Donald Trump blasted rival Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server at a packed rally at Raleigh’s Memorial Auditorium on Tuesday evening, saying the FBI’s recommendation not to pursue criminal charges against Clinton shows “the system is rigged.”
Tuesday’s rally is Trump’s second visit to North Carolina since he became the presumptive Republican nominee in a presidential race that is expected to be closely contested in the Tar Heel State.
The billionaire spoke on the same day Clinton, the former secretary of state, held her first campaign appearance with President Barack Obama in Charlotte.
“Essentially, I thought, everybody thought, she was guilty,” Trump said of Clinton, speaking inside the auditorium at downtown’s Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. “It turned out that we’re not going to press charges. It’s really amazing. We have a rigged system, folks.”
Never miss a local story.
Trump said he was concerned by the FBI’s finding that the email server might have been hacked by a “hostile actor.”
“Our enemies may have a blackmail file on crooked Hillary, and this alone means that she should not be allowed to serve as president,” he said.
Earlier Tuesday, N.C. Democratic Party spokesman Dave Miranda praised the FBI finding, saying it’s “good that this matter is now resolved.”
Trump criticized Obama’s decision to campaign with Clinton Tuesday. “Why was she campaigning on the plane of the United States – that very, very expensive plane?”
Someone in the crowd yelled out “he’s a monkey” while Trump was speaking about Obama.
Trump also commented on a New York Times report that suggested Clinton was considering keeping Loretta Lynch as attorney general if she’s elected. The report cited unnamed Democrats. The FBI is part of the Department of Justice led by Lynch.
“That’s like a bribe, isn’t it?” Trump said. “It’s a disgrace. She is laughing at the stupidity of our system.”
‘I’m with the state’ on HB2
In an interview with The News & Observer ahead of the rally, Trump said the fate of North Carolina’s House Bill 2 should be left up to state leaders.
“The state, they know what’s going on, they see what’s happening, and generally speaking I’m with the state on things like this,” he said. “I’ve spoken with your governor, I’ve spoken with a lot of different people, and I’m going with the state.”
Trump also voiced support for North Carolina’s voter ID law in the interview, calling it “very reasonable.”
Portions of the voter ID law are set for their first use in a general election this November. The law requires photo identification, reduces the number of days for early voting and eliminates preregistration of teenagers before their 18th birthdays.
Lt. Gov. Dan Forest spoke briefly before Trump took the stage, touting the state’s economy and tax policy.
N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin and U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers of Dunn, the first woman in Congress to back Trump, greeted the candidate backstage.
Trump praised state leaders as he wrapped up the speech, saying they’d likely call him when he’s president to tell him “the people of North Carolina are sick and tired of winning.”
“I’m going to tell the justice – and the governor and the lieutenant governor – ‘I’m sorry, we’re going to keep winning,’” Trump said.
Several protesters disrupted the Republican presidential candidate’s rally and were quickly escorted out by police. Before Trump took the podium, an organizer told people in the crowd to yell, “Trump, Trump, Trump” if they were near a protester to help police find the culprit.
Logan Smith, a spokesman for the liberal advocacy group Progress N.C., was thrown out of the rally after he stood up and yelled, “Trump has small hands.”
In line for 12 hours
First in line to see Trump was William Shore, 20, of Raleigh, who said he arrived at 5 a.m. – 12 hours before the doors opened.
Shore is not the typical Trump supporter. He’d previously supported Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders’ candidacy, and he said he recently joined the “air horn orchestra” protest of House Bill 2, the North Carolina state law that restricts local governments from passing anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBT people and requires people in government facilities to use the bathroom matching the gender on their birth certificates. But he agrees with Trump on issues like trade and immigration.
“There’s more similarities between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump than Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton,” Shore said. “Illegal immigration is one form of corruption we have. It’s a form of corruption that leads to other corruption.”
Shore says he’s not troubled by Trump’s incendiary comments that some have characterized as racist or sexist. “I think he treats everyone equally and everyone fairly,” he said. “He’s not going to hold back on someone because they’re a minority.”
Outside the rally, several dozen protesters waved signs and occasionally argued with Trump supporters.
Chapel Hill native Jen Ferris, 38, said she protested because she felt Trump has used hostile language to attack minority groups.
“In our state, we have problems that come from the kind of hate that Trump preaches,” she said. “McCrory, our governor, has passed bills that have made business bad here in North Carolina and have made life bad for North Carolina residents like me, women of color, LGBT people.”
The Rev. William Barber, president of the state chapter of the NAACP, read a letter at a news conference Tuesday morning to outline his frustrations with Trump.
“So far, your candidacy does not resonate with our highest values and best traditions,” the letter says, “but instead offers an eerie representation of hate, meanness, and xenophobia that has not been so blatantly broadcast on the national landscape since George Wallace’s Presidential campaigns of 1968 and 1972.”
While Clinton was joined earlier Tuesday at a Charlotte rally by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Roy Cooper and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Deborah Ross, some top North Carolina Republican leaders missed Trump’s Raleigh event.
U.S. Sen. Richard Burr was in Washington instead. “After multiple terror attacks associated with the Islamic State this week, Sen. Burr is attending to his duties in Washington as Senate Intelligence Committee chairman,” campaign spokesman Jesse Hunt said.
And Gov. Pat McCrory was out of the state. “The governor’s office said yesterday that he will be heading out-of-state today for a long-scheduled trip with the first lady, so he’s unable to attend tonight’s event with Mr. Trump,” spokesman Ricky Diaz said.
State Sen. Buck Newton, who’s in a tight race for attorney general, could not be reached about his plans for Tuesday evening.
With North Carolina viewed as a swing state, Trump told The N&O that “we’re going to be here a lot.”
“I think North Carolina is going to be something very special for us,” he said. “I think we’re going to win North Carolina, and hopefully we’re going to win it easily.”