic during the Jan. 6 committee hearings.

'They've hurt him a lot'

Many early polls show Trump leading the 2024 Republican primary field, but several GOP analysts said the hearing and investigations have taken a toll on his popularity. The only question, they said, is how much impact they will have on the Republican voters who will ultimately decide the nomination.

Republican strategist Liz Mair said an increasing number of Republican political consultants, donors, and voters believe that Trump is "tainted goods," and are looking at alternatives like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in the wake of the hearings.

"They've hurt him a lot," she said.

Republican strategist Scott Jennings said Trump probably remains the favorite for the nomination, but he is "not invincible."

"There’s a growing group of Republicans who voted for him twice, gave him money, knocked on doors, and defended him at every turn who are concluding that he might well lose to Joe Biden (or someone worse) again," Jennings said.

Republicans "don’t want to re-litigate 2020," Jennings said, they just want to defeat Biden and the Democrats.

Jack Pitney, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, said Trump can still win the GOP nomination, but the general election could be a different matter, especially if Trump is formally charged with crimes.

"Most Republicans aren't paying attention to the hearings," Pitney said.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump campaigns in Arizona as Jan 6 committee investigation heats up